There’s been quite a bit of buzz in the past few days over next year’s launch of QF 9/10 from Perth to London, which some have cited to be the new longest flight in the world, supposedly surpassing QR 921/922 from Doha to Auckland. But will this truly be the longest flight in the world?
Before we dive into things, how exactly is flight length measured? The most commonly utilized metric is the great circle distance, which is the shortest distance between two points (airports, in this case) on a sphere and is typically what is used when reporting flight distance. A quick search using the Great Circle Mapper shows that PER-LHR is 9,009 miles, while DOH-AKL is 9,032 miles. So as it turns out, PER-LHR will not be the longest flight in the world.
Another common measure of flight length is the time that a flight is “blocked” for on the schedule, i.e., the time that carriers allot for a flight. By this measure, the existing Qatar flight loses out to the new Qantas flight, with a block time of 17 hours, 40 minutes for AKL-DOH versus a block time of 18 hours, 20 minutes for PER-LHR. Arguably more significant than the length of the flight itself, however, is that the new Qantas service will be the first nonstop flight from Australia to Europe.
All of this discussion of flight length got me thinking about long flights and some of the more interesting tidbits about these routes.
Currently, the world’s five longest flights (by distance) are:
1. QR 921 DOH-AKL at 9,032 miles
2. EK 449 DXB-AKL at 8,824 miles
3. QF 8 SYD-DFW at 8,578 miles
4. SQ 32 SIN-SFO AT 8,446 miles
5. DL 200, ATL-JNB at 8,439 miles
The new Qantas service from Perth to London will fall in at number 2, at just 23 miles shorter than Qatar’s DOH-AKL route.
Of course, official reported distance is almost never the actual distance flown, due to various factors like weather, geopolitical concerns, air traffic congestion, and terrain. For instance, Ben over at OMAAT wrote a very informative post several months ago about Air India’s Delhi to San Fransisco flight, which is “only” 7706 miles by great circle distance, but covers 9000+ miles along its flight path. It could be argued, then, that theoretically this is the world’s longest flight as measured by distance flown. Another notable example is Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong-New York JFK service, which often covers about the same distance in flight as the Air India flight, but with a great circle distance of 8,072 miles.
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention some notable flights that were previously among the longest in the world but are now no longer serviced. The only route longer than Doha-Auckland to have ever existed was the fabled SQ 21/22 Singapore-Newark service (9,534 miles), operated by an A340-500 in an all-business class configuration and with designated space in one of the galleys to hold a body in case someone passed away while in flight. Korean Air, as well, operated a unique Seoul-Los Angeles-Sao Paulo service that was a total of 12,150 miles (5,994 for ICN-LAX; 6,156 for LAX-GRU). Granted, the flight stopped at LAX and Korean Air even had rights to sell seats on the LAX-GRU sector as a fifth freedom route, but the route is certainly notable, both for its uniqueness and for being near the top of the list of the world’s longest direct flights.