Now boarding: Passengers ready for world’s longest flight

opinion October 12, 2018 01:00

By Agence France-Presse

Singapore Airlines blazes the trail for ultra-long-haul journeys

Passengers began boarding the world’s longest flight yesterday – a marathon 19 hours in the air between Singapore and New York.

Two pilots, a special “wellness” menu and more than seven weeks’ worth of film and television entertainment were expected to accompany travellers on the 16,700-kilometre journey to the Big Apple.

Singapore Airlines will use the long-range Airbus A350-900ULR, configured to carry 161 passengers – 67 in business class and 94 in premium economy, with no regular economy seats available.

For the flight crew – which also includes two first officers and a 13-strong cabin contingent – the work load will be broken up, the airline said, with each pilot having a minimum eight hours’ rest during the flight.

But for passengers, the challenge will be what to do with all that down time when they’re up in the air.

For those not packing a weighty novel (or two), there will be 1,200 hours of audio-visual entertainment to choose from.

Dining options will include dishes the airline says have been selected to promote well-being in the skies, with organic dishes on the menu.

The cabin has higher-than-normal ceilings, larger windows and lighting designed to reduce jet lag – all part of an effort to lessen the stresses that can accompany almost a day on a plane.

“Research has shown that hydration and food intake are important factors [to consider], such as avoiding foods that cause gas or bloating as well as excessive alcohol,” explains Rhenu Bhuller, a healthcare expert at consultancy Frost & Sullivan.

“The biggest concern is Deep Vein Thrombosis from a combination of sitting for too long and also from dehydration,” said Gail Cross, an associate consultant at the National University Hospital in Singapore.

The twin-engine plane that will make the journey uses a modified system that burns 25 per cent less fuel than other aircraft of a similar size, Airbus said.

The flight from the city-state to Newark Airport can take up to 18 hours and 45 minutes under normal weather conditions, but the pilots will have something in reserve in an aircraft capable of flying more than 20 hours non-stop.

Singapore Airlines originally flew the route for nine years using the gas-guzzling, four-engine A340-500 before abandoning it in 2013 because high oil prices made the service unprofitable.

But the carrier is hoping that the introduction of more fuel-efficient planes will set cash registers ringing even as crude prices soar above $80.

When it eventually lands, yesterday’s flight will top the current longest direct link between cities – Qatar Airways Flight 921 from Auckland to Doha, which takes 17 hours 40 minutes.

“It’s turning out to be a race between a few airlines eyeing the longest routes inter-continentally,” says Shukor Yusof of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics.

“They are hoping to capitalise and exploit a very niche market,” he adds.

Facing increasingly strong competition in recent years, Singapore Airlines has consolidated its low-fare subsidiaries and is strengthening its premium segment.

“Ultra-long haul services comprise an important component of that strategy,” an airline spokesman says.

The company is the first airline in the world to operate the A350-900ULR plane. It received the first aircraft in September. Six more are due for delivery by the end of the year. “We are optimistic about the demand for non-stop services to the US,” says the spokesman.

Analyst Shukor, however, says it remained to be seen whether the airline and other operators of marathon flights can withstand the pressure from rising oil prices.

A new Singapore Airlines route connecting the city-state to New York goes began operating yesterday, becoming the longest commercial plane ride in the world. The journey covers a distance of 16,700 kilometres in just under 19 hours, making it the lengthiest in both distance and time.

There is no economy class. The cabin is configured in only two segments: 67 business class seats and 94 premium economy seats. The route uses the fuel-efficient ultra-long range variant of Airbus’ A350-900, a category of plane that airlines are increasingly turning to as they look to squeeze more miles out of every drop of pricey fuel.

Here are the world’s next-longest flights:

    Auckland to Doha: 17 hr 40 min

Qatar Airways Flight 921, using a Boeing 777, held the previous title as world’s longest commercial route, flying passengers over 14,500 kilometres from the New Zealand capital to Doha.

Houston to Sydney: 17 hr 30 min

United’s 787 Dreamliners fly 13,800 kilometres to connect Australia’s biggest city with Houston in the southern US.

Auckland to Dubai: 17 hr 20 min

Auckland has a second link to a Middle Eastern hub through Emirates Flight 449, which flies Airbus A380 superjumbos to Dubai at a distance of 14,200 kilometres.

Los Angeles to Singapore: 17 hr 20 min

United launched its service connecting Los Angeles’ LAX airport to Singapore using a 787 last year.

At the time the 14,100-kilometre link was the longest non-stop flight by distance from the US to anywhere in the world, the airline said.

Perth to London: 17 hr 20 min

The 14,500-kilometre Qantas service launched this year is the first regular link between Australia and Europe, with the airline’s Boeing 787 fleet connecting Perth and London. 

Sydney to London?

The Perth route is part of an ambitious plan by Qantas to eventually connect Europe with airports on Australia’s eastern seaboard as new, more efficient aircraft become available.

Chief executive Alan Joyce told media last year that a non-stop, 17,000-kilometre service from Sydney to London could be on the cards as soon as 2022 – but only if oil prices stay low enough to provide a decent return on the route. – AFP