Singapore Airlines will relaunch the world’s longest commercial flight in October, a journey of almost 19 hours from the city-state to New York, but it will not be available to economy travellers.
The daily, non-stop journey from Changi to Newark Airport will cover about 16,700 kilometres and take about 18 hours 45 minutes, the airline said in a statement.
The current record holder is Qatar Airways Flight 921 from Auckland to Doha, which takes 17 hours 40 minutes.
The Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight will use the long-range Airbus A350-900ULR, which will be configured to carry 161 passengers – 67 in business class and 94 in premium economy.
“The two-class configuration… was a business consideration to meet market demand. This configuration will also provide our customers with greater comfort on non-stop flights,” an SIA spokesperson said.
The airline had flown a similar route from 2004 until 2013 but cancelled it as it fell short of revenue expectations. However, its latest decision comes as carriers look for new sources of revenue in a competitive environment, while long-haul flights often make more cash than those that require stops.
There are also plans for a non-stop route from Singapore to Los Angeles using the same plane, the airline said.
Analysts said the decision to have no economy class was an attempt to promote the airline to wealthy customers.
“It’s about SIA marketing themselves as a premium service provider,” Brendan Sobie, chief analyst at the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation said.
But there have been concerns that such long flights might pose safety risks, particularly for cabin crew.
Britain’s largest union, Unite, alleged this month that Qantas had tried to “silence” crew members who wanted to discuss concerns about health and fatigue on their Perth to London route, one of the longest flights in the world at 17 hours and 20 minutes.
However, Sobie noted that SIA pioneered the ultra long-haul route and had done a lot of research.
“In the early 2000s when this first started, SIA did all the testing they needed to and what they have come up with has set the industry standard today,” he said.
SIA said cabin crew operating ultra-long-range flights such as the non-stop route to New York will be allowed one more hour of rest than those on long-haul flights.
Shukor Yusof, an analyst with aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, said it was unlikely SIA could make money from the new service.
“The global premium market has eroded,” he said. “Operating costs are higher on ultra long-haul flights too, erasing any profits an airline might make.”
The new route comes as the city-state’s flag carrier faces tough challenges.
Last year, it consolidated its low-cost units TigerAir and Scoot into a single entity in a streamlining exercise.
And this month it said it will absorb its struggling premium regional wing, SilkAir, into the broader group following a multi-million-dollar upgrade as part of reforms to stay competitive.