These Are The Issues With Ultra Long Haul Flights

There is nothing more frustrating than traveling across the world only to have a layover in a country you can’t even pronounce. The solution? Skip the refueling and jump onboard an ultra long-haul flight. But these journeys are not without issues, several of which need to be solved before they become commonplace.

Qantas 787
Qantas has some work to do before real Project Sunrise flights can take off. Photo: Qantas

Check out our video here:

What are ultra long-haul flights?

So far in the world, there are only a few flights that are considered ‘ultra-long-haul’, the big daddies of which are:

Singapore to New York, Auckland to Qatar, Perth to London, Sydney to Dallas. These routes are all over 16 hours long and generally command a 20% premium.

Qantas and Singapore have proven that these flights are more than lucrative. The Qantas Perth to London direct link, saving around 4-5 hours compared to routes through Dubai or Singapore, has a load factor of 94%. Even when the price of the route is a good few hundred dollars more. That means nearly every plane is loaded up.

But this long-distance travel is not without its own problems.

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350
Singapore Airlines operates a number of Airbus A350-900s and A350ULRs. Photo: Singapore Airlines

What aircraft to use?

Believe it or not, ambitious airlines are currently limited by range restrictions. They want to connect two destinations, but can’t actually find an aircraft up for the job. Here are the top five aircraft based on the range available in the world today.

  1. Airbus A380 at 14,800 km / 8,000 nmi
  2. Airbus A350-1000 with a range of 16,100 km (8,700 nmi).
  3. A340-500, with 16,670km (9,000nmi)
  4.  Boeing 777-200LR with a range of 17,395km (9,395nmi).
  5. Airbus A350-900ULR (which stands for Ultra Long Range) at 18,000 km (9,700 nmi).

Thus airlines who want to plan a route that is beyond these ranges, like Qantas who wants to fly Sydney to London direct, are asking aerospace companies like Boeing and Airbus to build specially designed aircraft for the journey.

Thus far Airbus has pitched the Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing with their concept long-range aircraft the 777-8.

Aircraft configuration?

There are two choices; to use our earlier examples, we either go the Singapore way or the Qantas way.

Singapore, who operates their Singapore to New York route with an A350-900 ultra long-range (ULR), has opted to abandon the economy cabin entirely. It has a large business class section and a premium economy cabin instead. This added legroom and comfort means that it is far more palatable than anything the competition can offer.

Qantas operates a Boeing 787 Dreamliner between Perth and London in a normal configuration. This means that it has 166 seats of regular economy with only 32 inches of room for 16 hours. And as we mentioned before, the airline has been very successful proving that passengers prefer time saved over comfort.

How to schedule crew?

Take the proposed Project Sunrise by Qantas, to fly from London to Sydney direct. At an estimated length of over 17,000kms, it will take just over 19 hours gate to gate to complete. Needless to say, manning an aircraft like that will require multiple crews, something that needs to be accounted for in the pay and how to schedule them.

Qantas 787 Project Sunrise
Qantas was able to fly from New York to Sydney on a single trip on a 787. Photo: Qantas

It is for this reason that Qantas recently completed a test flight with a Boeing 787-9, with only forty passengers on board, to understand how to roster crew, rotate pilots, and more.

Plus, they also measured how to keep passengers happy, tracking everything from entertainment usage to mealtimes across the entire journey. After all how many movies can you really watch on one journey?

All these issues need to be figured out before tickets can even go on sale. But that won’t stop the dawn of the generation of ultra long-haul flights

Will you be jumping onboard one of these ultra-long-range journeys? Let us know in the comments.

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David G

I think there is an error in the video re the A350 Singapore – London flight not having an economy seats. Shouldn’t that refer to the Singapore – New York flight?

Ar Feng

One of the biggest issues which you haven’t even mentioned is how fuel INefficient ultra long haul flights are – unlike flights w/ stop overs, ultra long haul flights have to carry significantly more dead fuel weight to fly for the same distance. This should be front and center of the article, not only for environmental reasons, but this is why such flights by definition will always be premium!


I wonder how would this compare, however, to the volume of fuel consumed executing a landing and take-off for a stop-over? i don’t know the answer to this question… I am just interested in how it might compare.


Reportedly the fuel costs of the added takeoff and climb and the longer indirect refueling stop route makes the long haul, nonstop direct flight less fuel costly, less environmental damaging — despite its extra fuel weight.


The 777-200LR has a range of 15 800 km

Hein Vandenbergh

Once the bragging rights wear-off, most regular flyers will come to appreciate that roughly halfway point stopover and leg-stretch. In the late 80s I did 10 Sydney-SIN or BKK-LHR- Geneva flights in 12 months. Out one week, back the next. Since then, even with these tech stops and one connecting flight, all in J-class, for me ANY flight over 5 hrs now is “long haul”. It’s the most deadly boring way to spend one’s time, and 19 hrs is criminal. The few hrs saved just aren’t worth the trauma of these flights. I think anyone who has done it once… Read more »


I agree. The only annoying thing is when you end up stuck inside cramped gate lounges in Singapore – the frustration of being on Terra Firma, but unable to move around.


…or stuck in an immigration queue at LAX for 90 minutes!!

Owen Berkeley-Hill

As I have asked in a similar discussion, do non-working toilets now become a “no-go” for ultra-long-haul flights? At the moment aircraft do take off with one or two toilets out of commission.


I had flown SQ25/SQ26 round trip twice on economy class from Singapore to New York with a brief stop at Frankfurt. Flight time from Singapore to Frankfurt is 13 hours 35 minutes and additional 9 hours is required for Frankfurt-New York sector. I would rather fly 18 hours direct from Singapore to New York.


Did the Singapore /New york last month but was even longer as had to go to Taipei on the way for medical emergency.Nearly 23 hours but didn’t seem too long in premium economy.Have done Auckland to Doha economy and would rather get to my destination than stopover.