...I give you the longest blog post in the world. ;)
It’s been 8 hours, 30 minutes since we departed Newark and this already qualifies as the longest flight of my adult life (probably my whole life - I don't know the length of the segments between the US and the Phillipines in 1972 or Guam and the US in 1974). The previous record was held by JFK-CDG, and this is already an hour over that. Amazingly, we aren’t quite half way to Singapore yet—we still have more time in the air than we’ve already spent!
As the Captain greeted us prior to pushback from gate 65, I got a big surprise. I knew the flight returning from Singapore to Newark took a “great circle” route that traveled over China, toward the North Pole and then south over Greenland to the US east coast. I expected the flight to Singapore took a similar path, but as the Captain made his announcements, I realized I was quite wrong! We instead flew east over the Atlantic, crossing over Europe. We just flew over Odessa in the Ukraine and are now heading out over the Black Sea as we angle toward the Middle East. We’ll overfly eastern Turkey, skim Armenia and Azerbaijan, cross Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India before heading over the Indian Ocean. So yay for circumnavigation of the globe! A first for me!! (The funny thing is that in the car on the way to the airport, I said that I wish I were making one of the trips that combined visits to the client in Singapore and the UK so that I could go around the world. Little did I know.) I guess it makes sense, though—on a flight this long, you’d really want a tailwind to help. This one really pushes the range of any aircraft. (Which reminds me that I wanted to look up the actual range of this aircraft...or maybe I really don't need to know that information!)
I already feel like I’ve been traveling a long time, and that’s probably because I have been! We left home at 10:30am EST this morning in order to drive to northern NJ for an afternoon meeting with the client. That ended at 5:00 and we made the 45-minute drive to the airport and proceeded to wait…and wait for our 11:00pm departure. That puts me at about 20 hours on the road so far.
As we waited for our flight, I could feel myself getting…I wasn’t sure what it was at first. I just felt slightly agitated. As the feeling grew I realized I was anxious. What? I travel all the time, and I love it. I love everything about it, from people watching at the airport to studying the planes themselves to experiencing the wonder of a metal contraption weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds floating away from where you were and depositing you somewhere entirely different. But here I was sitting in the airline club lounge feeling my heart beat a little faster. Sometimes I get a little nervous for transoceanic flights—the idea of flying over all that really deep water gets to me. That’s perhaps my one true phobia—fear of deep water. But this was more than that. It was the time on the plane. 19 hours. Would I be able to sleep? I’m a chronically bad plane sleeper, even on cushy international flights where I have a flatbed seat. Would I get a headache from tossing and turning? What if my ears started hurting? Would I survive 19 hours with (gasp!)…no internet???
So I fidgeted and paced (in my fuzzy slippers—when it’s as overly air-conditioned as that club was, I have no shame about whatever survival tactics I have to resort to). I chit-chatted. I picked at some cheese and crackers, but in my body, anxiety and appetite are bitter enemies and when the former arrives, the latter makes a hasty, indignant retreat. I went to the newsstand and bought a paperback (Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci) and some snacks for the trip. I took photos of the massive jet at our gate and the distant New York skyline, the Empire State Building aglow just over the wing of the plane.
Finally, I remembered something the divorce process has taught me—when you talk about what’s going on with you, people are able to support you and cheer you on. So I talked, and ended up in a text conversation with a good friend who is only too familiar with US-to-Asia travel. It wasn’t much, just a handful of back-and-forth texts, but it reminded me of the power of feeling not just listened to but heard. In a matter of minutes I was able to uncover the connections between several threads of my life and how, in combination with the flight, they added up to this odd bundle of nerves. I was feeling silly and sheepish, but this friend’s kind words reminded me of how utterly normal my feelings were. Sometimes I don’t know what I ever did to deserve such wonderful friends. It did a lot to soothe my frayed nerves, though they weren’t completely calmed—I was still missing Alex terribly, and I was still worrying about a dear friend who was quite sick. And the flight was still 19 hours long.
So far, the only thing I've watched is the flight status channel:
Distance traveled 4949
Distance to destination 4880
Time traveled 9:01
Time to destination 8:35
I have to admit that, if you’re going to fly this far, this is the way to do it. Singapore Airlines offers the only nonstop service from the New York area to Singapore and at just under 19 hours (or 17.5 hours with a really good tailwind), it is the longest single flight in operation in the world. The nonstop factor gives them a tremendous market advantage for business travelers who desperately want to minimize connections on long-haul trips. I know that sounds like a prima donna attitude, but if you’ve never done long-haul travel spending hours on a plane and crossing multiple time zones and then had to deplane and not just stay awake but be functional and conduct business, it’s hard to explain. It really does take a physical toll. But then Singapore Airlines did something to amp up their advantage. They converted several Airbus A340-500 series jets to an all-business class configuration. Instead of the typical first/business and coach class configuration which would seat about 300-330 people, this flight offers only 100 seats. But the seats are something else: Each one is 30 inches wide. To put this in perspective, I am a thin person, yes, but earlier I was sitting with my laptop on the seat between me and the armrest to my left and to my right there was still a good 5 inches of space between my hip and the armrest.
I’m in a bulkhead seat, which I usually don’t like, but in this case it is extra nice. The other seats have a foot well for stretching out when you have the seat in flatbed mode, but the bulkhead seats have a wide open area so you can stretch out any way you want. Each seat offers aisle access, so no climbing over anyone (or being climbed over) to get up and stretch.
But back to me and my anxiety…
I settled into my “pod” and shortly after takeoff I decided to curl up in my rather large seat and snooze until we reached cruising altitude and I could get up and figure out the flatbed operation. But I didn’t have to wait – as soon as one of the flight attendants saw me getting positioned for a nap, she came over and offered to assist me with the bed. So here I was, 10 minutes into the flight, and the opportunity to sleep was right there. I just had to take it. Funny, that’s how my life seems to be going lately. So I laid down, adjusted the blanket, curled up on my side and quieted my mind by just thinking one thought. And guess what? I didn't expect it, but it worked. I had some typical shifting and getting comfortable moments, but I slept until 6:30am EST…about 7 hours. It wasn’t the most comfortable sleep of my life, but 7 hours of sleep on a plane is unheard of for me, so you’ll hear no complaints from seat 19K.
After waking up and standing to stretch, my flight attendant was back immediately to convert my bed back into a seat and offer me something to eat. I nibbled a little at a chicken salad sandwich, went across the aisle to visit with my colleagues (the ones who were awake, anyway), watched the flight monitor and wrote all this. Another flight attendant just came over and said “You have been working very intently—would you like me to get you something to eat?” Somehow, that little bit of a compliment strikes me as very funny. Now I think I’ll take a stroll up and down the aisle a bit, after which they will surely treat me as if I just ran a marathon, patting me on the back and remaking my bed so I can get some much needed sleep.