History was made Sunday as Australian airline, Qantas successfully completed the first ever non-stop flight between New York City and Australia, landing in Sydney just before 7:45 am Sunday, Sydney time after 19 hours and 16 minutes in the air.
The flight, designated QF7879 became the longest commercial flight in the world, surpassing Singapore Airlines’ regular commercial service between Singapore and New York.
Qantas also plans to test a non-stop flight from London to Sydney in the coming months. That route would be about 500 miles longer, adding up to an hour of flight time.
Airplanes and airlines are more technically advanced than ever before, with better fuel efficiency, longer ranges and computer-aided logistical planning.
But, as some flights get longer, the question is whether passengers and flight crew can tolerate more hours in the air without a lay-over to break things up.
Qantas used the flight and plans to do the same for the London flight to conduct research into how pilots, cabin crew and passengers cope with the long flight time, as well as to test efforts to minimize the impact of jet-lag as passengers cross 15 time zones.
The flight, a re-purposed delivery flight of a new Boeing 787-9 from Boeing’s Seattle plant only had 40 passengers and 10 crew including four on-duty pilots.
Passengers included several Qantas frequent flyers participating in the research study, off-duty Qantas employees, researchers and media.
The flight with a full load of passengers and cargo is currently not feasible as the heavier load would reduce the plane’s range. Two planes in development from Airbus and Boeing would have that capability.
Qantas has said that it will decide by the end of 2019 which one it will use and that it expects to start commercial service as early as 2023, Alan Joyce, Quantas’ chief executive officer said. The airline had previously hoped to launch service by 2022 or 2023.
Due to the low passenger load, each passenger was allocated a business class seat that could be converted into a bed, although, passengers were encouraged to spend time in the coach cabin in order to balance the plane.
“I feel better than I usually do,” Nick Mole, one of the passengers in the research study, said about 17 hours into the flight.
Mr. Mole often flies in business class, but said that he feels better rested after an ultra-long-haul direct flight, rather than one with a connection, including Qantas’ service to New York via Los Angeles.
“I’m not sure I’d want to do 20 hours in the back of the plane, though,” he added. As part of the flight, Qantas altered the normal service routine, adjusting to Sydney time as soon as the plane was in the air.
Cabin lighting, meal services and food options were tailored to help passengers and crew either feel more awake or be more attuned to night time.