The World's Best Airline Just Unveiled an Exclusive New In-flight Wellness Program — With Help From a Top Spa Resort

The experts at Golden Door are lending their secrets to Singapore Airlines to bring the wellness retreat experience to the sky.

A Singapore Airlines airplane inflight
Photo: Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

When guests enter Golden Door, the San Marcos, California spa resort known worldwide for its "life-changing" wellness programming, the first scene they'll encounter is a long wooden bridge under a canopy of leaves that runs straight and then makes a sharp left turn.

Guests are told that when they turn that corner, they're leaving the stressors of the outside world behind.

The entrance to Golden Door spa retreat in San Marcos, California
Nina Ruggiero

Now, Singapore Airlines is working with Golden Door's experts in mental and physical health to give travelers that same feeling as they board a plane and turn down the aisle to settle in for a long-haul flight.

The new Singapore Airlines partnership with Golden Door, announced Tuesday morning, includes new menus, in-flight exercises, and sleep education, and will launch on Los Angeles-to-Singapore (SQ37) flights in January before expanding to nonstop flights to Singapore from San Francisco, New York JFK, and Seattle.

But how do you take the magic cultivated across 600 acres of Southern California avocado and citrus groves, hiking trails, Japanese-inspired gardens, and biodynamic farmland, and translate it to a 50-square-foot first class suite 36,000 feet in the air?

The answer is multifaceted and requires experimentation between chefs, nutritionists, and personal trainers — but at the end of the day, it comes down to one simple concept: teaching passengers how to pause.

"You have the right to pause," Kathy Van Ness, general manager and COO of Golden Door, said. "And that right will help you live longer."

Guests at Golden Door are there to take time out of their busy lives to care for their bodies and minds. And on a 17-hour-plus flight, travelers are afforded a similar opportunity to use a time out in their favor.

"We build our programs around the world's longest flights... to have that time to dig into the content that Golden Door is creating," Betty Wong, SIA's divisional vice president of in-flight services and design, said.

Passengers in premium cabins will have access to an e-library filled with simple exercises to increase circulation and flexibility, and expert learnings on experience-based sleep techniques before, during, and after their flights.

Of course, what all of this means to travelers will vary. Some will nosh on orange-braised baby beet salad, stretch and meditate along to the fitness videos, and pore over articles on secrets to better sleep. Others will turn on a rom-com and order their fill of Champagne. Many will fall somewhere in between.

"It's flexibility and options," Wong said. "Everyone is different and their needs are different."

As someone who experienced Singapore's previous wellness program with Canyon Ranch on the inaugural world's longest flight in 2018 and followed the itinerary to its fullest potential (with a side of Champagne; I'm only human), I know firsthand the benefits of turning a long flight into a mini-wellness retreat. About 19 hours after leaving Newark, I had the energy to look a 12-hour time difference square in the eye and take myself straight to a business dinner at a buzzing hawker centre, followed by an early morning of exploring the city.

And as someone who already had a chance to try the upcoming menu from Golden Door executive chef Greg Frey and Singapore Airlines director of food and beverage Anthony McNeil, I also know that whatever each individual's in-flight MO may be, they're at the very least going to enjoy the food.

Chefs preparing the Golden Door Session Menu with Singapore Airlines
Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

The menu, which includes many of the same dishes Frey serves his guests at Golden Door, has been adapted by McNeil to ensure every dish can be properly stored and pleasantly presented on an airplane. After months of video calls from across the world, the pair was able to team up in person inside the Golden Door kitchen in late September, along with the catering chefs who will bring the meals to life once the program launches.

McNeil said coming to California helped him "to understand the philosophy, see the surroundings, and to really be able to curate a more accurate picture of what the Golden Door experience is."

While Frey grows his own ingredients in his fragrant on-site gardens, Singapore Airlines' innovative use of aeroponic farming should leave little to be desired in the vegetable department. Using detoxifying combinations and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as turmeric, verbena, mint, and olive oil, the new wellness dishes are designed to satisfy but also pack in nutrients, helping ease the body into a long journey and new time zone.

The Golden Door Session Menu with Singapore Airlines
Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

Sample dishes include citrus grilled shrimp salad with honey-glazed mushrooms, blackberries, sourdough croutons, and balsamic ginger dressing as an appetizer; portobello meatballs and risotto with heirloom tomato sauce and wilted greens (a personal favorite) as a main course; oatmeal with goji berries, blueberries, quinoa, almonds, and honey drizzle for breakfast; and vegan coconut ice cream with mango for dessert.

At Golden Door, dinner is the main event that gets all 40 guests — mothers and daughters, CEOs and city dwellers, often times movie stars and media moguls — to gather together each day. On flights to Singapore, especially amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the social scene won't be the same. Van Ness and her team are hopeful, however, that the feeling of rejuvenation upon departure will be.

"Our goal," she said, "is to affect every single person inside that plane in a positive way."

Nina Ruggiero is Travel + Leisure's deputy digital editor. A New Yorker living in Los Angeles, she's happiest on a beach, a cobblestone street, or in a hotel bathtub with a view. Find her on Instagram @ninamarienyc.

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