You’re going to fly almost 24 hours on an airplane? I could never do that.
That’s often the first response we get when we tell people that we are flying from New York to Singapore. Then come the questions: How do you do it? Don’t you get stir-crazy? What do you bring on board? What do you wear? What do you eat? Do you sleep?
Over the past 20 years, we have been to Singapore or another Asian country at least once a year. We have done every iteration of this route -- nonstop, switching planes in Europe, switching planes in Asia, and one- to three-day stopovers in Europe and Asia. We have flown on Singapore Air, Eva Air, Air China, Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, and some American airlines. We’ve flown economy, premium economy, and business class. Here are our secrets to surviving and (sometimes even enjoying) this journey.
Singapore: A Gateway To Asia
No matter your final destination, Singapore is a good place to start your Asia itinerary. There’s plenty to do and see. And, there are cheap and short flights to anywhere else you’d like to go. Singapore offers free tours from the airport if you are in transit. And, the Jewel at Singapore Airport is a destination in and of itself.
New York To Singapore Nonstop
The quickest way to go from New York City to Singapore is via Singapore Airlines’ nonstop flight. It departs from Newark, one of the two international airports in the New York City area. The 18-hour flight is one of the longest nonstop flights in the world.
One of the highest-rated airlines in the world, Singapore Air can be expensive. For the nonstop flight, there are no economy seats, just business and premium economy classes.
It can be jarring to be on an 18-hour flight. We didn’t like it the first time. It was too long and disorienting. Now, it is our preferred way of going. We buy our tickets in advance when they go on sale. With a nonstop flight, you don’t have to worry about missed connections making your trip even longer. You can plan your sleeping (more on that later), movie watching, and other activities.
New York To Singapore With A Transfer In Asia
On our way to Asia, we have switched planes in Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.
Taipei is the easiest transfer. The airport is small, easy to navigate, and does not require going through customs or immigration while in transit. The signs are easy to find and follow. This is especially important after you’ve been on a long flight, are facing a 13-hour time difference, and have a tight connection.
Beijing is our least favorite transit point. The airport is huge and hard to navigate. The language barrier and transiting processes can be difficult.
New York To Singapore With A Transfer In Europe
In the early years, we mostly flew with a stop in Frankfurt or Amsterdam. The plane stopped for an hour to refuel. All of the passengers had to get off, take all of their carry-on luggage, wander through the airport for an hour, and then return.
Is It Better To Switch Planes In Europe Or Asia?
If we don’t fly nonstop, we prefer to switch planes in Asia. When going via Europe, the first leg is about seven hours. Between dinner, breakfast, settling in, and landing, that leaves only a few hours for sleeping. Most flights leave late at night, so you are doing the transfer at what would be 3 or 4 a.m. EST.
One advantage of transiting in Asia is that the first leg of the flight is 12 to 14 hours long. We find this timing more conducive to sleeping. After the transfer, you have a much shorter flying segment to your final destination.
What To Bring On The Plane
Having the things that you need on the plane can make the difference between a good and bad flight. Now, you might think that since you have a carry-on in the overhead bin, that you can bring everything. At 5 a.m., though, you will not want to be opening the overhead bin to find your medicine.
We pack what we call a “seat bag.” In our seat bag (what the airlines call your personal item), we have all the things we need to access easily and quickly during the flight. That way, we don’t spend the entire flight opening the overhead bin. This also allows us to refrain from using the seat pocket, too.
Disinfecting wipes have become an essential carry-on item. It’s the first thing we now pull out and use on every surface in our area.
Amenity Kits: Eye Shades, Earplugs, Toothbrush, And Socks
We have noticed that some airlines are no longer automatically providing an amenity kit with a toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, eye shades, and socks. Sometimes you have to request this kit. If you want one, ask for it as soon as you sit down -- they may run out.
You might want to consider bringing compression socks on long haul flights. They help to prevent deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Walking around and moving your legs can prevent DVT, but on a long flight, you’ll be sleeping for extended periods of time.
Noise Canceling Headphones
Noise canceling headphones can be a lifesaver on a long flight. Since everyone will have their own jet lag strategies, there is always someone walking in the aisles, talking, eating, and more. If you are trying to sleep, this can be very annoying without headphones or earplugs.
When traveling to Asia, you need to think through what medications you will be taking on the plane. On the way there, you spend almost 24 hours in the air and you cross the international date line. This can mess up your usual routine. We always plan what time and what medications we are taking on the flight and the day after.
Water Bottle, Moisturizer, And Lip Balm
Long flights are very dry, and staying hydrated is very important. Moisturizer and lip balm are essential. We also bring an empty water bottle with us and fill it after security and before we board.
Gum, Lozenges, And Motion Sickness Medication
Gum and sucking candies are important if you have difficulty with air pressure changes. Long flights can sometimes have extended periods of turbulence, so if you are prone to motion sickness, having medication is very important.
iPads, Phones, And Chargers
Long haul international flights tend to have very good onboard entertainment systems. You may spend most of your time watching movies. That said, you might want to bring on your iPad or reading material for in-between times. Don’t forget your chargers.
Sweaters And Sleep Wear
Being cold can ruin a long flight. The airlines have blankets, but if you tend to be cold, make sure to bring a comfy sweater.
You’ll be in your clothes for 30+ hours. We like to wear casual clothes to the airport and then change into comfortable attire for sleeping. We avoid tight clothes and zippers.
We have back and neck problems, so we always bring our own pillows in addition to the pillows that the airline provides.
If you wear eyeglasses, you’ll want to have something to put your eyeglasses in when you sleep. An eyeglass case removes the worry about where to put them or potentially damaging them.
Jet Lag Strategies
Jet lag is a challenge when traveling to Asia. After an almost 24-hour flight, you have to adjust to a 12+ hour time difference. Day is night and night is day. We have tried many different strategies. We also make sure to drink a lot of water and limit our alcohol consumption. Some people swear by melatonin, but we’ve never found it helpful.
Switch To Asia Time When Boarding
We have sometimes changed our watch to Singapore time as soon as we board. This can work for some people as you can use the time on the plane to start your adjustment.
Sleep As Much As Possible
Sleeping as much as possible on the plane can ensure that you are rested when you arrive. Being well rested (face it, most of us operate with a sleep deficit all of the time) can help offset your exhaustion when you arrive.
Stay Up The Whole Flight
If your flight is landing early in the evening, staying up the entire flight can help you to be tired when you arrive so that you can go to sleep in the evening in Asia.
Sleep When You Are Tired
This is my current strategy. We no longer worry about whether or not we have jet lag. We sleep when we are tired and do things when we are awake. Eventually, we adjust. Of course, our trips to Asia are no longer just one week long. We generally stay in Asia 6 to 10 weeks and have the luxury of taking our time to adjust.
No matter which strategy you pick, you’ll likely be tired. It can take a day per time zone to adjust.
Pro Tips For Long Flights
Try to take it slower the first few days after you land. Of course, this is hard to do on a one-week trip.
Some people feel that going east is harder than going west. Others feel the opposite. Don’t be surprised if one way is easier than the other.
Check the onboard meal and movie offerings before you fly. Sometimes ordering special meals or knowing that you can watch a particular movie helps you to look forward to the flight.
Plan for landing. If you are traveling from winter to summer, you’ll want to be able to change into the right clothes as soon as you land. And, in your tired state, you’ll not want to be figuring out a complicated transfer. Do your research ahead of time.
Our most important recommendation: Don’t let the fear of a 24-hour flight stop you from seeing an amazing part of the world.
Is a long flight in your future? If yes, you’ll also want to read up on 17 things to do now to prepare for future travel.