The World’s Longest Flights: Are They Really Better Than Connecting?

It used to be “around the world in 80 days”. Now it is less than 80 hours thanks to modern, fuel efficient, long range aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350. These have allowed all sorts of new, ultra longhaul routes to become a possibility.

Airlines are constantly trying to outdo each other to hold the coveted title of operating the world’s longest flight.

Two airlines that are especially interested in the possibilities of ultra longhaul travel are Qantas and Singapore Airlines.

Qantas has always been at a geographical disadvantage as an ‘end-point’ carrier. While it has operated flights to the ‘motherland’ of London for decades, until just last week they were always via a city in either Asia or the Middle East where the plane could refuel, and passengers could stretch their legs.

Qantas 787 Dreamliner

Their new 787 Dreamliners have meant that Qantas can now operate London to Perth direct, but Qantas have long term goals to one day operate their prized QF1 service from Sydney to London non-stop. Sydney to New York direct is also on their dream wish list, eliminating the stopover in Los Angeles.

Singapore Airlines used to operate direct flights from Singapore to Los Angeles and New York using ultra low density, but fuel guzzling A340s. These unprofitable flights ended years ago but later this year Singapore Airlines will receive their first Airbus A350-900ULR, for which they are the launch customer. This plane has been developed with Singapore Airlines specific destinations in mind and will make direct, fuel efficient flights to Los Angeles and New York a reality.

The next generation of world’s longest flights? (SYD-LHR would be the longest)

These two airlines may leap-frog each other as the holder of world’s longest flight, as technology continues to improve and 20 hour flights will become a reality.

Both airlines have trumpeted the benefits of offering direct, incredibly long flights so their passengers do not need to connect, but is longer actually better?

It depends on where you are sitting

Since getting into this ‘hobby’, I have taken dozens of short, medium and longhaul premium flights but have not taken an economy flight over six hours in six years. To be honest the thought of even a 12 hour overnight flight down the ‘back of the bus’ terrifies me and puts me off visiting plenty of exotic destinations if I can’t get there comfortably.

There is absolutely no way I could consider a 20 hour flight in a middle seat in row 68 regardless of the airline. I cannot imagine how ruined I would feel afterwards. I’d also be very hesitant to spend this time in premium economy.

Of course, business and first class is the real allure of these ultra longhaul flights. The opportunity to eat whenever you want and have a proper flat bed to sleep whenever you want would make the journey much more bearable, and even enjoyable.

Qatars 777 Business Class, currently used on the world’s longest from Doha to Auckland

Qantas do operate a relatively low-density, premium-heavy configuration on their London to Perth flight, but there are still 166 economy seats in a 3-3-3 configuration that they need to fill on these flights.

No way. Ever.

Cabin fever

When I moved to London there were plenty of mileage redeeming options to choose from to move my life from Australia. I chose Etihad first class.

As I was in no rush to get there I chose two day flights (Melbourne to Abu Dhabi, and then Abu Dhabi to London), both day flights flying west, with a 14 hour overnight stopover in between. This was so I could enjoy the experience as much as possible.

And enjoy it I did.

There are worse places to spend half a day

But on a 13+ hour first class flight to Abu Dhabi after eating a delicious multi-course lunch with some champagne and fine wines, watching a movie or two and then having a nap in the late afternoon, by about hour number eight I was actually bored. I wasn’t hungry or tired, and didn’t want to drink just for the sake of it.

I ended up wandering the cabin repeatedly and was very ready to disembark when we landed.

It was wonderful to get off the plane, sleep in a proper bed at an airport hotel, have a swim in their rooftop pool the next morning in a completely foreign country. Then have a good wander around the airport and lounge, have a massage and then eventually mosey onto the next flight refreshed, excited and ready to go.

It was great to break up the trip and if Etihad had offered a 24 hour non-stop flight I wouldn’t have taken it, even in first class.

No more stopover adventures

I love a stopover and I’ll be writing about some of these experiences in separate posts.

I’ve had such interesting adventures, and it’s a great way to sample a new city/country before committing a whole holiday there. I love sleeping in a proper bed, eating a local meal, and wandering through a new area.

Non-stop flights mean no more adventures. There are countries like Qatar I would never have visited had it not been for choosing to stop at a carrier’s hub, and I am so glad I did.

Even flights like QF1 that carry a single flight number from Sydney to London or the current SQ26 from Singapore to New York stop in Singapore, and Frankfurt (respectively) for around two hours to refuel. All passengers de-plane so the aircraft can be properly cleaned and restocked.

This allows those passengers with lounge access to shower and all passengers to stretch their legs and have a stroll through the airport. I always feel better having this break, especially when I can shower and re-board feeling refreshed and relaxed.

