The Future Of Ultra Long Haul Flying: What Routes Are Next?

Now all of the hype surrounding Qantas’ “Project Sunrise” has died down a bit, we thought that we would take a look at the future of ultra-long-haul travel and come up with what routes could be next. Lucrative routes, such as the 10,573-mile journey from Sydney to London, would support a direct 20-hour 20-minute flight. However, it is hard to imagine being cooped up in an aircraft for that length of time.

Boeing 787 Dreamliner - Qantas - VH-ZNB
Qantas is set to start ultra-long-haul flights in 2023. Photo: Steve Lynes via Flickr

By adding time spent getting to and from the airport and you have one hell of a journey in front of you. This may be better done by breaking the trip up with a stopover.

Nevertheless, recent research by OAG has shown which are the most underserved ultra long-haul routes. Let’s take a look at the current plans for ULH flying and where we could see routes added next.

Qantas is looking at non-stop flights between London and New York

Be that what it may, airlines like Australia’s Qantas are determined to push the limits with plans to start ultra-long-haul flights when the right aircraft become available.

Speaking after the maiden “Project Sunrise” flight from New York’s JFK to Sydney, aviation website FlightGlobal quotes chief executive Alan Joyce

“The plan we’re working towards is making a decision on the business case by the end of this year. And it will likely be [launched] from 2023 when the aircraft are available,” he says, as reported by Flight Global.

On the flight from JFK to SYD Qantas used a Boeing 787-9 with a limited amount of passengers and intends to use either Airbus A350s or Boeing 777Xs for the commercial flights.

Additionally, Joyce would like to see Qantas schedule daily non-stop flights to both London and New York.

“We know the demand is there, we know people are interested in it, we know people want to fly these and save the time,” he says.

“So we want to make this a reality by 2023 from New York and London – and maybe from a lot of other destinations in Europe and North America that we can’t reach in one-stop today.”

Passenger numbers are the key to making ultra-long-haul flights work

OK, so non-stop flights from Australia to Europe and the United States can be commercially viable what about other possible routes?

Having looked at annual passenger numbers, the following routes could support non-stop flights, albeit perhaps not daily as Qantas is looking to do. What may stand in the way of an increase in ultra-long-haul flights is that they are notoriously difficult to make money on.

For these types of flights to turn a profit, they need to appeal to the business traveler and not the spendthrift tourist who would rather make a connection if the ticket was cheaper.

Ho Chi Minh City to Los Angeles

After having been granted a category one safety rating by the FAA Vietnam Airlines could soon start offering a non-stop flight from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Los Angeles using an Airbus A350.


Vietnam Airlines wants to start flying to LAX. Photo: Vietnam Airlines

The Vietnamese national flag carrier has also mentioned the possibility of non-stop flights to San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, and New York.

According to information gathered by the airline, approximately two million Vietnamese live in the United States. While that might sound like a lot of people who might wish to visit relatives back in their homeland, Vietnamese Airlines feels that most of its customers on the route will be tourists.

Vietnam Airlines don’t care if the route loses money

While operating an A350-900 on the 7,000-mile route might not be fiscally responsible given the fact it will be competing against one-stop Chinese airlines, Vietnam Airlines says it would be a vital step in achieving their network goals.

Vietnam possible United States routes. Photo: GCMap

Vietnam Airlines is state-owned and with a government that is actively working to encourage tourism, it would not care if the route was profitable or not.

Bangkok to San Francisco and Seattle

Thai Airways used to fly non-stop to both New York and Seattle using a gas-guzzling Airbus A340-500s but suspending the flights in 2012 deeming them as being unprofitable.

However, once it gets its category one safety rating back, the carrier would be able to fly to the United States using a more fuel-efficient aircraft than the A340.

map of possible Thai Airways route
SFO makes more sense than SEA as it is a Star Alliance hub. Photo: GCMap

Two routes being suggested are Bangkok to San Francisco and Seattle. Seattle is a shorter flight by distance, but unlike San Francisco, it is not a Star Alliance hub. By flying to San Francisco Thai Airways would be able to use United Airlines as a feeder airline.

Having said this, United Airlines already flies an 8,446 miles route from San Francisco to Singapore and would if it thought it was profitable enough, operate a non-stop service to Bangkok.

Brisbane to London

Qantas is getting ready for its “Project Sunrise” flight from Sydney to London on Thursday, November 14th. One flight that the airline could be adding to its ultra-long-haul network will be Brisbane to London.

Brisbane to London map
Qantas is considering a Brisbane to London non-stop flight. Photo: GCMap

Qantas and British Airways used to fly from London Heathrow to Queensland’s capital while making stops along the way. However, they soon abandoned the route. Qantas now prefers to transfer its London bound passengers in Singapore and Perth. Meanwhile, British Airways now only fly to Sydney via Singapore.

The distance between Brisbane and London is too far to make it commercially viable using current aircraft but is one of the routes Qantas is considering for its ultra-long-haul non-stop flight.

If you can think of any other ultra-long-haul flights that could be financially viable please let us know in the comments section.