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The world's longest flights – and the service that could soon take the record

Oliver Smith
Watch out Singapore Airlines – Qantas wants your record - GETTY

If the idea of 17 hours stuck inside a plane makes you feel a little nauseous, you might want to stop reading now. 

We’ve tracked down the world’s longest non-stop flight routes – plus a few other interminable services of note – and pinpointed the journeys that could soon gatecrash the charts. 

10. Johannesburg-Atlanta, Delta Air Lines

8,439 miles

16h 25m

Seven of the 10 longest flight routes involve an American airport. In this case it’s Atlanta, the world’s busiest aviation hub – more than 107 million passengers passed through its doors last year. 

DL200 departs every evening at 20:10 from the US city and lands 15 hours and 25 minutes later (give or take) in Johannesburg (17:35 local time). The return leg, DL201, thanks to those wonderful jet streams, takes an hour longer. 

Delta isn’t the most generous airline when it comes to legroom. You’ll get between 31 and 32 inches of “pitch” on board its 777-200LR, and 18 inches of width. 

9. San Francisco-Singapore, Singapore Airlines & United Airlines

8,446 miles

16h 35m

Singapore Airlines and United share the number nine spot, competing as they do on the Pacific crossing from San Francisco to Singapore. Both fly the route twice a day, in mid-morning and last thing at night, but Singapore Airlines takes an extra five minutes to cover the same distance. Why? Flight schedules are notoriously flexible beasts (and journey times often wildly overestimated to improve punctuality statistics), but perhaps it’s because United uses a Boeing 787-9 while Singapore Airlines uses an Airbus A350-900. Can’t decide which carrier to choose? Both offer a 32-inch pitch in economy, but Singapore’s seats are a little bit wider. Sold. 

8. New York JFK-Manila, Philippine Airlines

8,520 miles

16h 45m

If you want to swap chaotic and crowded New York for chaotic and crowded Manila, without setting foot on the ground, it will take 16 hours and 45 minutes. Enough time, perhaps, to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which comes in at 561,093 words.

The A350-900 is also Philippine Airlines’ weapon of choice – but it offers a relatively roomy 33-inch seat pitch. 

7. Dallas Fort Worth-Sydney, Qantas

8,557 miles

17h

Qantas flies six times a week from New South Wales to Texas, taking 17 hours to do so. That’s long enough to listen to the world’s longest album three times (we’re talking about Cardiff outfit Quiet Marauder’s 111-track, four-and-a-half-hour debut record).

The A380 superjumbo rocks this route. It’s a favourite of travellers – take-offs are almost indiscernible, turbulence feels diluted, and landings always gentle – but airlines are less keen. A lack of sales recently saw Airbus call time on production of the model. Qantas gives passengers a relative paltry 31-inch seat pitch on its A380s.  

6. Houston-Sydney, United

8,596 miles

17h 15m

Another place in the charts for Sydney – living a long way from the rest of the world has fringe benefits. UA101 blasts its way Down Under from another Texan city, Houston, four times a week, with the scheduled flight time coming in at 17 hours and 15 minutes. Tiresome. 

The 787 Dreamliner rules this route, with its fancy LED lights, big windows and vaunted fuel efficiency. 

5. Los Angeles-Singapore, Singapore Airlines

8,769 miles

17h

Ten times a week Singapore Airlines flies from LA to the Asian city state using an A350-900ULR. The “ULR” stands for “Ultra Long Range”, and the model – a modified version of the A350-900, which launched in 2005 – has a maximum range of more than 11,000 miles and can fly for up to 20 hours non-stop. Which makes the LA-Singapore service seem positively unambitious. 

4. Auckland-Dubai, Emirates

8,823 miles

17h 5m

Even harder to reach than Australia – unless you’re flying from the Americas, obviously – is its neighbour to the east, New Zealand. So it should come as little surprise to see Auckland occupying two of the top four spots. The first is EK449, a 8,823-mile schlep to Dubai, which uses an A380. Emirates is the superjumbo’s best friend, with a fleet of 112 – the model is the core of the airline’s long-haul offering. 

3. Perth-London Heathrow, Qantas

9,009 miles

17h 20m

Breaking the 9,000-mile barrier is the first regular non-stop service from Australia to Britain, launched by Qantas in 2018. The route has been a runaway success, with QF10’s average passenger load factor (PLF) an impressive 94 per cent. The flight uses a Boeing 787 Dreamliner with 236 seats, split between economy, premium economy and business class, so that’s just 14 empty seats, on average, for each flight. It’s the sort of PLF other airlines dream of. The International Air Transport Association reports that the global PLF average was 81.4 per cent in 2017, while the likes of Emirates and Etihad recorded figures of 77.2 per cent and 78.5 per cent, respectively.

2. Auckland-Doha, Qatar Airways

9,032 miles

17h 50m

Qatar Airways briefly held the record, from February 5, 2017 until October 11, 2018, with its tediously long service to New Zealand. But then Singapore Airlines swiped the title...

1. Newark-Singapore, Singapore Airlines

9,534 miles

18h 45m

Fancy spending almost 19 hours on a plane? Nor us. Yet that’s what’s offered once a day by Singapore Airlines. But wait – there is no economy cabin on the carrier’s Singapore-Newark flight. In this brave new world of crossing half the planet in a single bound, there is no room for “cheaper” fares. Singapore Airlines has configured its A350-900ULRs in such a way that they have only business and premium-economy compartments: 67 seats in the former, 94 in the latter. So that’s 161 passengers in total at maximum capacity, which also helps fuel consumption.

When will the record be broken again?

Ultra long-haul services don’t always work. Indeed, the Singapore-Newark route was offered between 2004 and 2013, but was cancelled amid complaints that the fuel costs made it too expensive (hence a reinvention involving the removal of all economy seats).

But at least one airline is committed to stretching the record. Qantas plans to launch direct flights from London to Sydney, a 20-hour, 10,573-mile marathon, by 2022. It is part of “Project Sunrise”, the airline’s plan to fly non-stop to any city it chooses. Qantas has challenged Airbus and Boeing to redevelop their existing jets and help it usher in this new era of very, very long flights. A version of Boeing’s 777 or Airbus’s A350 could be used to fly from London to Sydney, while routes from the UK to Melbourne, and from Australia to Paris, Rio, Cape Town and New York, have also been mooted.

The world’s longest domestic flight

One for the pub quizzers. Hawaiian Airlines this year launched a mammoth 5,095-mile route, taking off and landing on American soil. The direct service from Honolulu to Boston, Flight 89, takes around 10 hours on the way out and closer to 11 back, due to the prevailing winds.

However, winning on a technicality is Air Austral for its service from Paris to the French overseas department of Reunion. The 5,809-mile flight takes a shade over 11 hours. Sorry, Hawaii. 

The long flights that don’t make the record book

Newark-Singapore is the world’s longest scheduled service, but airlines have flown commercial planes over greater distances.

In 2005, a Pakistan International Airlines plane with 27 passengers flew from Hong Kong to London “the wrong way round” (over the Pacific) as part of a world record attempt. Preparation for the trip was painstaking. Many seats were stripped out, with space being taken up by instruments at the back, while the front section was left empty. It covered 13,422 miles in 22 hours and 22 minutes – and the record still stands.