World's Longest Flight Lasts 18 1/2 Hours

What crosses the largest ocean, 10 time zones and more than 8,700 miles, and depending upon the direction can take two days on the calendar — or no calendar time at all?

It's the longest commercial flight on Earth — Singapore Airlines Flight 19 from Los Angeles, carrying four pilots, 151 passengers and 543 meals for the 18½-hour trip.

"I mean, that's a whole day, isn't it?" asked Janet Rienstra, a passenger embarking on a recent run.

"I've never done it before, so we'll see," said another passenger, Denny Repko. "The last four hours might get to be a bit much."

With this route, Singapore Airlines is beginning the next trend in passenger travel — ultralong-range flights. In June, it begins flying from New York over the North Pole, more than 10,000 miles down to the equator, and then on to Singapore, saving six hours. In a similar vein, Dubai-based Emirates Airlines soon begins service to New York and San Francisco.

New Engines

Such long flights are "something that's never been done before," said John Leahy, senior vice president of marketing for Airbus, which builds the new plane both airlines are flying.

This new Airbus plane is made of lighter materials and has a new wing design. It has four new fuel-efficient Rolls Royce engines, lighter and more powerful than before. Rolls Royce says the key to the engine's efficiency is huge fans, made significantly lighter with new blades made of titanium and air.

Not to be outdone, Boeing is building a long-range version of its 777, capable of flying even farther. Soon, virtually any pair of cities in the world could be connected by a non-stop flight.

"Eventually we'll see … Sydney to New York and other places in the United States," said Randy Baseler, senior vice president of commercial planes for Boeing. "These will become very important, particularly for the business traveler who's trying to save time."

What to Do?

About six hours into Rienstra and Repko's recent flight Feb. 9, the plane was over the Pacific after about the length of time it takes to fly from coast to coast in the United States. And there was still another 12 hours to go. So what do the passengers do?

"Sleep, watch TV, read, play games … look out the window," said passenger Alexandra Vekich.

"So far we figured out, my daughter and I, we could watch about 15 movies," said Kathy Vekich, Alexandra's mother.

In fact, there are 50 movies on demand. And soon, there will be high-speed Internet access.

Most important, instead of the 300 seats the plane could have, it has only 181 seats, flat beds in business class and wider seats with more leg room in coach. There also are two standup buffets to encourage passengers to get up and move around, and there's upgraded food. Of course, the ticket costs 10 percent more than the fare for the direct flight, which must stop somewhere for refueling.

"I consider it a very valuable 18 hours, personally," said Francesca Hunter. "I love being able to be still, relaxed, have people waiting on me."

There might be new life to the old idea that getting there can be half the fun — but for Hunter and the other passengers there were still three hours to go.

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