I Took the World’s Longest Flight and Almost Lost My Mind
When the captain announced the anticipated flight time of 18 hours and 30 minutes, I winced. I’m normally not an anxious flyer, but then again, I rarely fly farther than, say, New York. Now I was about to embark on a near daylong journey to Singapore and all I could think about was that I would be trapped in this flying metal tube for hours and hours to experience what is, quite literally, the longest nonstop flight in the world.
Singapore Airlines — which is one of the best airlines for long-haul flights, by the way — offers nonstop flights between Newark, New Jersey, and Singapore. The over 9,500-mile journey is the longest uninterrupted commercial flight in the world. It is 500 miles farther than a flight from Auckland, New Zealand, to Doha in Qatar and a little less than 1,000 miles farther than a flight from my home in Los Angeles to Singapore would be. But I am flying out of Newark, because I happened to be on the East Coast, working.
Before I left, everybody wanted to know if I planned to fly coach from Jersey over the Atlantic, across various parts of Europe and Asia, all the way to Singapore. Absolutely not. I know this is a reality for a lot of people who travel back and forth to see family members and also for people who want to see the world on a budget. I applaud them. I would rather stick my head out the window for the entire ride than do that.
No, soft-handed, spoiled, little me was presented the opportunity to fly business class on Singapore Airlines. I took it, knowing that in my heart it was the universe paying me back for all the times I flew Spirit from LAX to O’Hare, and for that one time I had to ride middle seat in the last row of coach (by the worst smelling bathroom I’ve ever experienced) on an 11-hour flight from Chicago to Israel.
This is what my seat looked like from my perspective.
My seat in row 23F was a glorious little leather pod with a flat-screen TV and a fully reclining seat-bed. I was provided with all the adorable airplane amenities one gets in business and first class, including sweet-looking slippers, an eye mask, headphones and a bar of solid gold (kidding). My flight left at 10:45 in the morning, which meant that it was 10:45 at night in Singapore, as they are 12 hours ahead of the East Coast.
When I landed, it would be 5:30 p.m. in Singapore the next day, and 5:30 a.m. in New York. I was basically going to spend an entire day on a plane, but also travel forward in time and end up much closer to the end of the day. So practically two days. One American day and one Singaporean day.
As the plane climbed into the sky and I frantically attempted to connect to Wi-Fi that wouldn’t work until we were cruising at an altitude of 10,000 feet, all I could think about was the fact that I was practically disappearing for over 18 hours.
Luckily, this airplane had every single Harry Potter movie to distract me from all the myths I’d heard about flying long distance — and they started serving some really great food pretty much immediately.
Photo by Lily Rose
My first meal consisted of multiple courses. There was a round of bread rolls, a shrimp appetizer with mango slaw, greens and a deviled egg, a chicken stuffed with onion dressing as an entrée with a delicious cauliflower purée and some edamame, ice cream, and then a cheese and fruit spread. I sipped Champagne and chugged a ton of water. It killed about an hour.
Photo by Lily Rose
I watched none of the Harry Potter movies, instead opting for the film adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s “Widows.” Then I watched “Instant Family” (not as bad as I thought). In all, it had been about five hours.
So, I had around 13 hours left of my flight. From my home in Los Angeles, that’s about three hours more than a flight to England. I was finally on Wi-Fi, but I thought to myself: What if the wifi cuts out? What if it breaks entirely? What will I do for 13 hours without being able to at least iMessage my family and my friends or respond to Instagram DMs?
In college, I kept Shabbat for a school program and didn’t use my cell phone for 24 hours. It was glorious. But at that time, I could still go outside, go for a walk, breathe fresh air and talk to people I knew face-to-face. So, if the Wi-Fi cut out, I pretty much had nothing but TV, all 17 of my downloaded Spotify playlists, and sleep.
In my state of panic over that plausible (but not happening) reality, I realized that besides getting up to use the bathroom seven times, I really had not moved my body in a while. Sitting too long in general is bad for you, and you can actually develop blood clots from sitting too much on an airplane. So I got up and started to walk the aisles. This way, I could kill time by seeing what everyone else was doing and also get the blood flowing back to my extremities.
While lifting my knees high and marching around the cabin, I noticed that everyone around me was pretty much asleep. Some people were watching “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but because the lights were so dim, a lot of people had gone to bed after eating their brinner (that is brunch and dinner together, which is really the best wat to describe the meal we’d had). I put my hand against the wall of the bathroom (one of the surfaces you definitely shouldn’t touch on an airplane) and stretched my legs and my arms and cracked my neck. I wasn’t sleepy. I went back to my pod.
This is where I was in the world after five hours on the flight. Practically in Ireland!
