Oct 24, 2013

    The sun sets on world's longest flight

    THE end of the world's longest non-stop commercial flight, a 19-hour slog between Singapore and New York, is bad news for Mr Chia Teck Fatt.

    The 16,700km journey from Singapore to Newark, New Jersey, helps him avoid congestion at New York's John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport.

    Singapore Airlines (SIA) will end the service with its all-business-class flight next month, after ending the second-longest flight from Los Angeles to Singapore on Tuesday. The Los Angeles flight covered more than 14,000km.

    "It could take over an hour just to get through Customs at JFK," said Mr Chia.

    The longest non-stop commercial flight by distance after the end of these two routes will be Qantas Airways' 13,800km flight from Sydney to Dallas.

    For the Newark service, four pilots take turns to fly the plane for 19 hours, while 14 cabin-crew members look after the passengers. The flight takes off from Singapore at 10.55am, and passengers are served three meals before it lands in Newark at 5.50pm Newark time on the same day.

    Passengers get to choose between rib-eye steak and pan-seared escalope of salmon, prepared by the airline's international culinary panel of chefs.

    With oil prices tripling in the last decade, the carrier struggled to ferry executives on the 100-seat flight profitably for the past nine years, a sign that the airline industry is once again putting profitability ahead of glamour.

    "With the current price of fuel, it's virtually impossible to make money on ultra-long-haul flights," said Mr Brendan Sobie, chief analyst at Capa Centre for Aviation.

    A return ticket this week on the Singapore-Newark route costs as much as S$13,400, according to the airline's website. Flights to JFK via Frankfurt cost up to S$10,700.

    SIA started the world's longest flight in June 2004, with 181 business- and economy-class seats. Almost four years later, it was converted to an all-business-class configuration. The Los Angeles service, which started in May 2004, was also retrofitted in the same way.

    "SIA got greedy," said Mr Shukor Yusof, an analyst at Standard & Poor's in Singapore. "It became less popular when SIA configured the cabins to all-business."