Australian airline Qantas completed the second of three ultra-long-haul research flights on Friday, flying 17,800 kilometers (about 9600 NM) from London, England, to Sydney, Australia. The lightly loaded Boeing 787-9 touched down at Sydney International Airport at 12:28 p.m. local time after 19 hours and 19 minutes in the air. The flight took place as part of the airline’s Project Sunrise, a program designed to open regular, nonstop commercial routes from the east coast of Australia to ultra-long-haul destinations including London and New York.
“Our Perth to London flight was a huge leap forward and it’s been incredibly popular,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce. “The final frontier is New York and London to the east coast of Australia non-stop and we are hopeful of conquering that by 2023 if we can make all elements of the business case stack up.”
According to Qantas, data from the research flights will be “used to inform future service and product design, aimed at increasing wellbeing and comfort during travel on long-haul flights.” For the second flight, areas being studied included meal times and types, cabin lighting and temperature, and stretching and meditation. The flights serve the dual purpose of delivering the three brand-new 787s to Qantas’s Sydney base.
The first Project Sunrise research flight took place last month, carrying 49 passengers and crew from New York to Sydney. Qantas is considering Boeing’s 777-8 and an ultra-long-range version of the Airbus A350 for use on Project Sunrise routes, but has yet to settle on either option. The company has said it will announce its choice by the end of the year.
Somehow it seems appropriate that Qantas is setting up this service. After all, it still holds the record for the longest elapsed-time regularly-scheduled airline flight. From 1943 to 1945 for its “Kangaroo” service, it ran PBYs on regularly scheduled nonstop flights between western Australia and what is now Siri Lanka. Depending on winds, the flights lasted between 27 and 33 hours (yes, they really were nonstop flights – PBYs were camels). Passengers received a “Double Sunrise” certificate at the end each flight.
The current lightweights whining about a 19-hour flight in a quiet pressurized, cushioned seat and hot meal luxury are pikers compared to those who rode in the noisy fuselage of a PBY for 33 hours. Oh, yeah, the flight was scheduled to pass through Japanese-controlled airspace at night to minimize the risk that they would be shot down-as an added attraction the passengers got to worry about being intercepted by enemy aircraft.
I’m not convinced that a reduction of a few hours is really that much of an advantage. Granted, it’s a few hours less that one is stuck inside the metal tube, but what really takes it out of you on that flight is being unable to sleep.
Keep the stopover, and find a way to give passengers a lie-flat bed. After all, it’s not as if the volume of a passenger increases when they do that, so it shouldn’t really be necessary to charge more.
Or is that the point? Economy class passengers must remain uncomfortable to ensure business class gets filled?
Has the “airport experience” become so intolerable, that ordinary people are willing to endure a 24-hour flight, just to avoid layovers?
Maybe we shoud investigate employing suspended animation, putting people into big triangular tubes, and shipping them via FedEX. Have a nice flight!