How Do You Fly The Olympic Flame Half Way Across The World?

A Japan Airlines aircraft is currently flying the Olympic flame halfway across the world prior to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The flight is being operated in conjunction with Japan’s other main carrier, ANA. But how do you safely fly a flame across the globe? Let’s find out!

Japan Airlines, Tokyo 2020, Olympic Torch Relay
A Japan Airlines Boeing 787-8 is flying the Olympic flame back to Japan. Photo: Getty Images

Fire and aviation are two things which it is usually best to keep apart. Even lighting a cigarette on a flight today can get you into serious trouble. However, an exception to the rule is made for the Olympic flame, with special precautions undertaken to ensure that problems are avoided.

Why does the flame need to be flown?

In preparation for the summer Olympics, the Olympic flame is lit in Greece. It then goes on a week-long tour of Greece, before heading to Athens Airport. The next stage of the Olympic flame’s journey is typically a torch marathon around the host nation of the games. However, from being lit in Greece to arriving at the Olympic opening ceremony, the flame must not be extinguished.

Now, it would be fairly impractical to travel by land and/or sea to get from Athens to Tokyo. As a result, it is usually necessary to fly the flame to the host nation. In 2008, Air China flew the flame to Beijing, in 2012 British Airways flew the flame to London, and in 2016, LATAM flew the flame to Rio. In fact, the flame even made it onboard Concorde.

Tokyo, 2020 Olympic Games, Japan Airlines, Torch Relay
The Olympic flame is kept in a specially designed container during flights. Photo: Getty Images

Special measures

Now, flying a flame appears to defy common sense at best, and could be dangerous at worst. As such, many special measures need to be taken to keep the aircraft and its occupants safe. The flame is placed into a specially designed container for flights. This looks a bit like a miner’s lamp.

Several of these lamps are placed on the aircraft, then, if one has an issue, it can be extinguished without the flame being lost. During the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay, the flames were positioned in seats 1A and 1B on board a British Airways Airbus A319. In seat 1C was a police officer assigned to protect the flame. He had undertaken special firefighting training in order to accompany the flame.

Tokyo, 2020 Olympic Games, Japan Airlines, Torch Relay
In 2012, British Airways sent an Airbus A319 to collect the Olympic Flame from Athens. Photo: British Airways.

This time around, the flame is being carried on a Japan Airlines Boeing 787-8. The aircraft flew to Athens as JL1964. 1964 was the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympic Games. It is returning to Japan with the flight number JL2020. Quite fitting really. Once in Japan, the torch with travel the country before the Olympic Opening Ceremony on the 24th of July.

Are you planning to see the Olympics in Japan this year? Let us know in the comments!