The ultimate test of human endurance lies not in pushing the body to great lengths in an ultramarathon, traversing the icy cold waters of the English channel without boat nor floaty, nor in ascending the dizzying heights of Everest to the Earth’s ceiling. Nay, the true test of mind, body, and soul – the ultimate endurance event – is sitting your numb ass down in economy class and gutting through a long-haul flight from Australia to the USA. It is a true vision of hell, and one that Qantas are apparently keen on extending, thanks to a trial of a New York – Sydney direct flight set to take place this coming weekend.
At 20 hours in duration, the flight will the longest non-stop commercial ever seen in global aviation history. That’s 20 continuous hours jammed into a sealed sardine tin of farts, soaring high above first the continental United States in its entirety, and then a full end-to-end dash across the Pacific Ocean. About as geographically far as you can possibly get between two points on the globe.
The test flight is part of Qantas’ new Project Sunrise initiative, which is exploring ultra-long haul routes that they hope will prove viable to put into public service in around 2022.
This weekend’s New York-Sydney test route will be followed in the coming months by a London-Sydney direct flight, which outstrips the New York route by around 500 miles. That flight will clock in at a hefty 21 hours, which is some joint-seizing shit no matter how you look at it.
The New York flight departs this Saturday in a brand-new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, and will carry 40 people – largely media and crazed enthusiasts. The small crowd is being utilised for reduced overall plane weight in a bid to test how effectively the Dreamliner can travel beyond its usual range. A comforting thought if you happen to be carrying a ticket.
The flight will also test pilots’ ability to deal with the extended flight time; melatonin levels and brain wave activity of the pilots will be recorded and monitored. However pilots union officials have expressed concern over the extended routes, claiming the test flights will only produce a limited data set and won’t accurately recreate real-world flying conditions.
Whether the ultra-long haul routes enter regular operation remains to be seen – they have to present a sound business case for Qantas as well as being, y’know, not physically torturous for the pilots and passengers.
Still, would I willingly subject myself to 20 hours of non-stop flying to go from Sydney direct to New York? Honestly, probably.
Particularly if they introduced a Hammock Class.
Which they should do.
If they’re not cowards.Image: Getty Images / James D. Morgan