The longest flight in the world just landed after nearly 20 hours in the air
Australian airline Qantas successfully completed the first-ever nonstop flight between New York City and Australia, landing in Sydney just before 7:45 a.m. 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 nonstop 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 crews can tolerate more hours in the air without a layover 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 crews, and passengers coped with the long flight time, as well as to test efforts to minimize the impact of jetlag as passengers cross 15 time zones.
The flight - a repurposed 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, including this reporter.
The flight with a full load of passengers and cargo is not currently possible - 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' CEO, 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 convert 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, told Business Insider 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 nighttime. The "lunch" meal - served at around 11:15 p.m. New York time - included options like spicy tomato soup, a spicy Mexican-style chicken breast, and braised beef short ribs, while the "dinner" meal - at around 4:15 a.m. New York time - included carbohydrate-heavy options and comfort food.
"The timing and service helped," Mole said. "I got some good uninterrupted sleep."
The primary flight crew, which also took part in extensive testing, including brain-wave measurements and melatonin analyses, also ate the adapted meals and worked on a custom tailored shift schedule.
The pilot-in-charge, Captain Sean Golding, described the shift period for the four pilots, who worked in two shifts:
"The whole crew will be on for the first hour-and-a-half. Then, I'll take a two-and-a-half hour break. I'll work for the next five-and-a-half hours, sleep for the next five-and-a-half, work the next two-and-a-half, and we'll all be on for the final approach and landing."
"Sometimes, I sleep better on the long-haul flights than I do at home," he added.
Business Insider will be publishing a full behind-the-scenes report from Qantas' first Project Sunrise test flight.
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