Going the Distance. The Longest Flights in the World.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Qatar Airways launched what is, for now, the longest nonstop service in the world. Flights QR920 and QR921 will operate daily each way between Doha, Qatar, and Auckland, New Zealand, using the Boeing 777-200LR — the ultra-long range variant of the 777. The route should prove popular with European and Gulf area tourists headed to New Zealand.

The flights will take somewhere around seventeen hours each way, depending on winds. Because of these variations, it’s mileage, not time aloft, that’s the better measuring stick. The direct, great circle distance between Doha and Auckland is just under 7,850 nautical miles.

Emirates, meanwhile, is set to begin a slightly shorter Dubai-Auckland flight beginning March 1st, at a little over 7,600 miles. These should hold the top two spots at least until Singapore Airlines re-launches its New York-Singapore service, which will log in at about 8,200. The airline canceled EWR-SIN flights in 2013, but intends to resume them next year. Qantas is set to open a Perth-London route in 2018 as well. At that point, a list of the ten longest flights would look like this:

1. Singapore-New York (Singapore Airlines. 8285 miles. Airbus A350)
2. Doha-Auckland (Qatar Airways. 7848 miles. Boeing 777-200LR)
3. London-Perth (Qantas. 7829 miles. Boeing 787-9)
4. Dubai-Auckland (Emirates. 7668 miles. Boeing 777-200LR)
5. Dubai-Panama (Emirates. 7463 miles. Boeing 777-200LR)
6. Dallas-Sydney (Qantas. 7454 miles. Airbus A380)
7. San Francisco-Singapore (United, Singapore Airlines. 7,339 miles. 787-9, A350)
8. Atlanta-Johannesburg (Delta. 7333 miles. Boeing 777-200LR)
9. Dubai-Los Angeles (Emirates. 7246 miles. Airbus A380)
10. Jeddah-Los Angeles (Saudia. 7240 miles. Boeing 777-300ER)

All distances calculated in nautical miles using the Great Circle Mapper. Remember, the world is round, not flat. Look at numbers 9 and 10, for a moment. Yes, Jeddah and Dubai are a lot more than six miles apart, but their distance from Los Angeles differs only by that much — a function of great circle trigonometry.

Here’s my friend, the inimitable Richard Quest, enthusiastically (does he have any other mode?) discussing the Doha-Auckland flight, and making some great points about the evolution of long-haul travel. As Quest notes, the challenges of long-haul flying are no longer technological so much as human. That is, how do you keep passengers comfortable, or even sane, with flight times pushing twenty hours? In the first and business class cabins, things have never been more swanky and luxurious than they are today, but in economy class, no matter how many video channels or free cocktails you give people, there’s a point beyond which the simple physiology of being human makes the experience intolerable (this is maybe part of the reason that Singapore Airlines chose to operate its New York flights in an all-business class configuration).

And to borrow a few lines from chapter seven of my book: quaint, indeed, seem the days when Pan Am executives sat in their Park Avenue skyscraper, scratching their heads over ways to make a 747 reach Tokyo without refueling — a mere 5,800 miles. Thanks to aircraft like the 777LR and A380, almost any two commercial air markets in the world are now linkable in a single fell swoop. One holdout, at just under 10,000 nautical miles, is London–Sydney, called the “grail route” in some circles. Qantas once tinkered with this elusive prize and discovered it could, under optimum conditions, make the run in a 747. But this was so pushing the envelope that it proved a real teeth-chatterer for the carrier’s crews and dispatchers, who were forced to juggle the logistics of fuel, weather, and diversion planning with utmost attention and accuracy. Not to mention it being untenable for advertising: “Qantas to London. Nonstop. Sometimes.”


