INTERNATIONAL - Eight hours from Sydney to Singapore? It’s a doddle. 12 hours from Hong Kong to London? No sweat.
With a high-tech assist from Airbus and Boeing, airlines are steadily pushing the boundaries of long-distance flying. Even the language is being redefined. The new frontier is the “ultra-long range” flight, where globe-striding jets regularly tackle journeys of more than 16,000km (9,942 miles).
For passengers, that translates to 18-plus hours in the air. But for many business travelers, even those non-stop marathons prove the superior alternative to airport lay-overs halfway along the route. So if you’re in for the long haul, here’s the best way to handle it.
Singapore to New York (Singapore Airlines)
Average time: 18 hours 35 minutes
Singapore Airlines originally flew non-stop between Singapore and New York (to be technically correct, the Manhattan-adjacent Newark) from 2004 to 2013, until rising oil costs grounded its gas-guzzling Airbus A340 jets.
New fuel-efficient Airbus A350 jetliners helped tilt the economics back in Singapore Airlines’ favor, with the route restarted in October 2018. With SQ21 wheels-up from Singapore near midnight and reaching Newark around 6am, passengers see two long “nights” book-ending a brief sunrise near Japan.
Members of Singapore Airlines’ elite Solitaire PPS Club can make the best start to this marathon by visiting the SilverKris first-class lounge at Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 to enjoy a few glasses of Piper-Heidsieck Rare Millesime 2002, which sells for around 300 Singapore dollars ($216) per bottle.
Surprisingly, there are no first-class suites on this flight: only 67 lie-flat business class seats and 94 premium economy recliners.
So how do you spend close to 19 non-stop hours in business class, short of a Stilnox-induced coma? Savvy travelers think ahead.
Singapore Airlines’ online Book the Cook service lets you choose from an extensive selection of meals before you fly. There’s a staggering 49 dishes which you won’t see on the in-flight dining menu, headlined by the ever-popular Lobster Thermidor but also embracing Singaporean, Chinese, Malay, Thai, Japanese and Indian dishes.
Singapore Airlines’ smartphone app also lets you browse the in-flight video and music library ahead off your flight, to create a personalized playlist which is synchronized via WiFi with your setback screen once you step onto the plane. This is especially handy when you realize that from start to to finish, you could spend the flight watching all eight Harry Potter movies or listening to every song ever recorded by The Beatles, twice over.
Doha to Auckland (Qatar Airways)
Average time: 17 hours
The world’s second-longest flight sports the world’s best business class. This is the Qsuite, a bespoke Qatar Airways design with first class-style sliding doors.
For 17 hours, these wonderfully well-appointed suites become a cosy crib for relaxing or a private cocoon for sleeping. A staggered layout sees some seats facing backwards but positioned closer to the window rather than the door, which gives you more of a private jet feel. (If you want to select those seats when making your booking, choose the A or K seats at rows 1, 3, 5, 8 and 10.)
If you’re travelling with your partner, request one of the paired middle seats which can convert into a double bed, then slip into the airline-supplied PJs and snuggle down.
The long flight also affords plenty of time to work your way through Qatar Airways’ extensive “dine on demand” menu, which lets passengers order any dish at any time during the flight — perfect if your timezone-addled stomach fancies a mezze platter breakfast at 4pm.
Perth to London (Qantas)
Average time: 17 hours
Sophisticated real-time flight planning software helps Qantas regularly shave slabs of time off the only direct flight linking Australia and the UK — it’s come down as low as 15¼ hours on the return London-Perth leg.
This is the world’s longest Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight, and will be joined in April 2020 by Qantas’ new Brisbane-Chicago service.
It also benefits from one of the world’s best Boeing 787 business-class seats: A spacious “business suite” with plenty of room to spread out your work en route plus a 16-inch HD screen.
Thankfully Qantas is big on boxed sets.
Downton Abbey is tailor-made viewing for the trip to London, although a special HBO channel includes entire seasons of high-profile shows such as Game of Thrones, Big Little Lies and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The Boeing 787’s cabin technology helps mitigate the effects of jet lag through lower effective altitude, higher humidity and cleaner filtered air, while Qantas has partnered with chef Neil Perry and Sydney University to develop a special in-flight menu of nourishing metabolism-friendly “wellness” meals.
Dubai to Auckland (Emirates)
Average time: 16 hours 30 minutes
With one of Emirates’ double-decker Airbus A380s featuring on the flagship New Zealand service, well-heeled passengers can find a haven in the superjumbo’s private first-class suites.
Emirates was among the pioneers of first class A380 cabins with sliding doors, and the first to add showers — two of them, exclusive to the 14 first-class suites — for a quick freshen-up before landing. Combine this with a “dine on demand” menu and there’s little reason to venture our of this rarefied realm.
Well, there’s one reason: head towards the rear of the superjumbo’s upper deck and you’ll find a cocktail bar where you can mingle with colleagues consigned to business class. Ask the bartender for the drink of your choice or have them surprise you with their favorite in-flight tipple, add some conversation and the hours will fly by.