Let’s get to the point—long haul international flights can be miserable experiences. They don’t have to be, but they certainly can be, and so preparing to embark on one of the newly anointed “longest flights in the world” was a terrifying prospect. United Airlines debuted its Los Angeles to Singapore route last fall, and just days after its debut, I was onboard.
Clocking in at over 8,700 miles and with a scheduled flight time of approximately 18 hours, LAX to SIN is the longest flight ever by a U.S. airline. Overall, it narrowly comes in second place for the world’s longest flight, about half an hour and 250 miles behind a Qatar Airways flight from Auckland to Doha. The United flight is also about 50 miles shorter but scheduled as 45 minutes longer than an Emirates flight from Auckland to Dubai.
Airlines such as Qatar and Emirates though are renowned for their luxurious amenities and gilded flight experiences. It’s no secret that U.S. carriers have long lagged behind their Middle Eastern and Asian counterparts in terms of the flight experience they provide. United though is striving to narrow the gap with its 787 Dreamliner planes, and its overhauled business class, dubbed Polaris.
That brings good news for imbibers, who will enjoy brands ranging from Tito’s to Goose Island to help settle into that halfway around the world flight, and then illy coffee to wake back up in the morning. The wine selection may offer the most compelling choices though, and here’s where it gets interesting.
United has partnered with master sommelier Doug Frost— according to his website, he’s one of only four people in the world to hold both the master sommelier and master of wine titles— to provide quality vintages and varietals that make strong accompaniments to dining options and thrive in the midst of the onboard tasting environment.
For Frost, key to a quality in-flight wine selection is diversity. “People have such diverse tastes and preferences when it comes to wine that we have to be very focused upon boarding differing styles of wines, and not allowing our own personal preferences to overrule our better instincts in trying to serve our customers,” he says. “Our goal is for each customer will find a wine that they’ll love while on board. Sometimes people want softer wines; sometimes they want bold wines. We need to be ready no matter what and have those options available.”
A few of his latest selections included the 2015 Marchesi Antinori Peppoli Chianti Classico and 2014 L’Ecole Merlot from Washington state, with Polaris first class getting picks elevated a notch or two further. You can also customize an in-flight wine flight, trying a lineup of three at a time before selecting a full pour or four of your favorite. And if you need some assistance, watch a wine tasting video along the way.
While Frost calls the notion that our perceptions of certain flavors changing at flight altitudes “more speculation than science,” he also seeks to find dynamic offerings that will hold up to the experience. “We also seek out wines that we believe will show vibrant expressions at 30,000 feet, as opposed to something that might be a bit underwhelming,” Frost says. “Wine in the air needs an extra bit of oomph to show its best.”
Food menus change seasonally, and generally offer a mix of cuisines from departure and destination regions, and the wine is frequently updated as well, though diversity in selection remains crucial. “We definitely take into account seasonal and menu changes when we’re making our choices, but our greater emphasis is upon offering a breadth of styles,” Frost says.
United has partnered with The Trotter Project, collaborating with chefs affiliated with the late Charlie Trotter in the development of their menus, while supporting the nonprofit’s initiatives of sponsoring and mentoring young chefs. Business class receives a five-course meal, while first class patrons receive six courses, and both have access to on demand snacks and arrival dining.
As for the actual Dreamliner itself, the bird showcases several bells and whistles. Windows are large and with improved sight lines, and rather than a pull-down shade, come with a tinting mechanism. Seatback entertainment systems have touch screens along with a touch screen remote control, and there are USB ports in addition to power outlets. Other onboard Polaris perks include United’s partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue for in-flight pillows and bedding, and Cowshed for its personal amenities.
Of course, if given the chance, any long flight deserves to begin with a glass of bubbly. In this case, Frost hand-picks a varied list of Champagne to match the occasion, and fear not, with 18 hours onboard, you’ll have more than enough time to enjoy all these boozy indulgences while still sleeping it off. Cheers to that!