Singapore (CNN) — Spending nearly 19 hours cooped up in an airplane may sound nightmarish to some, but when Singapore Airlines flight SQ22 takes off from its home airport bound for New York, it’s going to be a dream for others.
The record-breaking flight, involving a brand-new Airbus A350-900ULR (Ultra Long Range), will usher in a new era for air passengers and make the world just that bit smaller as it becomes the world’s longest scheduled nonstop service.
For aviation fanatics like myself, it rarely gets more exciting.
I’m lucky enough to have a ticket for this inaugural flight and I’ll be live-reporting my experiences as we depart from Singapore’s Changi Airport, then fly northeast towards Alaska before landing in Newark Liberty International Airport, just outside of New York.
Take off is scheduled for 11:35 p.m. Singapore time (11:35 a.m. in New York, 4:35 p.m. in London) on Thursday October 11 and, all being well, we’ll be wheels-down on the other side of the planet the following day, Friday at 6 a.m. in New York (11:00 a.m. in London, 6 p.m. Singapore).
But what will it be like to spend more than 18 hours in the air? How does the human body cope? How do the cabin crew cope? How do the airplane’s bathrooms cope?
I’ll be charting my observations — good and bad — and those of my 160 fellow passengers as we make aviation history.
Keep checking this story for live updates as we travel the 16,700 kilometers (10,376 miles) to our destination.
But first, a few words on what exactly is meant by the world’s longest flight.
It seems so easy, but it isn’t.
There are various ways to define it, with pedants arguing for hours over what it means.
Of course there is the distance flown. Then there’s the duration of the flight. Sometimes strong head winds can mean a shorter distance takes longer and vice versa.
However, we’re usually safe saying the longest flights are measured when the plane is flying the Great Circle Route: the shortest distance between two points on the globe.
For instance: flying from New York to London, the plane doesn’t go straight out over the ocean because that would mean flying at the wider part of the Earth’s circumference.
Rather, the plane heads north, making an arc past Canada, Greenland and Iceland, and down across Ireland into London.
With that in mind, these are the commonly accepted world’s longest flights:
Singapore to New York
Previously operated by Singapore Airlines using an Airbus A340-500, this flight took 18 hours to get to Newark.
It ended up being an all-business class flight. The A340-500 is a four-engine, heavy and thirsty aircraft. When fuel prices rose to more than $100 per barrel, this flight stopped being profitable. (Remember: the longer the flight, the more fuel becomes a proportion of the cost!)
By 2013 Singapore Airlines took advantage of an agreement to hand back the planes to Airbus, thereby ending the route.
Now, five years later, equipped with the more fuel-efficient A350-900 Ultra Long Haul, the airline can once again fly direct from Singapore to New York and make money.
From October 11, hands-down this will be, without controversy, the longest regularly scheduled nonstop commercial flight in the world.
Perth to London
Since 1947, the journey from Australia to London has been known as The Kangaroo Route. Back then, several hops were involved — Sydney, Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo, Castel Benito, Rome, London — and took some four days to complete.
And that was considered speedy.
This year Qantas did the run all in one long hop, when a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner made the journey in just over 17 hours.
There have been other aircraft capable of this distance, like the Boeing 777-200LR, Airbus A380 and A340-500, but they are heavier planes with more seats than required. It would have been difficult to make money on this “long thin route.”
Other flights in the top 10
Qantas’ Sydney-Dallas using the A380, Qatar’s Doha-Auckland, Emirates’ Dubai-Auckland, United Airlines running San Francisco-Singapore with a 787-9.
The return of Singapore-New York will put an end to all the rivalry, at least for the moment.
By connecting these two commercial centers on opposite sides of the world, the flight is probably the final long-distance route an airline can conceive to run and remain commercially viable.
Until Qantas’ Project Sunrise comes to fruition.
The Aussie carrier has tasked both Airbus and Boeing to develop long-range aircraft capable of flying 17,000 kilometers nonstop from Sydney to London. Qantas hopes to order the revamped planes by 2019 with flights beginning in 2022.
That journey, if it happens, will clock in at around 20 hours, earning world’s longest honors.
The REAL longest flight
Boeing’s 777-200LR Worldliner complete’s its record-breaking flight in 2005.
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
Oh, did I say that these were the longest flights?
Because the actual longest flight, according to Guinness World Records, was a 22-hour and 42-minute flight in 2005, from Hong Kong to London.
Boeing was demonstrating the capabilities of its 777-200LR — nicknamed the Worldliner — so the flight went the long way round.
I was one of only 30 passengers on board — Boeing was required to have some paying passengers to meet the criteria for beating the record.
During the nearly day-long trip, we played games, exercised, chatted with the eight pilots on board and slept on mattresses laid out at the back where the seats had been removed.
The flight took off from Hong Kong, crossed the Pacific, making landfall around Los Angeles.
From there, we flew across the United States, crossing over New York’s JFK Airport before heading out over the Atlantic and landing in London to a water-cannon salute.
Now THAT was a long flight.