Why ultra long haul flights are more practical than ever
Why have we seen airlines launch so many ultra long haul flights in the past several years (pre-pandemic)? It primarily comes down to new aircraft technology. In the past decade the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 have become the backbone of many carriers’ long haul fleets, and these planes are great for airlines and passengers:
The planes are ultra long range, and can operate some nonstop flights that previous generation aircraft couldn’t
The planes have lower capacity than previous generation aircraft (like the Boeing 747), which opens up more viable markets; it’s much easier to profitably fill 200 seats than it is to profitably fill 400 seats
The planes have great economics, and per-passenger fuel burn is significantly lower than previous generation aircraft
So yeah, long range, fuel efficient, low capacity aircraft have done wonders for airlines when it comes to the viability of ultra long haul city pairs. Many routes that could have previously never been profitable now make sense.
The world’s 17 longest nonstop flights as of January 2022
Global aviation came to a standstill during the pandemic, but it’s starting to recover, with more and more airlines resuming ultra long haul flights. As a result, I figured it was a good time to checkin in on the world’s longest flights, given how much the list has changed over the years. Let’s take a look at the 17 longest flights. I’m going off of distance here, since winds can also have an impact on the duration of flights, and on top of that, some airlines do a lot of schedule padding.
Note that I’ll be counting flights that are either currently operating, or that are expected to resume in the the next six months, based on current schedules (and if they’re not currently operating, I’ll note it below). What’s pretty amazing to me is that all 17 of these flights are over 8,200 miles, which is a long way to go nonstop.
So, what are the world’s longest flights? Here they are, starting with the longest (I’m including the airline that operates the route, the distance, and the aircraft type used):
New York (JFK) to Singapore (SIN) / Singapore Airlines / 9,537 miles / Airbus A350-900ULR
Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN) / Singapore Airlines / 9,523 miles / Airbus A350-900ULR (resumes March 27, 2022)
Perth (PER) to London (LHR) / Qantas / 9,010 miles / Boeing 787-9 (resumes March 27, 2022)
Auckland (AKL) to Dubai (DXB) / Emirates / 8,824 miles / Boeing 777-200LR (resumes July 1, 2022)
Los Angeles (LAX) to Singapore (SIN) / Singapore Airlines / 8,770 miles / Airbus A350-900ULR
San Francisco (SFO) to Bangalore (BLR) / Air India / 8,701 miles / Boeing 777-200LR
Darwin (DRW) to London (LHR) / Qantas / 8,620 miles / Boeing 787-9
Houston (IAH) to Sydney (SYD) / United Airlines / 8,596 miles / Boeing 787-9 (resumes March 26, 2022)
Dallas (DFW) to Sydney (SYD) / Qantas / 8,578 miles / Boeing 787-9 (resumes February 16, 2022)
New York (JFK) to Manila (MNL) / Philippine Airlines / 8,520 miles / Airbus A350-900
San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN) / Singapore Airlines & United Airlines / 8,446 miles / Airbus A350-900 & Boeing 787-9
Johannesburg (JNB) to Atlanta (ATL) / Delta / 8,439 miles / Airbus A350-900
Dubai (DXB) to Los Angeles (LAX) / Emirates / 8,339 miles / Airbus A380
Jeddah (JED) to Los Angeles (LAX) / Saudia / 8,332 miles / Boeing 777-300ER (resumes April 25, 2022)
Doha (DOH) to Los Angeles (LAX) / Qatar Airways / 8,306 miles / Airbus A350-1000
Hyderabad (HYD) to Chicago (ORD) / Air India / 8,263 miles / Boeing 777-200LR
Toronto (YYZ) to Manila (MNL) / Philippine Airlines / 8,221 miles / Airbus A350-900
I intentionally left out the flight times, since they fluctuate throughout the year due to winds. Furthermore, some airlines pad their schedules more than others (in order to create artificial on-time arrivals). All 17 of these flights are blocked anywhere between 16hr20min and 18hr50min.
Here’s a map with all the routes, which is quite cluttered, as you can see:
What record-breaking flights are on the horizon?
A majority of the world’s longest flights have been launched in the past several years, which raises the question of what other record-breaking flights might be on the horizon. Unfortunately the pandemic has had a negative impact on these kinds of routes, but there are some interesting flights on the horizon:
Qantas plans to launch a Brisbane to Chicago flight, which would cover a distance of 8,916 miles, making it the world’s fourth longest flight; this was supposed to launch pre-pandemic, but has been delayed
Air New Zealand plans to launch an Auckland to Newark flight, which would cover a distance of 8,810 miles, making it the world’s sixth longest flight; this was supposed to launch pre-pandemic, but has been delayed
Next, while these flights aren’t quite 8,200+ miles (or aren’t routes that aren’t currently operated), there are some other ultra long haul flights that have either recently launched or are on the horizon:
United Airlines launched a nonstop Newark to Johannesburg flight, which covers a distance of 7,989 miles
Singapore Airlines launched a nonstop Singapore to Seattle flight, which covers a distance of 8,073 miles
Vietnam Airlines launched a Ho Chi Minh City to San Francisco flight, which covers a distance of 7,838 miles
American Airlines plans to launch a nonstop Seattle to Bangalore flight, which will cover a distance of 8,078 miles
United Airlines plans to launch a nonstop San Francisco to Bangalore flight, which will be one of the world’s longest flights, at 8,701 miles (though Air India already operates the route)
Bamboo Airways plans to launch flights from Vietnam to the United States, though it’s anyone’s guess how exactly that plays out, and which route will be operated
Beyond that, perhaps the biggest thing on the horizon is Qantas’ “Project Sunrise,” where the airline hopes to fly nonstop from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York. Unfortunately the pandemic delayed progress with this, but it’s my understanding that Qantas is still hoping to make this happen, most likely with an Airbus A350-1000.
As airlines rebuild their global route networks, we’re seeing the resumption of some ultra long haul flights. We’ve seen so many new long haul flights launched in the past five years or so, thanks to how amazing the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 are. Compared to previous generation aircraft, these planes are low capacity, long range, and fuel efficient.
While these marathon flights are great for those traveling in a premium cabin, I can’t imagine doing a nonstop flight like this in economy. In those situations I feel like I’d rather break up the journey than fly nonstop. Heck, even in business class I feel like some of these flights are too long.
Which ultra long haul flight do you find most interesting, and what do you think we’ll see added next?