The amount of time saved

The exact travel time for some of these ambitious new flights is not yet known because the aircraft do not exist so performance is not certain. But eliminating the, say, two hour stopover and flying a slightly more direct straight line rather than via the stopover city may only reduce the travel time from Sydney to London, or Singapore to New York, by two or three hours.

I know for time-poor business travellers this time saving may be significant, although wifi on planes means they can often work anywhere at anytime anyway.

But for the average leisure traveller, does saving two or three hours on a 20+ hour journey really make much difference?

To me it doesn’t.

Of course I wouldn’t want to board an overnight flight and fall asleep, only be woken up five hours later for a ‘stopover’ before re-boarding and attempting to sleep again. But these city pairs usually have options for one long, overnight leg where you can have a good 10 hours of rest and then a shorter daytime flight for the final leg.

Bottom line

Airline executives seem to have a ‘build it and they will come’ mindset when it comes to the next generation of ultra longhaul flights. For me, I’m perfectly happy connecting and plan to continue to do so.

What’s the longest flight you would take?

Comments

  1. Great piece!

    The engineering side of me would likely calculate the percentage of time the layover takes versus the total time in the journey.

  2. I would agree. USA – ME routes are about as far as I’ll go direct. Getting above 15hrs in one shot you’re right it doesn’t matter how comfy the seat you need to get out and move a bit.

  3. Nicely written. I am an Aussie living in Chicago who travels with family to auckland and Sydney each year. The new non-stop service to auckland makes such a difference especially with its timing (leaving late at night). Kids can have a movie or two then lie down and wake up with an hour or two to go. It’s only marginally longer than la akl without the stopover. So def some non-stops become beneficial (different than linking two ten hour flights). Keeping fingers crossed for Chicago Sydney but it looks like Brisbane may be the answer (cmon Alan!!).

    I’m also looking fwd to new non-stop to Addis abba in June.

    Maybe in summary the ability to avoid a short haul flight and a stopover (often in economy) is a real benefit of longer non-stops

  4. I consider it 3 trip experiences if in FC through the carriers hub – flight #1, then the carriers premier FC lounge, then flight #2. It is like 3 trips in 1. If you can combine it with a 24 hour layover to see the city then even better.

  5. Agree 100%. I get bored out of my mind after 8-10 hours. I’m happy to connect and maybe stay overnight along the way.

  6. I flew DOH-AKL (and back) a couple of month ago and my thoughs differ a bit.

    Yes, the business class made it so much fun.
    Yes, I was way to excited to fly Qatar Airways AND go visit New Zealand.
    Yes, I was so exhausted outbound and inbound that I slept like a baby for 6-8 hours on each leg.
    Yes, the crew was fantastic, movie selection great and food awesome.

    And it is true I really enjoyed visiting Hamad International and the city of Doha.

    I think it might be because I LOVE flying, I though of this experience as kind of “living” in the airplane which was kind of a dream come true. Given the chance I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    I agree I would never do that trip in coach, and would definitely choose an alternative passing through SE Asia I I were forced to do it to avoid a 12+ hr in economy.

    I think my point is that 17, 18… or even 20 hours is a VERY long time to spend in a tin can. But you know it in advance, and you come prepared to make the experience more bearable, even fun. And the airlines that do those kind of flights are not Air Madagascar (I flew them so I know what to expect).

    Of course, if your point is: “Livin’ it like good ol’ Lucky” and taking a flight like this that every week, I would perhaps reconsider some of my arguments 😉

    Great post(s) nevertheless ! Congrats on the new job !

  7. Good article James. I have done the BNE – MAN trip in economy / business just about every conceivable way, lay overs 1,2,3 and even 5 stops ( on Garuda : OMG ) back in the day , bottom line I’d rather be up the front but it’s always going to be a long way……..

  8. @ James

    again+1..a great report in which I can see myself…I always treasure stopping over as I want to cheerish my premium travel experience.. being bored on board and could not enjoy the perks..that is for me the death of air travel..
    Love having a stop for a day or two to see new cities, new foodies, new hotels and in some cases widen your horizon..
    Huge respect to travellers who love to sit for hours on board..for business or leisure..as I have said before..I love my privacy..even partitions can only guarantee a certain level of freedom/privacy..
    So to answer your question..my longest flight in which I had a mere stop over feeling was 25 years ago with SQ in Eco…it was LHR-SIN-AKL..this probably shaped me not to travel Eco again(horrified for life) and never do a non stop or short stop on a ultra long flights…

  9. I am surprised there aren’t more options with timing of departures. This is the one thing that these flights could offer. Everything has to be in sync for connections, but there could be more interesting departure times with these direct flights. It always seemed odd to me that all the competitors on a route depart at basically the same time. Why not leave east coast USA early AM so one can have dinner in Europe? Only NYC or LAX seem to have unique options (in the US), everyone else gets lumped together in the same departing time slots.

