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Ultra long-haul flights: a cheat sheet

What’s an ultra long-haul flight?

As the name suggests, a really, really, really long flight. Bum-numbingly long. Wikipedia defines an ultra long-haul (ULH) flight as any flight over 12 hours long. Antipodeans should rightfully sniff at such a definition, given our regular 14- or 15-hour schleps up to the Middle Eastern hubs. No, we’re talking next level: think up to 20-hour, non-stop flying time.

Sounds painful. Why?

Ah, the million-dollar question. A drop in oil prices and a rise in more fuel-efficient aircraft are two of the key reasons. But let’s not get stuck in mundane technical detail.

Holding the title of ‘world’s longest flight’ is not a beauty pageant, it’s an endurance status symbol, up there with other useless status symbols such as the trophy spouse, black sports cars and any hotel meal with truffles in it.

Beware: this trend will not stop as long as airlines have egos, and our own Qantas is guilty as charged, with its plans to lift off on a non-stop Sydney-London route by 2022, expected to take around 20 hours.

Who’s doing it?

See above: every airline with an ego and the budget. Flights are measured in time taken, or in distance covered.

In October, Singapore Airlines snatched the mantle of world’s longest commercial flight by distance from Qatar Airways’ shoulders when it relaunched its Singapore-Newark, New Jersey route last month. We’ve awarded it extra ego points for not having a cattle class on board – premium economy and business classes only, folks. We’ll happily bet that Qatar, who invented the term ‘aggressive newcomer,’ won’t take this lying down. The Middle Eastern carrier has shamelessly promoted its title, and won’t let go easily. The gloves are off: stay tuned.

Go on, give us the stats

You asked for it! The current titleholder of world’s longest flight, Singapore Airlines, uses the world’s first Airbus A350-900ULR on its new Singapore Changi-Newark route. It covers 16,700km in about 18 hours, 45 minutes. The airline used to run this as a business-class-only route until it pulled out in 2013, unable to make it pay with older fuel guzzlers. Now, Singapore says its fuel-efficient new aircraft have been modified to make it remotely comfortable, with bigger windows, better air quality and quieter cabins, which all adds up to less jetlag.

In comparison, the newly jilted titleholder Qatar’s Doha-Auckland route runs a Boeing 777-200R, taking 17 hours 30 minutes to cover 14,535km. As it is proud to advertise, that’s long enough to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy on your way to New Zealand.

Coming in third place, Qantas’ direct Perth-London route takes 17 hours, give or take a little wind, to chug 14,498km to Old Blighty.

Unsurprisingly, the top 10 routes feature plenty of flights to the antipodes (think: United Airlines’ Houston-Sydney flight, Qantas’ Sydney-Dallas run, or Qatar arch-rival Emirates’ Dubai-Auckland service).

Très grim! What’s my survival strategy? Hydration, hydration, hydration.

Hydration, hydration, hydration. And we’re not talking Etihad’s sticky-sounding moisturising pyjamas, lovingly doled out to first-class flyers. Gone are the days of boozy, brawl-free flights (let’s go down memory lane to 1989, with Boonie’s celebrated record of sinking 52 tinnies, or 19.5 litres of VB, from Sydney to London. Ah, the old days).

Nowdays, it’s less moustaches and more glossy wellness gurus telling us to eschew the booze, kick the caffeine and forego the fats for a smooth landing across the other side of the world.

When launching its new London non-stop service in March, Qantas had a publicity field day touting its new long-haul menus. Its consultant chef Neil Perry teed up with boffins to put coconut water and organic kombucha on the anti-jetlag menu, along with herbal teas and Instagram’s favourite food, poke bowls. The overriding theme was: easy on the carbs, pumped with probiotics. Other science-based alterations include tweaking the cabin lights to tune your circadian rhythms into your destination.

But Singapore knows its selfie and star-lovin’ citizens: it’s brought out the big guns, with products from celeb destination spa brand Canyon Ranch, whose day spas can also be found in Vegas’ Palazzo and Venetian resorts. Expect more clear-eyed ‘wellness coaches’ imparting advice about seat stretching and meditation moments.

Dropping a sleeping tab may be an option for some, but then you miss out on the movies, the food, the ambience of a well-patronised toilet… and if you’re not a regular user, you probably don’t want to discover your reactions to a new medication while mid-flight.

And remember the golden rule of mile-high drinking: less is more. While all the world loves a free drink, nobody wants to wake up to a mid-flight hangover with eight hours’ flying still to go.

Love is in the air

And lastly, at the risk of sounding like an agony aunt, at no time should you pick a fight with anyone in the airport, no matter how brazenly they queue-jumped over you at customs, or snaffled the last pack of overpriced Tim Tams at the boarding gate. Chances are, they’ll be your neighbour…for the next 18 hours.