Air Travel

The End of the World's Longest Nonstop Flights


The world’s two longest commercial flights, linking Singapore with Newark and Los Angeles, are landing in the history books.

Singapore Airlines’ (SIA:SP) daily nonstop from Newark stretches across 9,500 miles and averages about 18 hours via the North Pole, although the flight can last more than 21 hours because of some wind and routing variables. The final departure from Newark for the longest flight will be Nov. 23. The second-longest flight, Singapore’s nonstop from Los Angeles, departed for the final time on Sunday night and landed early Tuesday—Singapore time—after a nearly 17-hour journey across the Pacific.

The marvel of current long-haul airplane technology, it turns out, is no match for the economic cruelties of volatile fuel prices. Singapore used the four-engine Airbus A340-500 for the two very long routes. Those are the longest-range model Airbus has built to date, equipped with only 100 seats in total, all business class.

Singapore touted the flights, which sell for more than $8,000 round trip, as saving travelers an average of nearly five hours over other one-stop flights. But as part of a fleet upgrade into the new carbon-bodied fiber Airbus A350, Singapore decided to sell its five A340s dedicated to the two routes and shut down the epic nonstops. “It was an offer we couldn’t refuse from the manufacturer,” Singapore spokesman James Bradbury-Boyd says.

The company has no Boeing 777-200LRs in its fleet, the only other aircraft capable of the distances required for the nonstops to Los Angeles or Newark. Bradbury-Boyd says Singapore often has a waiting list for the flights, but demand couldn’t offset economic shifts in jet fuel and other factors that have changed greatly since the flights began in early 2004. Almost all the passengers are finance executives and other wealthy individuals.

In quitting the A340, Singapore plans to reconfigure some of its Airbus A380 super jumbos to add 24 additional business-class seats on the upper deck, replacing the coach-class seats. That change will come later this month on the A380s Singapore flies from New York and Los Angeles, as well as on several other routes. Those flights to Singapore stop in Frankfurt and Tokyo, respectively.

For airline-trivia buffs, the new long-distance crown holder will be Qantas Airways’ (QAN:AU)flight from Sydney to Dallas, which is about 8,600 miles. The longest by time will be Delta’s daily flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, which takes nearly 17 hours. Both distance and duration fluctuate, obviously, due to winds and necessary deviations en route.

The end of the Singapore flights is causing fans to post their regrets online. “Not a bad seat on this plane, enjoy it while you can,” one fan wrote on seatguru.com. “This kind of experience is not found on any other aircraft flying today.” “Great shame,” wrote Max Q on airliners.net, a site for airplane enthusiasts. “These flights captured the imagination and provided a very convenient link for passengers. Amazing the performance of this aircraft.”

The A340 flights are so long and fly for an extended duration across areas where there’s nowhere to land in an emergency that the airline added a special compartment to hold a corpse, just in case. The space is used if a passenger dies mid-flight and no seats are available for the deceased. The Guardian newspaper dubbed it a “corpse cupboard.”

Bradbury-Boyd says Singapore, so far, hasn’t had the need to use it.

Bachman is an associate editor for Businessweek.com.

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Companies Mentioned

  • SIA:SP
    (Singapore Airlines Ltd)
    • $10.04 SGD
    • 0.03
    • 0.3%
  • QAN:AU
    (Qantas Airways Ltd)
    • $1.49 AUD
    • -0.03
    • -2.02%
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