What’s left after that? Some ideas might be São Paulo–Tokyo, Auckland–London, or Buenos Aires–Tokyo, all clocking in at a shade under 10,000. Asia-South America is a kind of last frontier of long-haul flying. São Paulo, Brazil, has the largest Japanese population of any city outside Japan. Japan Airlines used to run an add-on segment to Sao Paulo from New York, connecting through JFK to and from Tokyo. Could a nonstop ever be feasible? (In the 1970s, Boeing produced a variant of the 747 with a substantially shortened fuselage — making it considerably lighter — but with the same fuel capacity. The result was the 747SP, the longest-range jetliner of its day. Imagine, for a moment, a 777SP, or an A380SP, an ultra-ultra long-hauler able to close the gap on those last outlying city pairs.)

Technologically we’re almost there, but, of course, that’s only part of it. Because two cities can be connected means little to an airline unless there is an exploitable market to justify connecting them. You’ve got to fill a certain number of seats, at a certain price, for a route to be profitable. The longer the route, the harder that task becomes. Still, it’s fun to think about.

My personal distance record is a comparatively modest 6,830 miles, covered in sixteen hours and six minutes, aboard a Delta Air Lines 777-200LR from Detroit to Hong Kong about five years ago (Delta no longer flies this route). That, quite enjoyably, was in business class. Being in a premium cabin pretty much negates any downside of a flight that long; the longer the better, if I’m sitting up front. On the other hand, there’s also the 6,925 miles, covered in fourteen hours and forty-six minutes, that I spent in economy aboard South African Airways flight SA202 from JFK to Johannesburg in May, 2000. (Notice how the second flight was a longer distance, but flown in less time.) I know it was exactly fourteen hours and forty-six minutes because there was a digital timer bolted to the bulkhead in front of me, providing a minute-by-minute update. Watching the hours tick by seemed a torturous proposition, until a certain passenger was bold enough to tape a piece of paper over the clock.


Photo by the author. Qatar Airways A350 and 777.

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43 Responses to “Going the Distance. The Longest Flights in the World.”
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  1. Jude Cobbing says:

    What about New York to Johannesburg on SAA? Comes in at number two on yr list according to great circle mapper….
    Refuels in W Africa on outbound trip but flies direct on journey back.

  2. Richard says:

    Are there any flights that you know of that fly over or near Antarctica? I would love to see the continent from the air.

  3. Martin says:

    The longest possible route between commercial airports is, I believe, Madrid to Auckland, at 10,580 nautical miles. The earth’s circumference is 21,639 nautical miles, so that’s just 240nm shy of halfway around the planet. Not that there would ever be market demand for this route, but it sets the outer limit of what a long-haul aircraft would ever aspire to. It would also make for some pretty cool routing options – depending on the weather conditions, you could end up flying over the north pole, the south pole, or anywhere in between.

  4. Carlos Si says:

    Might as well save a bit of extra money for some extra luxury on such a long flight, assuming you’re able to afford such a flight in the first place, and not spending every penny you have for it.

  5. Bill Konkel says:

    EVA Air has direct flights between Houston and Taipei. Great Circle Mapper puts the distance at 7939 miles

  6. The local newspapers were impressed when casino mogul Sheldon Adelson recently flew his A340-541 (tail number VP-BMS) nonstop from TLV to HNL. That’s 8667 miles, 7537 Nautical miles. The great circle route passes north of Russia most of the way. Airline transit over some of the first countries you encounter (at least for ElAl) is dubious, so I don’t know how close to that route they flew. Flight time was about 18 hours. Since the plane carries only Adelson and his retinue, in apartment style comfort, I guess it was pretty relaxed. I would guess that individual billionaires have an advantage over Gulf state kings for this competition — smaller retinues.

  7. Kevin Brady says:


    When I took SQ 22 SIN-EWR block time just under 19 hours, I spoke with the relief pilot who said we were taking a longer route by mileage due to wind conditions on the route, and told me it was slightly longer than 10,000 statute miles, which translates to 8,695 nautical miles-that sounds like quite a bit more than the direct great circle route – Could jet stream conditions make that big a difference in flight track mileage?

