But it’s more than just a game of one-upmanship among airlines. Ultra-long-haul routes are possible thanks to lower fuel prices and more powerful and fuel-efficient planes that can fly nonstop – nearly around the world – without making a pit stop (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 Houston to Sydney, Australia route, or its San Francisco to Chengdu, China flight, both on the Boeing 787-9. And for passengers, a direct, nonstop route removes the need to spend more time on connections.
Connections are awful, but spending 15 hours or more 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 now include 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 currently the five longest flights (by distance) you can fly, and what’s offered onboard to help you make the most of the loss time.
Qatar Airways Boeing 777-200LR — Doha (DOH) to Auckland (AKL)
Launched in February 2017, the current world’s longest flight, between New Zealand and Qatar, covers 9,025 miles. You could be in the air for more than 18 hours, although, on average, Qatar Airways completes the flight between 16 and 17 hours. The airline flies a Boeing 777-200LR on the route, which can fly the longest range among all modern jets currently in operation.
Like its Middle Eastern rivals Emirates and Etihad, Qatar touts its luxurious amenities — from private suites in first class to amenity kits in every cabin. Each seat has a power plug to keep your devices charged on the long flight, which its Oryx One in-flight entertainment (IFE) system is loaded with movies, games, and music to keep you occupied. The plane is an older variant, so it lacks some of the newer features. But word is that Qatar plans to upgrade to the Airbus A350, which has a bar area in business class and Wi-Fi throughout the plane.
As with most records, they will be broken. Singapore Airlines announced it is relaunching its Singapore-New York (Newark) route (10,315 miles), using the new Airbus A350-900ULR (for ultra-long range). The approximately 19-hour flight would reclaim the “world’s longest” crown. In the near future, Qantas plans to launch a direct, 20-hour flight between London and Sydney — if Airbus or Boeing can provide a plane that’s capable.
Emirates Airbus A380 — Dubai (DXB) to Auckland (AKL)
Previously the world’s longest flight, Emirates’ route between New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates is just 200 miles shy of Qatar Airways’ nearby Auckland-to-Doha flight. Based on recent flight times, the flight lasts between 15 to 16 hours, although sometimes it can be nearly 17 hours. Unlike Qatar, however, Emirates upgraded the plane from a Boeing 777-200LR to an Airbus A380, which can not only fly long distances but also carry more passengers and is souped up with amenities.
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 socks, toothbrush, earplugs, and eye shade (we still use ours from a trip taken years ago). There’s in-seat power to recharge your laptop, phone, or tablet; and an IFE system with more content that there’s time to consume (we love the cameras that let you see outside the plane). Best of all, Emirates is one of the few airlines to offer free Wi-Fi (up to 20MB). 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, New York, or Bangkok. Still, the level of service is enticing.
United Boeing 787-9 — Los Angeles (LAX) 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 October 2017, United’s 8,770-mile Los Angeles-Singapore 18-hour route replaces the need for passengers to connect via Tokyo or Hong Kong. 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, and Wi-Fi, allowing passengers to access content on their devices when they’ve exhausted the in-seat entertainment options during the flight. United is in the process of rolling out its refreshed premium cabin, Polaris, throughout its fleet (although the 787-9 won’t be updated until after 2018), and it recently announced a new premium economy cabin, which will bring its service levels closer to those of international carriers.
The LAX-SIN route joins United’s San Francisco-Singapore route launched in 2016 (also on a Boeing 787-9), which is also another long flight (around 17.5 hours). This route is tied with the one from Singapore Airlines, which flies the Airbus A350-900.
United Boeing 787-9 — Houston (IAH) to Sydney (SYD)
Ever since United added the Boeing 787 to its fleet, several of those routes have joined the long-distance club. The airline’s newest entry connects Australia’s largest city to United’s second-largest hub, where passengers are able to connect to the many flights throughout the U.S. The route just slightly edges out Qantas’ Sydney-Dallas flight (below) by just 20 miles, but Qantas uses a larger plane and, arguably, offers a higher service level. As for the plane and amenities, it’s the same as the Los Angeles-Singapore and San Francisco-Singapore flights mentioned above.
Qantas A380-800 — Sydney (SYD) to Dallas (DFW)
At 8,574 miles and 15-16 hours of flight duration, Qantas’ Sydney-to-Dallas service is the fifth-longest flight (it was previously a top record holder, when it launched in September 2014). Qantas, however, 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.