  10. I agree about the cabin fever thing. On etihad or Emirates, I would typically start drinking when I get on then pass out after dinner. I would spend the absolutely maximum time allowed in the shower room as it gives me something to do. In fact I may sit on the crapper for a full 20 mins before showering.

  11. I’ve taken plenty of flights in economy for ultra long periods of time, including:
    * 15hr LAX-HKG flight, 4hr layover, and another 5h to CGK
    * 12hr LHR-SIN flight, 5hr layover, and another 2h to CGK
    * 2hr CGK-SIN, 8hr layover, 8h SIN-DXB, 4h layover and another 13h DXB-BOS

    All in economy. They’re all pretty bearable if you have the right expectations, a seat that’s not in the last row, and most importantly to me, someone to spend it with. I find it’s easy to sleep by placing the pillow halfway down the armrest, lifting it up, and leaning onto it. Seat has to be reclined also. Can sleep about 6 hours on those ultra long-stretches, spend the remaining time stretching, watching IFE and airshow.

  12. You read my mind.

    I feel the same way – I do enjoy long-hauls, but I would avoid anything over 16 hours. The thought of flying SYD-LHR or SYD-JFK or SIN-JFK nonstop makes me shudder. The 16-hour CX JFK-HKG flight is great if one catches the one late in the evening (assuming first class), as the entire flight is dark – great for staying up, eating, and then sleeping for most of the way.

    I too like breaking up the longer journeys in general, even if it’s only a 90-minute stop to refuel (the plane) and shower (me).

  13. In a premium cabin, I think twelve hours is about the sweet spot.

    After about two hours, you’re done with dinner and can sleep for eight hours, then wake up two hours prior to landing for your pre-arrival meal.

  14. Refreshing take. Your voice stands out in a field where longer, further are synonymous with better and more prestige. Like you, I enjoy breaking up the trip to get a taste of a city I wouldn’t otherwise have visited (time-permitting, of course). And I agree even SQ can’t make sitting in Y for 18+hrs in any way appealing. Looking forward to your future posts.

  15. Internationally I fly business or first and the U.S. – Middle East is about my limit . Even then I don’t really enjoy the flight. The prospect of spending 18-24 hours on a plane without a break sends shivers down my wingtips. Like you, I’d much rather break the journey somewhere along the way. At some point being able to fly nonstop regardless of the distance is bound to have diminishing returns for both the passenger and the carrier.

  16. I don’t have a problem with economy for 8-10 hours, providing it’s daytime. EG, MEL/SYD-BKK is very easy economy , albeit not ny preference, even on LCC.
    The SQ SIN-EWR flight on the 340 made a HUGE difference : essentially a day flight , am departure, early evening arrival, whereas going via LAX always meant a red eye on the domestic leg. It was worth it, IMO.

  17. The most difficult flights have been Moscow-Havana return (13 hrs, Aeroflot on IL96 at the time) and Moscow-LAX return (13 hrs, Aeroflot on Boeing 767 at the time).
    These were awful, because a) no entertainment at all, and those were the times when you didnt poor service.
    Seat comfort was pretty ok on the IL96 though (for example, you could fold the empty seat in front of you forward – yes, that was a thing – and stretch out).
    Some flights in economy can be downright enjoyable. For example, I always like SQ Moscow-Singapore because of the comfy seats and generally great service, and even after 11 hours of flying I don’t feel tired.
    Same with stopovers. I can take non-stop KLM from Moscow to Amsterdam or I can take Air Serbia via Belgrade at 50% of the cost.
    It’s all down to your perspective and goals, really.

  18. @Matt:

    Totally agreed. I’ve found that to be the case, too. The SFO-HKG flight is my ideal. Even the DXB-SFO flight in EK F starts to wear thin at 15+ hours despite the novelty and time-killer of a shower and ample bubbly to drink or things to watch. Just being captive in an aluminum (or composite) tube gets me antsy and I just wanna be on the ground.

  19. I can see where you are coming from James though for starters a family of 4 say with two young children the temptation of a non-stop flight with no dragging them through a new airport in a different country and having to then reset them up on the next new flight is very alluring secondly Qantas made specifically designed economy seats that have more pitch ergonomic and tech and storage features on QF9 and SQ SIN -JFK/LAX will only have premium economy and business class

    Also “But on a 13+ hour first class flight to Abu Dhabi after eating a delicious multi-course lunch with some champagne and fine wines, watching a movie or two and then having a nap in the late afternoon, by about hour number eight I was actually bored. I wasn’t hungry or tired, and didn’t want to drink just for the sake of it.
    I ended up wandering the cabin repeatedly and was very ready to disembark when we landed”

    Being bored and wanting to get off the plane after 8 hours in one of the most spacious and best first classes in the world by a leading airlines is very rich and stuck up (considering people would kill to fly what is a fantastic product and not complain about how bored they are) which is in stark contrast to your Ryan Air post the other day.