I went through my email and listened to Sufjan Stevens to try to make myself tired. (It’s an airplane trick for sleep that I know works!) It took a while, but I fell asleep for about three hours and woke up semi-slouched and feeling cramped, Sufjan still crooning. I should have put the seat-bed down all the way. My sister had texted me, asking how much I had left to go. A little over nine hours! I was officially halfway there.
I got up and high-stepped around the business class section again. A few people were awake now and watching TV.
I still seemed to be the only person who was worried about potential blood clots. I wondered if I could get on the PA and announce that we should all do a group stretch, but then there was mild turbulence, so I rushed back to my seat.
The flight attendant asked me if I wanted a mid-flight snack. I did not. She offered me soup and yogurt and fruit and I declined. She brought me a bag of Sun Chips anyway, and I ate them even though you’re not supposed to eat chips on a plane. I discovered that Singapore Airlines’ in-flight entertainment services offered season four of “Sex and the City” thanks to the woman in the row next to me, who was watching it and laughing. I turned it on and watched Miranda tell Steve she was pregnant, and witnessed Carrie break up with Aidan because she didn’t want to get married. (To him, that is. She definitely wanted to marry Big. I’ve seen the movie!).
I now had six hours left. That’s like a flight from New York to LA with no tailwind. It’s the middle of the night in America. I am not sleepy? I am sleepy? I can’t tell anymore. I should be more tired, but I haven’t exhausted my body at all by doing any of the usual things I do like walk my dog, go to spin class, catch a train, etc.
Life would be so much easier, and airplane tickets would be so much cheaper, if we could all just — hear me out now — jump through a black hole like they do in cartoons. Not only does this method of transportation seem super effective for Roger Rabbit, it seems like it would really cut down on fuel emissions and everyone’s carbon footprint.
I hadn’t heard the sound of cars, birds, wind, or the voices of my loved ones in about 12 hours. I hadn’t showered. I had eaten well and knew I could have yogurt, or some sort of Thai-inspired noodle dish brought to me at my convenience. I could have free wine! But I longed to go pee in a regular bathroom connected to the Earth, and maybe go get an iced coffee from Starbucks or something. I wanted some casual chit-chat from a barista. Or at least to call my mom.
I’m not a plane-chatter. Plus, this was business class! The next closest seat was actually pretty far away from me. I couldn’t just lean over and tap my neighbor awake like the absolute worst person ever because I want to talk. This wasn’t coach!
A flight attendant offered me more food. I went with the lobster macaroni and cheese because time had lost all meaning and I love throwing caution to the wind. Lobster? On an airplane? You bet your bippy!
It was surprisingly tender. I wished it came with more pasta and less lobster though. Does anyone ever complain about too much lobster? I also wished I had floss with me. There was shellfish in my teeth. I wondered what my boyfriend was doing back on Earth at that moment. I hoped he missed me!
There were four hours to go at this point. I was watching a later season of “Friends” and screenshotting tagged photos of Gardens by the Bay in Singapore on Instagram mindlessly, to review for potential ‘gram-worthy spots to visit as soon as I had free time to explore. Exhaustion had washed over me. I thought maybe I could sleep — but I was landing in four hours. That’s a trip from Chicago to LAX. I actually could sleep, though. I closed my eyes.
I had decided Gardens by the Bay was definitely 'gram-worthy during my travels.
I woke up and there were 50 minutes left on this flight. Yes! Less than one hour. Oh, baby! I couldn’t wait to get off this godforsaken (actually very lovely and wonderful) airplane and shower and smell air that hadn’t been recycled with the scents of unwashed bodies for the past 18 hours of my life.
Would I ever take this flight again? My immediate answer is no, probably never, to be totally honest. The problem with the world’s longest flight is that no matter how much luxury you’re in, it doesn’t seem to end. Sure, the first six or eight hours are fine, but hours 10, 12 and 16 feel absolutely endless.
Perhaps it would change once I actually landed in romantic Singapore, but I felt as though I may have gone mildly insane being cooped up for that long, watching that much television, and eating rich meals every 4 hours.
I felt like one of Queen Anne’s spoiled pet rabbits (I also watched “The Favourite” on the plane) who never get any exercise and are probably always being fed people food instead of bunny snacks (I don’t know what rabbits actually eat).
Finally, the crew began drawing the shades up for landing, and with the sunlight streaming in, I felt victorious, knowing that soon I would land and plant my feet on terra firma. Yes, I would have to fly home at some point, but that was a problem for future-me. At least now future Lily would already know all the secrets for surviving a really, really long flight.
Travel expenses were paid for by Singapore Airlines at no cost to the writer.