San Francisco to Singapore: What it’s Like to Fly an Inaugural Flight
It's not as bumpy as you'd expect.Travel Features San Francisco
On June 1 at 10:55 p.m. PST, United Airlines’ inaugural direct flight from San Francisco to Singapore’s Changi airport (UA1) took off, launching the longest scheduled flight operated by any North American carrier as well as the only direct flight currently operational from the United States to Singapore (Singapore Airlines plans to relaunch its direct route in 2018).
We were onboard the route’s inaugural journey and were able to experience everything from the pre-flight celebration to its arrival in Singapore more than 16 hours after its departure. Most of the included videos in this post are shot in 360-degrees, so you can use the controls at the top left or drag your mouse to top of the video to get a different view, or strap on a pair of VR goggles to really get a feel for the space.
To earn the status as “longest flight” you can imagine that this particular route is a bit of a doozy. SFO to SIN clocks in at 8,446 miles, a trip that’s scheduled to take 16 hours and 20 minutes.
Singapore is 15 hours ahead of San Francisco, which means that while you spend just 16 hours on the plane, you also end up losing a day in the air. Our flight left at 10:55 p.m. on Wednesday night in San Francisco, but didn’t arrive in Singapore until it was technically 6:15 a.m. on Friday (although it didn’t feel like it to us).
One of the advantages of being part of a route’s inaugural journey is the celebration. For UA1, there were two parties, one in downtown San Francisco, and one at the gate at SFO. Both were attended by His Excellency Ashock Mirpuri, Singapore’s Ambassador to the United States and Jim Compton, Vice Chairman and Chief Revenue Officer of United Airlines. The pre-party downtown had a bar with Singapore Sling’s available.
The gate celebration at SFO was a little bit more festive, see above. There were Singapore-themed snacks including mango pudding, Pandan cake, and Tah Tarik Tea. And of course, an official ribbon cutting (not 360).
Once we boarded, each passenger received a kitschy inaugural flight certificate.
The flightz from SFO to SIN and back are operated on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. It’s Boeing’s most fuel-efficient airliner, and is 20 feet longer, and can fly 40 nautical miles further than the 787-8. The plane has seating for 252 passengers (48 in BusinessFirst, 88 in Economy Plus, and 116 in Economy), and is the same plane that United uses for its previous longest nonstop route, a service between Los Angeles and Melbourne that launched in October of 2014.
The windows in the aircraft are 30 percent larger than similarly-sized planes, with the brightness adjusted by button. Serrated edges on the engine nacelles keep the noise down, and the aircraft has raked wingtips to further improve fuel efficiency.
We were fortunate enough to fly as a guest of United, which meant a seat in the plane’s roomy BusinessFirst cabin with lie-flat seats. Check out a 360 video of the cabin below.
Seats are set up in a 2-2-2 pattern, and the plane has two BusinessFirst sections (one to the right and the other to the left when you board). We were in the forward-most cabin, seated in the center section. Each seat came with a duvet and full-sized pillow, as well as an amenity kit with things like a toothbrush, lotion, an eye mask, and socks for the ride.
Before everyone boarded we were able to take a look at the Economy Plus and Economy section of the plane as well. While 16 hours might be a bit intense in standard economy, the Economy Plus area looked roomy enough to make for a fairly comfortable and budget-friendly journey, see below.
On board you’re offered a mix of western and Singapore fare. Our flight had short rib, seafood stir-fry, fillet of Amazon cod, and vegetable korma as options for dinner; a mid-flight snack of Asian-style beef soup; and then your choice of a roasted pepper omelette, congee, or cereal and banana for breakfast. And of course, BusinessFirst included United’s signature ice cream sundae cart.
There was also a selection of mid-level wine and liquor available, as well as snacks throughout the flight if you happened to get hungry.
Expect a decent selection of movies and television shows to keep you occupied. We watched several fairly recent films on the ride, but there was also HBO content available, as well as reality programming such as Chopped.
The entertainment center for the flight’s BusinessFirst cabin is controlled via touchscreen, or using a small touchscreen remote (only found on the 787-9).
When we landed, the plane was given the traditional water cannon salut. Given our seat in the center, it kind of looked like a heavy rainstorm outside, but still pretty cool. When we arrived we were enthusiastically greeted at the gate by Singapore airport staff, who handed each passenger a small pin commemorating the flight (lots of goodies to take home or leave in your hotel).
And there was another celebration going on at the arrival gate. This time for UA2, the inaugural flight from SIN to SFO. That flight uses the same plane as the SFO to SIN flight (with a few hours of rest between legs). A United spokesperson said the actual plane will likely be rotated between other 787-9s in United’s fleet, but in most cases that same plane will make the journey “home,” no matter what side of the world that home happens to be on.
Emily is Paste’s Assistant Drink Editor and wishes she was drinking a Crabbie’s at Bag of Nails right now.