  20. I have another view. Some super long haul destinations, the business or even leisure makes sense if its a 20-hr flight x 2 in both directions.

    If with a transit too short like 2 to 5 hrs, totalling 30plus hrs, will leave u exhausted on arrival.

    If u hv an overnight transit, time taken could be 40plus hrs in each direction, the entire flying and transit time is too long that it makes little to no sense for that city visit.

    Be it biz trip or leisure trip, we have limited time / leave days for such trips. We cannot spend too much time in transit and flying.This is also an important consideration. And hence the super long haul does make sense.

  21. @Hal

    Now I finally meet the man who blocked the loo for ages and used all the hotwater in the shower…LOL..just kidding! But I have to admit I love this huge bathroom and the divine shower in EK..I know it is pretentious…but lovely perks I would definitely miss when discontinued..so thanks for EK and EY for being courageous to give their preminium guests a great exprience..you heard it SQ? Do it!

  22. I think the general population is scared to death of having a stop over. What happens to my luggage, what do I do for 4 hours, do I need a visa, what about security… and so on.

    I rather connect on a better airline/class of service.

  23. @ Random Travel – I must admit once AKL-DOH eventually gets QSuites I’d be keen to give this a try. But this is because QSuites was SO good when I flew it that its one of the few times I wish a flight didn’t have to end!

  24. I can only concur the QSuites is the bechmark in business class nowadays..It is exactly what I want in a longhaul flight compared with fantastic F&B and great service..I could not remember if I ever had a bad flight with QR…QR C is the only C class product in the world which I prefer to fly before F class products in some cases…

  25. Agreed with all of this 100%. I can handle an ultra longhaul (longest I’ve done CX 812, HKG-BOS, which is blocked at 16 hours, but took us almost 17 including a ground delay in BOS) in J, but I would literally stab my eyes out flying in the back.

    My company is “economy only”… so I try to break these up with layovers, though increasingly I’ll just buy up the difference myself (in cash to upgrade to PE or in miles to upgrade to J).

  26. There’s no way I’d take one of the ultra-longhaul flights. The longest flight I’ve taken was LAX-BNE at 14 hours in economy. It wasn’t so bad since my friend and I finagled a row to ourselves…plus I was so exhausted from getting up at 4am to get from BOI-LAS-LAX, spending 10 hours in LAX, then flying on the red-eye. Our return flight from SYD-LAX was awful. I got stuck in a middle seat, couldn’t sleep, got a sore throat and was starving. I’ve taken a few longer flights to Europe lately (SEA-AMS, SEA-CDG) and it’s just a long time to fly. I’d much rather connect through MSP or DTW to break up the flight!

  27. Like your said ‘build it and they will come’ mindset in which time will tell, also imply the airline executives how they expect + foresee what customer looks like. Kangaroo flies premium-heavy 18hrs long PERLHR, bet no dad and mum dare bring crying baby and energetic kid onboard then kill lifelong 18hrs. Still I prefer a lovely peaceful stopover somewhere then sit back and relax again.

    Great writing, James.

  28. Due to scheduling issues, I once had to do JNB-ATL in a middle seat in economy. Fairly sure I have yet to recover.

  29. While I generally agree with you (I’m also a stopover junkie), for me it depends on the specific destination and what connections look like. Getting from the US to India is a good example of where connections don’t work very well. Pretty much anywhere you have to connect from, the last leg involves a brutal red-eye which arrives in the middle of the night. It ends up being 4-5 am by the time you get to your hotel – too late to get any useful sleep, and you end up like a zombie the next day. I’d love to be able to do something like DFW-MAA in one shot and just get in during the evening.

  30. Great article James! You are approved as a OMAAT writer in my books.

    One question: Why is it that SIN-LAX, is mentioned is same sentence as SIN-JFK, SYD-JFK and SYD-LHR?

    SIN-LAX is already operating nonstop on UA, so it seems that if SQ wanted, they may be able to operate it too, and don’t need a whole different aircraft not available yet. United seems to be doing fine with the 787 – though fares on the trip are quite low, which shows the yields might not be great in economy.

  31. @ Izz – good question. Singapore Airlines don’t have aircraft that can fly SIN-LAX non-stop -it is actually slightly longer than the SIN-SFO route.
    They have just received their first 787-10 however this is fitted with their regional product for shorter routes (to eventually replace their A330s) so they will need to wait for their A350-900ULRs before they can operate SIN-LAX non-stop.

  32. “Sydney to New York direct is also on their dream wish list”

    Isn’t the Qantas flight from Sydney to New York technically direct? However, it’s not non stop.

    Before UA launched DTW-SFO, I’d fly DTW-IAH-SFO (winter time, avoid ORD) and the UA site marketed it as DTW-SFO (amd noted a change of planes). However, since it was the same flight number this was a “direct” flight.

