Claiming to have the world’s longest flight may give an airline some bragging rights, but from a passenger standpoint nothing sounds worse than having to sit in the air for more than a dozen hours. The top 10 longest flights in the world take more than 16 hours to complete, giving jet lag a whole new scale.
But it’s more than just a game of one-upmanship among airlines. Ultra-long-haul routes are possible thanks to today’s more powerful planes that can fly direct – nearly around the world – without making a pitstop (point-to-point versus the hub-and-spoke model). For an airline, it opens up new or underserved markets. And with more fuel-efficient aircrafts being developed, airlines can make a profit serving secondary faraway destinations that weren’t economically feasible in the past. Case in point: United’s San Francisco to Chengdu, China route, or its Los Angeles to Melbourne flight, both on the Boeing 787-9. And for passengers, a direct route removes the need to spend more time on connections.
Connections are awful, but spending 15 hours in a confined space, with hundreds of other people, takes its own toll on the mind and body. Fortunately, most ultra-long-haul services offer hours of in-flight entertainment (IFE) to help you whittle away the travel time with a few movies – when you’re not attempting to sleep, that is (we have gear to recommend for that). Many flights are adding Wi-Fi, allowing you to stay connected to those on the ground or keep up with work. And there are airlines that go beyond the status quo by providing more comfortable seating (or as comfortable as coach seats get), better meal options, and tech amenities like power outlets or smartphone app-based activities. These amenities are no consolation for the agony you’ll experience, but you can at least catch up on the summer blockbusters you missed.
Here are the longest flights (by distance) you can fly, and what’s offered onboard to help you make the most of the loss time.
17h 15m: Emirates Boeing 777-200LR – Auckland (AKL) to Dubai (DXB)
Launched in March 2016, the current world’s longest flight, between New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates, covers 8,825 miles. You could be in the air for as long as 17 hours and 15 minutes. Emirates flies a Boeing 777-200LR on the route, which can fly the longest range among all modern jets currently in operation.
So, how do you pass the time? If you’re in the luxurious first or business cabins, you’ll experience some of the best service and amenities in the industry that few airlines can rival. But coach passengers aren’t neglected. Each customer gets an amenity kit that includes not only socks, toothbrush, earplugs, and eye shade, but using the Blippar app (iOS or Android), passengers can scan the kit (there are six to choose from) to unlock games, music, and other content. There’s in-seat power to recharge your laptop, phone, or tablet; an IFE system with 2,500 channels of content; and, best of all, Emirates is one of the few airlines to offer free Wi-Fi. With that many activities to choose from, as well as multiple meals, flying 17 hours in coach doesn’t sound as bad. But Dubai tends to be a transit point for many of Emirates’ customers, which means they’re most likely connecting to another flight for another long onward journey, say, London or New York. Still, the level of service is enticing.
Emirates won’t hold the record much longer. Rival Qatar Airways will launch its Doha-Auckland flight in 2017, surpassing Emirates’ route by approximately 200 miles. Singapore Airlines intends to re-launch its Singapore-New York route (10,315 miles), in 2018, which takes approximately 19 hours. Fortunately, both Singapore and Qatar also offer great service, but a nearly full day of flying will test anybody’s patience.
17h: Qantas A380-800 – Dallas (DFW) to Sydney (SYD)
At 8,578 miles and almost 17 hours of flight duration, Qantas’ Dallas-to-Sydney service is a close second (it was the previous record holder, when it launched in September 2014). However, Qantas flies the jumbo, double-decker Airbus A380-800, a plane that can seat up to 484 passengers, with four classes of service. First and business class passengers would get the full treatment, naturally, with lie-flat beds and gourmet dining. The 371 coach passengers get smaller seats, but they feature soft cushioning and lumbar support for the long flight. If you’re flying from Australia, you can also choose your meals prior to departure, via Qantas’ website.
16h 20m: United Dreamliner 787-9 – San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN)
With the addition of the fuel-efficient, high-tech Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in its fleet, United has added new ultra-long-haul routes that weren’t possible or profitable before. Launched in June 2016, United’s 8,446-mile San Francisco-Singapore route replaces the need for passengers to connect via Tokyo. United doesn’t get the same praise for its service that international operators do, but the 787 is a new plane that offers power outlets and USB ports in all seats, allowing passengers to access content on their devices when they’ve exhausted the in-seat entertainment options during the 16-hour and 20-minute flight (plus an extra hour during the winter).
United will get some company in October. Singapore Airlines will launch the same route – on another advanced aircraft, the Airbus A350-900 – and share the third-place spot. Singapore offers a higher level of service, including an in-flight entertainment system that lets passengers tailor the experience before they board, via an iOS or Android app. It offers up to 295 movies and 470 TV programs, and you can schedule a playlist. When linked to the plane’s Wi-Fi, you can control the IFE with their mobile device. Not to be outdone, United is revamping its first and business class service, now called Polaris, to match those of international carriers; however, coach passengers may still get the same treatment.
16h: Delta 777-200LR – Atlanta (ATL) to Johannesburg (JNB)
Launched in 2009, Delta flies a 777-200LR between the U.S. South and the largest city of South Africa. While it’s the same plane as the one used for Emirates Auckland-Dubai route, Delta’s version doesn’t offer the same amenities. For example, only select economy seats have access to power outlets. If you aren’t sitting at the front rows, bring some portable chargers for the 8,439-mile, 16-hour-plus ride. Still, all passengers get access to more than 1,000 hours of Delta Studio IFE. On a recent flight, traveler Dave Taft informed us Delta has installed Wi-Fi (approximately $40 one way) and USB ports in seats for charging portable devices.
15h 50m: Etihad 777-200LR – Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Los Angeles (LAX)
Although Etihad’s flight from Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles is only 10 minutes shorter than Delta’s Atlanta-Joburg flight route, it offers more amenities on the 8,390-mile journey. The airline also uses a 777-200LR, but service is more in-line with Emirates. After all, this is the airline that puts apartments into its planes. Every passenger gets access to power ports, and those in coach can watch more than 650 hours of on-demand content on 10.4-inch screens. The pillows also convert into neck pillows for sleeping. The premium services are equal (or even exceed) those of Emirates’. However, Emirates’ coach passengers get the leg up. If you’re connecting in the Middle East, note Emirates’ Los Angeles-Dubai route on an Airbus A380-800, which comes in at number-six with a nearly identical distance and duration.