  8. Chris says:

    Missing from this list seems to be SFO-SIN, which GCMap lists at 7,339 NM and is operated by both UA and SQ non-stop (789 and A350, respectively).

    • Patrick says:

      You are correct. I’m not sure how this slipped through. When I was compiling the list, SFO-SIN was one of the pairings I checked. In fact I double-checked it. I must have been entering something incorrectly.

      Thanks for catching this. The list is now updated.

  9. Leslie in Oregon says:

    As one commenter above mentioned regarding pre-jet commercial passenger flying, there have long been trips of very long duration. In the last years of the 1970’s, as cabin crew for Pan Am, I flew many trans-Pacific non-stop flights on Pan Am’s 747SP’s. As my logbook evidences, some of Pan Am’s westbound non-stop SP trips into South Asia destinations clocked in at just under 20 hours (block-to-block) because of winds. I remember that all too well because, even though I had been flying 10-12 hour 747 flights several times each month for years, I was knocked out of the air when I developed a severe allergy to cigarette smoke as a result of those super long-haul 747SP flights. Because none of the medications that would have treated that allergy were legal for cabin crew, I had to resign from a job I loved. (As a junior purser, I did not have the seniority to avoid the super long-haul SP flights.) The allergy to smoke disappeared soon after my last 747SP flight, never to reappear.

  10. Msconduct says:

    Gotta say that unlike you, Patrick, that while it certainly helps I don’t find business class makes super-long flights OK. When I fly Auckland-London, which is approximately two twelvish hour flights back to back, although I fly business it’s the stopover that stops me from losing my sanity. Similarly, I can fly pretty much any amount of time in economy provided it’s in smaller chunks. A few weeks ago I flew Auckland-Santiago in economy – that was three five-hour chunks with stopovers in Tahiti and Easter Island, which was fine despite the Tahiti-Easter Island leg leaving at 2.30 am. (I don’t sleep in economy anyway.) I will not be getting in the queue for the Auckland-Doha flight.

  11. Marialydia says:

    To the scheduled long-distance flights we also need to add the long ones that are adjusted for ad hoc reasons. During the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, in 2010, I was in Nairobi and my scheduled return to NY on Swiss through Zurich was cancelled. My office routed me through Dubai, and the great circle route was out of the question. The Emirates flight went across the Mediterranean, skimming the north coasts of Libya/ Tunisia and Gibraltar…if my memory is correct, the flight was well over 15 hours plus and during the day (well, much of it). This was tedious, even in business, far more than the planned long flights I have done from Johannesburg to New York.

  12. Rod says:

    I usually think of myself as having a fair grasp of geography. But — Mercator projection or no Mercator projection — it’s hard to imagine Auckland-Doha being further than NY-HK or even Vancouver-Sydney. Not that I’m casting doubt on it.
    Oh well, ya learn something every day, such as that if Brooklyn were an independent city it would be the fourth-largest in the US. Or so I’ve heard.

  13. David Beaver says:

    My son and I enjoy this one: Air India Delhi to SFO, does the (only?) “circumnavigation” of the earth in a round trip.

    – Great Circle Mapper calls this route 7,706 miles, and shows it going virtually over the North Pole (actually a tiny bit left of the pole… from SFO you would go very slightly West, but basically over the top

    – AI 174 SFO-DEL takes basically that route, but goes slightly East of direct North… Canada-Greenland-Russia-India, missing all of Europe. Flight Aware says 8,405 actual miles.

    – But then AI 173 DEL-SFO goes directly East over the Pacific… Flight Aware says actual 9,699 miles yesterday, planned 9,197 miles.

    So… City A to City B and back to City A via totally different routes, both going East. Anyone know of any others?

    • Patrick says:

      DEL-SFO is 6697 nautical miles.

      And remember these are direct great circle routes, for reference; they are NOT the actual routes flown, which will vary slightly day to day depending on weather, winds, ATC restrictions, etc.