  33. @James – Excellent article. Probably the best comments I’ve read in a long time. So many people to agree with.

    I’m on the tall side, so being stuck in Economy would be a highly unpleasant experience for me. I suppose if the 787 was outfitted as 2-4-2 in Economy like Boeing initially intended (like the A340), it wouldn’t be THAT bad in economy. Having said that, I’d say I’d have to go PE at a bare minimum.

    I’d have to second one of the commenters with kids. Yes, non-stop is easier. Having said that, James makes a good point about fun with layovers. On our last family trip, we purposely put in a 6 hour layover at AMS on our way home from BCN to BOS. Took a Tesla taxi to the city, walked around, got some nice sweets and then had time to enjoyed the amenities (and showers) at KLM lounge.

  34. Even in Business and above, I refuse to take any flights longer than 14 hours, let alone Econ. The level of torture would be deemed cruel and unusual punishment for most first world countries.

  35. If I’m paying for the flight, I’ll admit that ultimately the cost matters. If the nonstop is significantly more expensive, then I’ll fly the one with a stopover.
    The longest flight I’ve flown in is JFK-HKG in CX (have flown the route over 10 times in economy, business, and first.) I’ll admit because of the time change I arrive at my destination tired regardless of the class I’m in. Sure, flying in business or first is more comfortable but ultimately I still had major jetlag to overcome. I’ve found that I enjoy flying premium cabins the most when flying longhauls that are in similar time zones (i.e. JFK-GIG; LHR-JNB) as jetlag wouldn’t be a factor.
    I think flying ultra longhaul can be possible even in economy class ***as long as it’s not full! Of the ultra longhaul flights I’ve flown in economy class, I’d say 80% of the time I had the seat next to me empty or if I’m lucky, i get my own row! I normally prefer to fly economy to the destination and then flying business or first coming back home. As I always say, the only way to truly appreciate flying business/first class is to fly in economy.

  36. Great post James, and I agree. Once the flight is over 12 hours I like a break too.

    With two caveats:

    -depends on the airport you’re breaking at! I took the DXB-MXP-JFK flight recently and the Milan experience was god awful. They make everyone disembark (which is understandable) but then go through a myriad of seemingly random re-check in procedures with long lines that are woefully understaffed. We spent the entire transit duration standing in one line or the other, and the re-boarding was chaotic. Milan is almost exactly on the as-the-crow-flies line between JFK and DXB so apart from the actual stop there isn’t that much extra flying time.

    -in some cases, one-stop flights may be less comfortable or equipped than the nonstop option since they don’t qualify as ultra long haul. As an example, there are no amenity kits on either leg of the DXB-MXP-JFK service, though you get one on the direct DXB-JFK one. Also some airlines offer better legroom (particularly in Y) on ULR aircraft (e.g., Singapore Airlines A340-500 and now A350ULR) which you may miss out on by taking the one stop service.

  37. @joey: I think flying ultra longhaul can be possible even in economy class ***as long as it’s not full!

    Agree completely. To me the biggest factor in a comfortable long-haul flight is having an empty seat next to you. Makes a massive difference!

  38. I’m just about to fly from LAX to PEK in Premium Economy. I’ll let you know how it was when I get off.

    I’m hoping the extra leg room will make it bearable. But I’m with you, flights of 13 hours + are just boring. I travel to Singapore quite a lot from London & I much prefer to have a break in Doha, than fly all the way direct. My wife on the other hand sees stopping as a waste of time.

  39. There’s no single best answer.

    Sometimes, a non-stop is better. LAX-LHR is better than a stop at JFK because there’s a greater chance to sleep. JFK-LHR is too short for other than a short nap. An exception is to fly LAX-JFK on day 1 then a daytime JFK-LHR flight on day 2 but that is really an extended half day stopover, not a connection.

    Sometimes a non-stop is always better. LAX-JFK is better than stopping in DFW or ATL even if one flies to closer airport LGA.

    I do agree that a 1-2 hour stop on the longest flights is probably worthwhile on the longest flights in economy class, like SYD-LAX-JFK.

  40. Thankfully, I have no need or desire to travel to the far reaches of the world. Even the nonstops from LAX to the EU where I travel for work and holidays are not a temptation. I’ve done the 12 hour LAX-FCO nonstop several times on Alitalia both in J and Y and even in J, the last few hours felt like they would never end. I’m happy to connect, get out, walk around, kill time in a lounge and reset for the next flight. No desire to do any of these ultra long haul flights in any class of service.

  41. Last week, I went from LAX to Singapore via a 2 hour layover in Taipei (on premium economy). The flight segments were about 13.5 hours and 4.5 hours respectively. Yes, by the end I was pretty exhausted. But I would definitely choose that over a 17 hour direct flight as I was able to take a shower, eat a decent breakfast and stretch my legs during the layover.

