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Singapore to Fly Nonstop From L.A.

The airline's 18-hour flight to Asia will be the world's longest continuous commercial passenger service.

October 15, 2003|Peter Pae | Times Staff Writer

Taking nonstop flights to new lengths, Singapore Airlines is expected to announce today that it will begin early next year the world's longest continuous commercial passenger service.

A new "ultra" long-range Airbus A340-500 will fly passengers nonstop 9,412 miles from Los Angeles to Singapore in 18 hours and 20 minutes, shattering the record for the longest nonstop commercial flight by more than two hours.

The longest continuous service is believed to be the 16-hour New York-to-Hong Kong flight now operated by Continental Airlines.

"We are very excited about this new aircraft," said Michael Tan, a senior vice president at Singapore Airlines. "When we start our service, it will be history making."

The service, slated to begin in February, is expected to garner significant attention from the travel industry because Singapore Airlines has set many of the standards for service that other airlines try to emulate.

The new Airbus plane, one of five bought by Singapore Airlines, has a list price of $185 million. European consortium Airbus is expected this year to sell more commercial aircraft than Boeing Co. for the first time. Boeing's long-distance rival jet is the 777.

But the new Airbus plane also is likely to raise questions about the marketability of such a service and whether travelers will be willing to sit through an 18-hour flight. Airline executives said the service was targeted mainly to business travelers. "People are already flying 20 to 24 hours" with stopovers, Tan said. "The majority of the people we fly want to fly nonstop. I think the psychological issue will be easily overcome."

To make the flight more comfortable, the airline will slash the number of seats by nearly half and make them roomier. The aircraft will have only 181 seats in two configurations -- business class and a new "executive" economy class -- compared with about 350 seats in first, business and economy classes.

In the new service, the executive economy class seats will have 5 more inches of legroom and be 2 inches wider than a typical economy seat, airline executives said. Each seat will have a 9-inch television monitor with videos on demand, and there will be an AC power supply outlet in every other seat. The seats will be arranged in a two, three, two configuration, or two seats on either side of the aircraft and three seats in the middle. An economy section on a Boeing 777 jet may have as many as five seats in the middle.

The new Airbus also will have a small area with a snack bar where passengers can stretch their legs.

Singapore Airlines executives said tickets would cost about 5% to 10% more than on a current one-stop flight to Singapore.

"The flight is so long, we focused a lot of attention on the seats and the food service," Tan said. "It will be a very comfortable flight."

The new service is the latest among Asian airlines hoping to restore travel to Asia in the aftermath of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome this year that prompted many travelers to stay away. The SARS virus, believed to have been carried from the southern Chinese mainland to Hong Kong in late January or February, ultimately infected about 8,500 people, of whom 800 died.

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