Every time someone mentions a particularly long flight, I'll ask them: Was it on United Flight 806? Or Air France Flight 275? Or Qantas Flight 12? Or British Airways Flight 28?
If they didn't travel on those flights, then I'll tell them that their flights weren't really long at all.
Give or take a few minutes, the four flights are about the longest you can take. United Flight 806 is nonstop between Hong Kong and San Francisco, Air France Flight 275 nonstop between Tokyo and Paris, Qantas Flight 12 nonstop between Los Angeles and Sydney and British Airways Flight 28 nonstop between Hong Kong and London.
Each flight lasts a minimum of 11 hours. And the Los Angeles-Sydney and Hong Kong-San Francisco runs push 14 hours.
Those who have taken those flights, including myself, know that you have never truly suffered jet lag until you've taken a long-haul flight.
And in a few months many long-haul flights will get even longer. A new generation of aircraft is about to come on the market that will, in many cases, turn one- and two-stop flights into nonstop marathons.
Soon the Boeing 747-400 series will be operational. This extended-range version of the 747 is a phenomenal piece of equipment, incorporating the latest technology. It can carry 410 passengers and has a range of 7,340 nautical miles.
It promises to revolutionize how we travel.
For example, no aircraft today can fly nonstop between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Similarly, no aircraft can fly nonstop from New York City to India. Or San Francisco to Buenos Aires. Dozens of other routes require stops or changes of aircraft.
Although some long-haul flights are billed as "nonstop," there are still stops, because the aircrafts used weren't designed for the true lengths of the flights.
Maximum flight range (with weight and fuel consumption taken into consideration) may barely equal the exact length of the flight, assuming everything is perfect en route.
However, any significant head wind or weather problem often forces planes to make an unscheduled--but not unanticipated--stop. This is particularly true on U.S.-Hong Kong flights (planes divert to Okinawa or Taipei) and Asia-London flights (with stops in Bahrain or Dubai).
As a result of the introduction of the 747-400, airline schedules and routes surely will be amended in our favor.
Today, if you want to fly between the United States and Bangkok, many of you have to fly through Tokyo, Taipei and Hong Kong. Soon, if various governments approve the route, you could fly nonstop from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Thailand, a flight that could take 16 hours or more, depending on the weather.
If you want to fly from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, the only airline serving the route is Pan Am, with a three-stop service. That, too, can change.
Sometimes a long haul is defined by the range of the aircraft, and not just the distance involved. An example is the weekly flight between Honolulu and Christmas Island in Kiribati. A few years ago the flight was handled by an old 727, the only aircraft belonging to Air Tungaru.
It was a tough trip for the single plane, and it wasn't long before the 727 began to experience mechanical problems--so many that the plane was sold and the airline ceased to exist. But the plane wasn't properly maintained. It has been replaced by a specially modified 737 operated by Aloha Airlines.
Outfitting the Planes
In order for the 737 to make the trip, Aloha had to equip the two-engine aircraft with avionics and over-water safety equipment, and specially modify the jet to carry cargo ranging from food supplies to trucks. Soon the 737 could be replaced by a new generation of aircraft such as the Boeing extended-range 767 or the Airbus 320.
In the next two years the number of long-distance nonstop flights will zoom. Heinz Ruhnau, chairman of the executive board of Lufthansa, predicts that by the end of next year there will be almost 100 nonstop, regularly scheduled international legs.
The good news about all of the new nonstop service is that single-plane nonstop service tends to minimize the "schlep" factor of travel. It also tends to minimize landing and takeoff stress to the aircraft, and reduce the number of mechanical problems and ground and weather delays associated with long-distance flying.
But there is some potentially bad news. Other than Charles Lindbergh and a few other determined aviation pioneers, no one has really wanted to sit inside a metal cylinder for 16-plus hours.
Even now, crew and passenger fatigue is constantly studied on long-haul flights.
An essential part of long-haul flights is long-range planning.
"From our point of view," says Mike Hardy, Cathay Pacific's director of flight operations, "there's a real need for precision in balancing our fuel, range and payload, as well as for anticipating crew needs."