  42. Took the JFK-HKG flight of CX quite a number of times. That took 15:55 flying west and I was in cattle class…

    What would matter to me will be the inflight service and entertainment, which CX delivers in spades…

    I always wondered how it felt to fly “in front”… 🙂

  43. I booked a flight from GRU to MEL via SCL in sad economy.
    Not looking forward to that 15h flight in a 3x3x3 787-9 from LAN.
    And as a smoker, I think I’ll die before get to my destination.
    At least I can say my last meal was Kosher, and my last cigarette was in other country.
    Also, there’s no other routing to make less unconfortable, and I paid like U$600,00rt

  44. I flew LAX-BKK back in the day when TG was running a340s–was in business angle seats for 18 hours; also LAX-MEL for 17 hours in Econ+. I found out what my limits are on flights and LAX-SYD is about my limit even with lie flats these days.

  45. Oh, grow up some resiliency… Unless you are seriously infirm, 12 (or even more) hours in the “cattle section” is painful but can be endured… I’ve done 16 hours (up in the air, plus ca. 1.5 extra of taxiing, etc.). Yes, a royal pain in the a… (literally) but you do recover in a day or two.

  46. I like your writing style!

    Question about this: “Their new 787 Dreamliners have meant that Qantas can now operate London to Perth direct, but Qantas have long term goals to one day operate their prized QF1 service from Sydney to London non-stop. Sydney to New York direct is also on their dream wish list, eliminating the stopover in Los Angeles.”

    I think you are saying direct and nonstop are the same thing, but they aren’t. Nonstop is nonstop and direct can stop somewhere along the way or be nonstop as long as the flight keeps the same flight number. QF11 is a reality 🙂 It is a direct flight from SYD to JFK with a stop in LAX; the flight number doesn’t change.

  47. Another great article James. Thank you very much.

    I have issues getting past 8hrs on a flight. I’d do a very long flight on EK A380 though – that bar would provide some distraction and a bit of change.

  48. I did an economy flight to Asia and back one time on a chinese airlines years ago. Never again. Compare that to a flight in CX F where after over 14 hours and I’m still a bit disappointed the flight is over. If I can sleep most of the flight I am thrilled. I have a two segment flight in Delta economy coming up where the second segment to south america is 5 hours and I am not even looking forward to that! I think the cut-off for me is around 7 hours which is long enough to get to western europe from the east coast or transcon to the west coast. By the end of those flights in economy I’m pretty much at the end of my rope and anything further is a total non-starter unless its at least J.

  49. Agree with many other commenters here, 12 hours is a sweet spot in a premium cabin (HKG-LHR overnights are pretty much my favourite longhaul flights).

    ~15 hours is my limit even in J or F. Beyond that length I would actively seek out a stopover to stretch. Y legs and have some lounge time. I find it difficult to imagine an urgent enough business case that a 2-3 hour stopover would make or break a trip – especially with WiFi on board as you point out. Totally unconvinced by several of the new nonstops. I question if even SQ on their New York route with the A350 will earn enough of a premium to make this profitable.

  50. Fly NY-SYD all the time. Can’t wait for a nonstop and will happily pay a premium.

    The west coast stops makes the trip so much more painful and makes it feel a ton longer, even if it really isn’t. Flying SYD-LA is no issue, as soon as you need to tack on the NY leg it becomes torturous. Cutting out the wasted time will help a lot.

    Have done plenty of ULH – EWR-SIN when it existed, DFW-SYD, JFK-HKG, etc. Definitely tolerable and better than connecting.

  51. You’re new, so I’ll try to be gentle.

    For what it’s worth, I agree with the single point of this blog post: after 12 hours on a plane, I’m ready to get off it, even after a great flight experience. This isn’t really a keen insight – I think anyone who has been on a long flight would agree.

    But…you need an editor. Your post is over 1100 words, and most of it is either repetitive, self-evident, or filled with self-puffery (admittedly, you should fit right in here). Honestly, here’s the gist of this whole article:

    “As new ultra-long range aircraft are introduced, some airlines seem to competing with each other for bragging rights over “whose is longest.” But ultra long flights are no fun. They’re completely miserable in coach, and even in snob class, they’re many hours longer than most people really want to spend, even in the best seat. After about 12 hours in flight, you’ll generally be much happier with a stop somewhere to get out and stretch your legs.”

    77 words which, I think, conveys all the important details in your post. And much more likely to be read. Just a suggestion.

    Also, you should proof-read your article (including the photo captions), rather than relying on spellcheck tools.

    1. Photo caption: “Qatars 777 Business Class…”. Should be “Qatar’s 777 Business Class…”
    2. As an Australian (I presume), you should know a little about the airline you’re describing…you wrote: “Qantas do operate…” Qantas is a single object, not a plural. Should be “Qantas DOES operate…”
    Both of these would slip by most spellcheck tools. Those are handy, but…you’re getting paid to be a writer, no?

