You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Singapore Airlines is betting on the US with new routes despite a COVID surge — here's why the airline is expanding now

Business Insider India logoBusiness Insider India 6 days ago Thomas Pallini
a large passenger jet flying through a cloudy blue sky: Singapore Airlines is betting on the US with new routes despite a COVID surge — here's why the airline is expanding now © Phuong D. Nguyen/Shutterstock.com Singapore Airlines is betting on the US with new routes despite a COVID surge — here's why the airline is expanding now
  • Singapore Airlines is growing its US route network with increased flights to the West Coast starting next month.
  • New three-times-weekly flights to San Francisco will start in mid-December while Los Angeles will soon see five weekly flights.
  • The airline's head of Americas Joey Seow told Business Insider that vaccine news from Pfizer and Moderna is a good sign that travel will return to normal sooner than expected and the new flights lay the foundation for the airline's recovery.

Singapore Airlines is continuing to build back its North American route network with more flights to more cities across the US, ending an eight-month holding pattern during the pandemic that saw the airline operate only one American route.

On the heels of launching its newest route just last week between Singapore and New York, which earned the top spot of the world's longest flight by distance, the flag carrier is doubling down with increased flights to the West Coast. Starting in December, Los Angeles will see an increase in daily flights while San Francisco will see its first scheduled flights since April, both laying the foundation for the airline's post-pandemic recovery.

The first flight to San Francisco will depart Singapore on December 15 and return two days later on December 17. The Bay Area will start with three-times-weekly service departing to Singapore on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays as the airline settles into the new route, which sees a duration of 14 hours and 40 minutes on the outbound leg and 17 hours and 35 minutes on the return.

Los Angeles, for its part, will see increased frequencies from three weekly flights to five starting December 2, with service on all days of the week except Thursdays and Saturdays. Singapore Airlines never stopped flying the Singapore-Los Angeles route throughout the pandemic, which became its sole non-stop link to the US.

"The US is the number one market in the world, it is a market that nobody can ignore," Joey Seow, regional vice president, the Americas, told Business Insider. "Despite the fact that passenger loads are not where we were during the pre-COVID days, we are committed to the market."

Singapore Airlines has served the US for nearly half a century, growing to six cities and nine routes before the pandemic. Now begins the long road to get back to the sizeable network that the airline spent decades building but took less than two months for the pandemic to tear down.

Building back up in the US amidst a COVID surge

The pandemic impacted Singapore Airlines at its high point in the US, just as it was riding a wave of expansion that saw unprecedented connectivity between the US and Singapore.

In 2018, Singapore Airlines began introducing more non-stop flights to American cities, bringing the two countries closer together by cutting down travel times. That year saw the resumption of the world's longest non-stop flight between Singapore and Newark in October and non-stop flights between Singapore and Los Angeles. Seattle was later added in 2019, the last route addition to the US before the pandemic.

In April 2020, however, Singapore Airlines had scaled back the number of non-stop links to the US to just Los Angeles. The flights served as a lifeline for Singaporeans flying back to the island nation, and vice versa, as the only non-stop route between the US and Singapore from mid-April until November.

A surprise announcement from the airline in October saw the addition of a new route between Singapore and New York, the only American route expansion from the airline in 2020. The three-times-weekly flights began on November 11.

But now, when cities across the US are currently preparing for a second-wave amid a potentially super-spreading holiday season, why is Singapore Airlines growing to more US cities?

The airline sees a light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic, according to Seow, and is positioning itself for when travel opens up. The country of Singapore is in a state of normalcy having relaxed most of its restrictions to where indoor dining is common, travel bubbles with foreign countries are opening, and community spread is minimal.

While the same cannot be said of the US, positive vaccine news is an encouraging sign to the airline that normal may be here sooner than later. And that would mean international travel resuming quicker than previously expected.

"With the announcements by Modena and Pfizer, there has been a lot of positivity that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the market is also signaling that recovery is in sight," Seow told Business Insider. "So from a timing perspective, the stars are aligned in that respect."

For now, the lack of passengers filling its plush seats will be offset by the amount of freight carried in the cargo hold below. Singapore relies on imports as a small city-state and serves as a regional transit hub for cargo traveling across Southeast Asia.

Cargo made the business case for launching the New York route, as Singapore Airlines has a cargo processing facility on the grounds of JFK Airport and freight is yielding a premium due to a global shortage of cargo space on the world's freighters.

The right aircraft for the job

Before the pandemic, Singapore Airlines had relied on one plane to fly non-stop to the US, the Airbus A350-900 XWB. Its intercontinental range and fuel efficiency easily accommodated the ultra-long-haul flying required to connect Singapore and the US, allowing the airline to grow its non-stop route network and save travelers a few hours on their journey.

Singapore Airlines has 52 of the aircraft in its fleet, including seven of the A350-900ULR variant, short for "ultra-long-range", used on the flight between Singapore and Newark, on which Business Insider flew in 2018 in business class and premium economy class. New York and Los Angeles flights will see the standard three-class configuration that offers business class, premium economy class, and economy class. Business Insider toured the aircraft before its inaugural run from New York to Singapore last week.

San Francisco flights will offer a premium experience as the airline will only offer business class and premium economy class on the flight, using the specially-configured Airbus A350-900ULR. The aircraft was always intended for US operations and this latest expansion saw them reinstated.

"In the case of San Francisco, we put the ULR just on account of that we don't have enough of the A350 planes," Seow said.

Singapore Airlines is awaiting 15 more jets on order from Airbus, including seven of the ULRs.

A full return to normal

Seow wouldn't say exactly Singapore Airlines will return to full strength in the US and what the future of operations in the Americas will look like. However, surging COVID cases won't be the sole factor by which the airline determines where to fly next in the US as cargo demand will play a large role in future expansions and resumptions.

Non-stop routes to Singapore are likely to return first but one-stop routes via European and Asian cities are not entirely off the table, though Seow said that demand will dictate when they come back. The airline has no plans to drop those routes.

The flight from Newark will also return in due time, according to Seow, but it's more likely that non-stop flights to New York will be made daily before the airline makes that move. Demand would have to come back in a truly meaningful way to justify flights to two different New York area airports again.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon