6 things to know when you hop aboard United's 18-hour flight to Singapore

Key Points
  • United Airlines' 18-hour flight to Singapore seems long, but it actually shaves hours off the traditional time.
  • A trip costs nearly $600, and departs from San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Harriet Baskas | CNBC

Just over a week ago, United Airlines set a new distance record among U.S. airlines flying to or from the U.S., by launching nonstop service between Los Angeles International and Singapore.

Aircraft flying west often face headwinds, which makes the 8,700-mile trip to Singapore's Changi Airport clock in at a whopping 17 hours and 55 minutes; the eastbound return journey can take just over 15 hours. Either way, the new route significantly shortens the jaunt from the City of Angels to the Lion City.

"Before this, a passenger had to go San Francisco to get our nonstop to Singapore, or fly one of the other airlines that requires making a connection somewhere else in Asia," Patrick Quayle, vice president of international network for United Airlines, told CNBC. "This flight shaves hours off that journey."

Currently, United is the only U.S. carrier offering direct flights between LAX and Singapore. After briefly dipping to an introductory price of $177, round-trip economy fares cost around $589 with taxes for some early December flights.

CNBC took a trip on United's recent maiden voyage from LAX to Singapore, which arrived at its destination in 16 hours, thanks to relatively little air resistance. Here are a few interesting facts for travelers taking the long flight.

From LA or San Francisco: The choice is yours

Harriet Baskas | CNBC

Every day at 8:55 p.m., United's flight is scheduled to taxi down the LAX runway, arriving in Singapore at 6:50 a.m. two days later, local Singapore time. The return flight leaves Changi Airport daily at 11 a.m., touching down in L.A. at 10:15 a.m. local time.

United's nonstop flight from San Francisco to Singapore clocks in at 8,466 miles, and is currently the second-longest scheduled route operated by a U.S. carrier.

The Dreamliner is logging LOTS of miles around the world

United Airlines Boeing 787-9
Source: United Airlines

In addition to being the longest U.S. flight to anywhere in the world, United's LA-to-Singapore trip now holds the record for both the longest (8,700 miles) and second-longest flights (8,466 miles between San Francisco and Singapore) on Boeing's 787-9 Dreamliner.

That record is destined to fall in March, when Australia-based Qantas begins flying its own Dreamliner between Perth and London — a distance of 9,009 miles.

While these will be the longest flights on the 787-9, they won't be the world's longest flight. That record is currently held by Qatar Airways, which flies between Doha and Auckland, New Zealand, a distance of 9,032 miles.

The ties that bind LA to Singapore

Source: Singapore Tourism Board

Shortening the flight time between Los Angeles and Singapore is not only appealing for leisure travelers heading to Asia: It tightens the economic links between the cities.

"Over 71 Singaporean companies have operations in the six counties of Southern California. They create over 3,300 jobs for the local region and together contribute over 200 million in annual wages," Stephen Cheung, president of the World Trade Center, Los Angeles, told CNBC.

"So this new direct flight increases the opportunity for Singaporeans to invest in Los Angeles."

Getting settled for the long haul, in style

Business class fliers on United's LAX to Singapore flights benefit from Polaris amenities, including Saks Fifth Avenue bedding.
Harriet Baskas | CNBC

If you're going to be on a plane for 18 hours — or any long stretch of time — comfortable seating, upgraded amenities and the aircraft itself can make a difference in how you feel on arrival.

United's nonstop Dreamliner service has 252 seats: 48 in business class, 88 premium economy seats and 116 economy seats. The business-class section does have lie-flat seats, and benefits from the airline's Polaris service, which includes Saks Fifth Avenue-branded bedding and fleece-lined slippers.

The composite carbon fiber material used to make the aircraft improves cabin pressure and humidity in comparison to other planes made from aluminum. That helps passengers feel as if they are flying at a lower altitude than on a standard flight — and may cut down on jet lag and other long-haul woes travelers usually experience.

Get a piece of the 747 before it becomes history

Source: United Airlines

United is about to retire its entire fleet of 747s, known as the "Queen of the Skies." Through January, the carrier is giving passengers flying in Polaris premium cabins a collectible 747-themed amenity kit.

In addition to amenity basics that include various toiletries, the kit contains commemorative items like a pair of 747-themed socks, a padded eye-mask and a pack of five 747-themed trading cards.

Comfort food for a long trip

Asian sweets are a featured menu on United's new flight between Los Angeles and Singapore.
Harriet Baskas | CNBC

Eating and snacking are important, too. United's Polaris passengers on the LA-to-Singapore flights can plan on having a four-course dinner, with sundaes and Asian sweets for dessert, breakfast before arrival and a choice of serve-yourself snacks like Ramen noodles, sandwiches, fruit and candy.