    Finally – I know this website works awfully hard to make it appear that its authors are experts (helps with the credit card shilling), but when you say things like “There are countries like Qatar I would never have visited had it not been for choosing to stop at a carrier’s hub, and I am so glad I did.” Makes me wonder if when you count up the 58 countries you have “visited” if you’re not counting a few hours in an airport business class lounge (or a quick overnight in a international chain hotel before heading back to the airport and continuing onward) as actually “visiting” a country. That’s not actually being someplace, that’s passing through (at best). Your boss goes everywhere but seems to never actually experience anyplace (always in the lounge and hotel bubbles) and he appears to have little actual life experience or common sense (whether failing to speak up while being cheated by Uber drivers or cruising the bars at night or getting scammed at hotels). If you want credibility, give readers a reason to see you as credible.

  52. I’ve done quarterly PDX-SFO-HKG since 1999 on UA 869/862 on the 747 and 777 in every possible seat.
    The longest I’ve done is SFO-SIN on UA001/002 in Econ+. It was a snap on the Dreamliner with nobody in the middle seat. I don’t think I would try it again in anything less than Singapore Premium Econ, though.
    I personally agree that after 10 hours it gets boring, but it’s kind of nice to kick back in a good seat and not have any intrusions from outside the bubble.

  53. I agree that ultra long haul in Economy or PE would be agony
    I have a spine issue so can’t physically be in either for more than 6 hours

    But I also think the timing of the stopovers matters
    Flew MSP-Narita 4.5 hour layover then Narita to Saigon. (In economy)

    I was so exhausted for the layover and had no lounge access. So it was a massive struggle to stay awake plus there were people everywhere so I slept on a floor with people walking by. Not cute

    Did YVR-PVG-BKK in business and the stopover was nice because I slept on flight and could take a shower in PVG airport

    Morale of story: J and F make it all better.

  54. Terrific article James!!!

    I completely agree. I would NEVER sit in a nonstop 20 hour flight, even in First. Too much.

    I think 12hr is perfect. Dinner for 2 hours, sleep for 8, then wake up for brekkie and landing 2 hours. 8 hour flights are too short and I think 16hrs is my absolute maximum.

  55. One item to consider as well with super long flights is flight crews, specifically the small amount of wiggle room they have before they time out. We were flying LAX-HKG on AA, and due to a flight delay (plus the 15+ hour flight time), the crew timed out when we were getting ready to leave, forcing a flight cancellation. Rebooked on a flight the next day from LAX-NRT, and lo and behold, another flight delay caused THAT crew to time out. So yeah, direct is nice, but having your travel plans wrecked from a cancellation can truly ruin a vacation.

  56. Being based in MEL, I’ve had my fair share of ULH flights over the years. The roughest was perhaps YVR-MEL earlier this year. Due to weather in New York I misconnected, and there was nothing but an economy seat left on the following day’s flight, which I had no choice but to take due to work the following day. Needless to say, 17 hours in economy is a “never again” thing for me, but I did (eventually) get home.

    But this brings me to my next point… these nonstop flights are only really convenient to a small amount of people. Qantas is working on SYD-LHR and SYD-JFK, but how does that help me in MEL? If I’m going to have to take a short domestic flight to SYD anyway, I’d much rather fly to DXB or AUH or SIN, etc, etc, and break my trip up there. Especially since for me there is practically no noticeable time savings. As an example, QF9 MEL-PER-LHR is actually a slightly LONGER flight than MEL-DXB-LHR, which in turn is longer than MEL-SIN-LHR – so what is the benefit to me?

  57. I enjoyed reading this – particularly as a fellow Aussie living far away from the homeland. “Needing” at least 14 hour transpacific flight to get ‘home’ means a different perspective. Add not being on the west coast, I think I would happily do 16-20 hours non-stop if it meant a single flight…..but PHX-BNE direct is never happening…..
    We just returned from London – landing after 18 hours of travel and 3 flights, several folks at baggage claim were congratulating themselves on having managed a 6 hour travel time…..it’s all about perspective and experience.

  58. last year I’ve flew DTW-ATL-JNB, CPT-CDG and TLV-JFK a couple times (all on delta), all in economy. Longest flight I flew in business was on AA DFW-FCO and DFW-LHR.

  59. I’ve always seen a stopover as a chance to visit a new city, or catch up with loved ones who are based in the stopover city. The only time I would do such a long flight is if there was an emergency back home (I’m also an Australian expat) and that long, direct flight helped save time. Last year I had a death in the family and had to go back home at short notice, and chose a direct flight on CX in premium economy rather than an indirect flight in business (they were the same fare). Of course, if it were a happier occasion and just a holiday, I’d have gone for the stopover and J seat. I hope never to be in a similar situation, but only if it was a situation like that would I choose to spend 20 hours on a plane.