    • Eric in NH says:

      I did EWR-PEK-EWR in 2006. EWR-PEK was over the pole, slightly to the Europe side (about 87 degrees north, north of Svalbard). PEK-EWR was up the east coast of Siberia, and never got north of the Arctic Circle (northernmost point was near FAI, which is about 65 degrees north).

      I think most routes between the eastern US and China could go either direction, depending on wind and geomagnetic conditions. Airlines are not allowed to use transpolar routes during geomagnetic storms because they would have no way to communicate north of 82 degrees, geosynchronous satellites being below the horizon at those latitudes.

    • David B says:

      And… Air India just got a little press with this route today: first time an all-female crew flew “around the world”


  14. Claes says:

    I think you meant 7,830 miles for your record Detroit-Hong Kong, not 6,830…

  15. Mo says:

    Not necessarily a correction, but for several years SQ operated the EWR-SIN nonstop with two classes of service. Business and Executive Economy. I made a few trips in Executive Economy and was comfortable enough. Quite comfortable, in fact. That flight was a great value and much better than the JFK-FRA-SIN option (the return from SQ to FRA was over 14 hours on its own due to headwinds and the FRA airport was not a great place to get booted off the plane for a layover). I was a bit heartbroken when they switched over to all Business class for the EWR-SIN flight.

  16. Jesse Carroll says:

    The best thing I see on the list is there are “7” Boeing aircraft and only “3” copy cats (school buses)!….Just saying!

  17. tb says:

    Patrick, was that “certain passenger” you?

  18. Brian says:

    You mention JAL’s Tokyo-New York-Sao Paulo flight: The sadly-missed Varig used to fly from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro via Los Angeles and Sao Paulo on the same plane….although, ludicrously, you would still have to get off at Los Angeles, go through immigration and be frog-marched around the airport for an hour.

    • DJ says:

      I was on the LA-Sao Paulo leg of Varig perhaps 15 years ago. Fine flight except the return leg where I ended up in the last row of the plane in the smoking section. When the no smoking sign was turned off, it seemed all the Japanese from the front came back by me and lit up. I felt like a 20 hour flight. A long shower when I got home still didn’t seem to get the smell off. lol!

  19. mitch says:

    Today’s longest-duration flights are several hours less than some at the end of the propliner era, around 1958-59. The longest-range airliner at the time was the Lockheed 1649 Starliner. Only 44 were built, operated from 1957 by TWA, Air France, and Lufthansa; they were replaced starting in 1960 by long-range 707-300 jets.

    TWA named their 1649’s “Jetstreams” even though they were not jets. In 1959, TWA’s timetable listed a San Francisco-Paris non-stop at a 19 hr 35 min eastbound and 22 hr 10 min westbound. First class in back was 14 sleeper seats plus swing-down berths; the 60 tourist seats forward were about the same size as today with a bit more space between rows. No movies. No music. Eat, sleep or read with the unceasing noise and vibration of pounding pistons and whirling props. Cruise 350 mph around 20,000 ft.

    That same route today is half the time at twice the speed and altitude, with a lot less noise and hardly any vibration. Maybe the “good old days” weren’t that great after all.

  20. Alan Dahl says:

    I’m not a fan of super-long flights, I remember flying United LAX->SYD on an ex-PanAm 747SP back in the 80’s. There were 4 screaming babies in coach and I was stuck next to a guy that looked and sounded like General Burkhalter from Hogan’s Heros who talked the whole way.

    That’s one of the reasons I like flying Icelandair to Europe from Seattle over the other options. With a 45-50 minute layover in KEF it’s only slightly slower to Paris than the non-stop and I get to stretch my legs a little. Also for flying certain places it’s actually better. It was far nicer flying SEA->ARN->LED in 13 1/2 hours than flying SEA->AMS->LED in 16 hours. So give me more flights with fast connections if at all possible.

