David Slotnick/Business Insider
- Qantas just completed the first-ever nonstop flight between New York and Sydney, Australia, designated “Project Sunrise,” and Business Insider was on board.
- The flight — which lasted 19 hours and 16 minutes and covered almost 10,000 miles — was a research flight, as Qantas staff and scientists studied how to help passengers and crew stay adequately comfortable and rested on an ultra-long-haul flight.
- Researchers closely monitored pilots and flight attendants, and tested a new cabin service flow meant to help minimize jetlag.
- It was a fascinating and enlightening experience, and left me feeling great for a morning in Sydney. Read on to see what it was like to be on board this first test flight.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
I’ve just spent a day in the air.
No, not just a day traveling, heading to airports, dealing with buses and terminals, and making connections. But nearly a full day in a pressured metal tube alternating between roughly 34,000 and 42,000 feet above the Earth — most of that above the Pacific Ocean.
The Australian airline Qantas ran a test flight for its “Project Sunrise” initiative — a program to launch regular commercial service from Sydney to New York and Sydney to London.
The flights, at about 9,900 and 10,500 nautical miles, respectively, represent the farthest — and currently the longest, in terms of time — nonstop flights today. While a nonstop flight from London to Sydney has been achieved once, 30 years ago, it hardly counts — it was flown with a completely empty 747 that had no seats, and it barely had enough fuel to make it. The New York-Sydney route has never been done without a stop in Los Angeles.
When it landed, the flight, designated QF7879, became the longest commercial flight in the world, surpassing Singapore Airlines’ regular commercial service between Singapore and New York, although next month’s test of the London-Sydney flight will surpass this one.
Airplanes and airlines are more technically advanced now 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 this flight – and plans to do the same for the London route – to conduct research into how pilots, cabin crews, and passengers cope with the long flight time. In particular, data gathered from monitoring of the pilots and flight attendants will be used to help Qantas make a case to Australian aviation regulators that it’s safe to have crew work in shifts for potentially 20 hours or more.
The airline also tested a redesigned cabin service, meant to help passengers minimize the effects of jetlag as they cross 15 time zones, and reduce the magnitude with which an ultra-long-haul flight can exacerbate those symptoms. Cabin lighting, meal services, and food options were tailored to help passengers and crew either feel more awake, or be more attuned to nighttime.
This flight also doubled as a delivery of a new Boeing 787-9, from Boeing’s Seattle plant. There were only 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 fuel range.
Two planes in development from Airbus and Boeing would be capable of flying these routes. 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, Qantas’ CEO, said. The airline had previously hoped to launch service by 2022.
Due to the low passenger load, each person was allocated a business-class seat that could convert into a bed. Passengers were also encouraged to spend some time in the coach cabin in order to balance the plane.
Although the flight would obviously be a different experience in coach with a full plane, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce discussed several options to make an ultra-long-haul flight in coach more comfortable.
Regardless, the nearly 20-hour trek in business class, with the redesigned cabin service, was a notably different experience compared to other long-haul flights I’ve flown in premium cabins, including first and business class.
Aside from that, it was truly a unique experience. After all, it’s not every flight that you see an airline CEO doing calisthenics in his pajamas.
While it is Business Insider’s policy not to accept free travel, we were not able to pay for the New York-to-Sydney trip because it was classified as a “ferry flight,” for which US Department of Transportation regulations prevent the airline from accepting any money for fares. Business Insider did pay for the return flight with the airline.
From takeoff to landing, plus before and after, read on to see what the 19-hour and 16-minute flight was like.