  60. @meanmeosh wouldnt connections through EK, EY, or BA work? EK & EY also have flights landing in India during the day, BA has 199 which lands in BOM at 1115 as per summer schedule.

  61. I live near Brisbane so any trip to Europe is a long one and I doubt I would opt for any non-stop flight from Brisbane to anywhere in Europe even in business class. I am off to Paris, business class on May 1 and chose to fly Gold Coast to Sydney to Bangkok where I am staying a few days then to Dubai with an overnight on Emirates, hopefully again at Le Meridien and then onto Paris. Love all the lounges, the included chauffeur services. I travel for pleasure and luckily don’t have a time limit anymore but the leisurely way to Europe is still my preferred option.

  62. Really good article.

    I live in Australia and have family in Europe and US, so wherever you go it’s always a long trip and I cherish my stopovers! Couldn’t imagine sitting 18hrs + in one seat no matter how big and nice it is and most definitely not in economy!

  63. Loved this article as it exactly addresses what most Australians need to consider when flying internationally. Thank you, James, and please ignore the comments from those who have ignored the spirit of your post and are more intent on self-aggrandisement.

  64. Am eager to do LAX-SYD on the AA 787 in a few weeks, followed by SYD-JNB on the old 747 a few weeks after. Very excited if the rumor is true that you can see Antarctica for a portion of the SYD-JNB flight. It depends where you are sitting but I am happy to do this without stopovers. But there is no way I would ever sit on an A380 to/from Australia…heard a horror story about that last night.

  65. Love the article!

    I can easily do a 10-hour stint in economy as long as it’s a daytime flight _and_ there’s a proper IFE. For example: on a recent 10-hour flight (AMS-SEA) I wasn’t even tired when I got there. I had just seen a couple of great movies, had lunch, took a nap, and watched some TV shows.

    Could I do this for 17+ ours while having to sleep? I doubt that to be honest, at least in economy. But taking a connecting flight and having the additional cost and effort of a long layover may put some people off.

    It’s unknown territory and I’m happy that airlines are exploring it. The world continues to get “smaller” and this is another step in making it so.

  66. @ Carrie – I’m learning to take the bad with the good, but fortunately the OMAAT community has been overwhelmingly supportive of my ‘new voice’ which I’m very relieved and thankful for!

  67. @ John – see that’s what I love about the options when building a trip like yours – the journey can be just as exciting as the destination!

  68. All very well if you can afford F or J. For those of us that can’t, and have no way to play the points game, I’ll take direct any day. Emirates used to do Dubai to Auckland via three Australian cities and the intermediate stop, especially via Melbourne which wasn’t geared for 380s initially – one security line, are you serious and geez did they get shitty when a Kiwi told them their airport wasn’t up to the job – is just a pain in the ass either 14 or 3 hours into the flight. Just get me there, alright? Emirates got the message and I believe we will soon have two direct rotations (from one) a day. Add in two 380s a day to Birmingham from DXB and what used to take 32 hours now matches Air NZ at about 26.

    Stopping is fine if the layover is long enough and you fancy risking some Arab-run dump where a tablet of paracetamol could land you in jail as a drug runner. Try doing NZ1 or 2 in one shot via L.A. Since the waronterror, the ‘mericans make you go thru full immigration, just to get back on the plane. You try making the lounge for a shower under that idiotic approach. Tom Bradley wrote the book on shambles.

    Welcome aboard. I look forward to an Antipodean explaining to US readers what a mess their immigration and baggage handling is and how difficult they make it getting into a great country. Enjoy lining up with ‘other’ at UK airports till you get your passport.

  69. @ fred m

    have you tried any Asian carriers like SQ TG etc? …stopping in HKG or SIN are fine and is a totally different one comparing to ME

  70. If you don’t smoke at least one pack a day, then your pain on the ultra long haul plane would be literally nothing compared to whom smoke two packs a day for the last few decades. If departing airport has no smoking area on the air side, twenty hour flight means 24+ hrs of torture. That’s unimaginably long time when you’re constantly being tortured by the nicotine (or the lack of). I think most heavy smoker will choose 1 week of driving (16 hrs a day) over taking that plane, without any second thought.

    Non smokers in the middle row coach seat, right between the two 300lbs dudes, for the 20 straight hours without going anywhere including restroom, might be comparable with heavy smokers on Etihad Residence for 20 hrs.

  71. I’ve done EK448 in economy, back on the 3-4-3 77L, and I loved it. I had my computer to entertain me for 8 hours, and slept for a solid 7-8 hours. It was brilliant. I’ve done quite a number of 14h flights as well. Anyone that struggles with anything over 12h just needs to find a way to entertain themselves, which my computer does very well.

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