  21. Alex says:

    DXB-AKL has been running for a while now, I took it in June last year. It’s a hard flight even in business, especially as Emirates still run their old planes on that route.

    From London going via LAX is slightly shorter but the transit time isn’t as good and Emirates is MUCH cheaper than AirNZ.

    • Patrick says:

      DXB-AKL has not started yet, as a nonstop. It begins next month.

      And I’m not sure what you mean by “old planes.” Emirates flies only A380s and 777s, the oldest of which, by most standards, are still very new. (The airline recently “retired” its A330s, though even these planes could hardly be described as “old.”) Interior layouts can vary with the route, mostly in first or business class, and maybe that’s what you’re talking about. But so far as I know AKL has always been served by planes with the premium long-haul configuration.

  22. Devoid says:

    In lists like these I never seem to see JFK-TPE, which I’ve done four times now (7,808 miles, according to GCM). The longest flight was, I believe, ~16h40m. At any rate, space and service on EVA basic economy seem to have shrunk, as everywhere else…it’s a long time to be back there. At least TPE is nice, even if touchdown is before 5 am.

  23. Simon says:

    So you got to fly on a brand new A350 already. Good for you. Consider me envious., 😉

  24. nicholas robinson says:

    Patrick, if on your longest flight you had just continued for another 35 hours you would have matched Apollo 11’s flight time to the moon (51 hours).

    But I guess then your 777 would have had to have boosted the engines to 35,000 mph.

    But you made it a third of the way!

  25. Mitch says:

    Patrick, as you say it’s not the distance that matters, it’s flight time. Prevailing winds are usually from west to east, which is why eastbound transcon flights usually take less time than westbound. The difference is even more pronounced over the North Pacific on non-stops between the USA vs Japan, Korea and China.

    This example is against prevailing winds between Auckland and Doha. It’s assumes a 460 kt cruise speed
    Flight Time: 19:49
    Mileage: 9,042 great circle
    ESAD Miles: 9,840 equivalent still air distance
    against prevailing winds
    [flying into the wind means the airplane must carry extra fuel as if it had to fly an additional 800 miles]

    No doubt your airline’s dispatchers could provide many more city pairs uing much better data

  26. Peter says:

    I am sitting here in New Zealand enjoying dinner after having completed JFk-LAX-AKL a few days ago. I was just wondering why you think this new route will be popular with North American travelers?

    Great Circle Mapper shows:

    JFK-DOH-AKL at 15,736 miles
    JFK-LAX-AKL at 8,969 miles.

    That seems like a huge difference even if you are in business or first class on a Gulf carrier.

    Also, just for fun:

    LHR-LAX-AKL 11,960 miles
    LHR-DOH-AKL 12,292 miles

    So I don’t think this route will be that much of a draw for North Americans or English.

    I would like to se AKL-JFK direct at 8,828 miles!

    • Simon says:

      The English will love it. No sane non-American will chose to transfer in the US.

      As long as the US doesn’t get the concept of transit, the rest of the world will avoid flying through a US airport. They’ll chuckle and gladly chose another carrier. US aviation’s loss. And this, for once, was screwed up well before Herr Trump took over.

      • HJ says:

        Odd comment considering Trump has been quite critical of the condition of US airports.

        • David says:

          This isn’t an airport infrastructure issue so much as a DHS/CBP policy issue. These organizations prevent recognition of “in transit” and require all passengers, regardless of visit length, to clear customs and immigration formalities just like if they were visiting the US.

  27. John says:

    At one time I (ignorantly) though a non-stop would be more fuel efficient as it would avoid a second takeoff. I’ve come to learn that’s not the case. If the flight is 8k miles and requires 100k pounds of fuel a flight of 4K miles would require significantly less than 50k pounds of fuel due to a lower takeoff weight.. But, I’ve never the actual numbers on an ultra-long haul flight.