The longest commercial flights

Since I have relatives in both Sri Lanka and New Zealand, I have taken some pretty long flights and I can tell you that they are not fun, though the people I feel most sorry for are the flight staff. I thought that they must have two sets of staff with one set replacing the other half way through but I see some of the same people working the whole time. Maybe they have some place to take a nap from time to time.

As planes became capable of much longer flights, I wondered what the record was. It turns out that the record for longest flight was held by Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Newark that was 9,500 miles over the North Pole and averaged 18 hours, though it could go up to 21 hours depending on weather. The second longest was between Singapore and Los Angeles that lasted nearly 17 hours over the Pacific Ocean.

These flights were on planes that had just 100 seats and were all business class, costing around $8,000 for the round trip.

Since these flights were over unpopulated areas not allowing for emergency landings, the awkward question of what to do if someone died in flight was discreetly handled by having a special compartment to hold a corpse, but there has not been any occasion to use it so far.

Both those Singapore Airlines flights have now ceased, making Qantas Airways’ Sydney to Dallas flight the current champion at 8,600 miles.

I have traveled on many long international flights and in my experience if you must take a long flight, Singapore Airlines is your best choice, dead or alive.


  1. Guess Who? says

    I once had a round-trip flight from Washington DC to San Franciso and back again. I turned up at the airport a week after I’d bought the tickets only to find out that they’d discontinued that flight without notice, and west-bound would instead be DC – Phoenix – San Francisco with a 4-hour layover in Phoenix (how convenient!). However, the plane was so late leaving DC (6 hours) that we missed the Phoenix connection and they instead routed us through Denver and Sea-Tac down to San Francisco. That was a 19-hour trip (not on the same plane).

    Coming back was supposed to be San Francisco – Phoenix – DC, but, the plane developed problems just after takeoff, so they landed in San Diego, which had no Phoenix flights that day, then north to Denver again, where it was Sunday and the airport was deserted and we were forced to sit on plane on the tarmac for 5 hours until we could get on a flight to Philadelphia, then on to Boston, then down to DC.

    I hate flying.

  2. says

    I have been wondering about this for some time, ever since I took a New Delhi to Chicago non-stop that went right over the North Pole and took sixteen hours and fifty minutes or something. You see some cool things on that flight if you’ve got a window seat and the weather’s clear, but after 16 hours of American Airlines economy class surrounded by other people’s increasingly cranky children, you’re more than ready to get off.

    It’s been years since I took a Singapore Airlines flight, but I remember it being a good experience (of course I was six or something and it wasn’t a nonstop). Lufthansa’s not half bad, either.

  3. Johnny Vector says

    In general yes, there are crew rest areas for the largest aircraft. See, for example

    On the 747 the crew rest area is an option according to Boeing, but I suspect most airlines include it, because it makes more seats available for paying passengers.

    Smaller aircraft don’t have separate crew rest areas, as far as I can tell, but I’ve been on many flights where certain seats were reserved for crew.

  4. Wylann says

    I feel most sorry for are the flight staff. I thought that they must have two sets of staff with one set replacing the other half way through but I see some of the same people working the whole time. Maybe they have someplace to take a nap from time to time.

    They aren’t exactly an exciting read, but all aviation regulations are available online at The parts you would be interested in are Part 121 and Part 135, regarding regulations of commercial domestic and international carriers.
    Some pertinent regs:

    Part 121.391(a)(4) For airplanes having a seating capacity of more than 100 passengers–two flight attendants plus one additional flight attendant for each unit (or part of a unit) of 50 passenger seats above a seating capacity of 100 passengers.

    The particular one you are probably interested in regarding your comment I quoted is 121.467, which is quite long, but the highlight is:

    (4) A certificate holder conducting domestic, flag, or supplemental operations may assign a flight attendant to a scheduled duty period of more than 14 hours, but no more than 16 hours, if the certificate holder has assigned to the flight or flights in that duty period at least one flight attendant in addition to the minimum flight attendant complement required for the flight or flights in that duty period under the certificate holder’s operations specifications.

    So, depending on the length of flight, you might only see one flight crew. Keep in mind these are minimum required. Many air carriers have at least two full crews on their international flights (Lufthansa is, or at least used to be, quite good about this). Also, EASA (the Euro equivalent of the FAA), might have slightly stricter rules, but they tend to be pretty much identical across the board.

  5. Wylann says

    Oh, I meant to note that for the flight crew, the regulations are a bit stricter:

    Sec. 121.471

    Flight time limitations and rest requirements: All flight crewmembers.

    (a) No certificate holder conducting domestic operations may schedule any flight crewmember and no flight crewmember may accept an assignment for flight time in scheduled air transportation or in other commercial flying if that crewmember’s total flight time in all commercial flying will exceed–
    (1) 1,000 hours in any calendar year;
    (2) 100 hours in any calendar month;
    (3) 30 hours in any 7 consecutive days;
    (4) 8 hours between required rest periods.

  6. Trebuchet says

    As others have said, large airplanes do have crew rest areas. This includes a single bunk inside the cockpit door for off duty pilots on the 747, for example.

    When I first went to work for Boeing, an item showed up in the customer service news about Northwest Airlines asking for a lock for the cabin crew rest door on the then-new 747-400. It seems they kept finding customers up there….

  7. coragyps says

    San Francisco to Singapore was a nice long flight – and the time I went we had an unscheduled stop for fuel at Okinawa.

    Singapore Airlines is mighty nice, but Emirates is allegedly even nicer. Neither comes to Lubbock, Texas, though.

  8. Doug Little says

    My wife is a flight attendant and Johnny Vector has it exactly right. Most of the big aircraft have a crew rest area (5 or so small bunks) where they can rest during their designated breaks. On aircraft that don’t have this there are seats that are set aside for the crew to rest in during their break.

  9. Doug Little says

    Also if you see a resting crew member in a seat (not to be confused with a jump seat) DO NOT BOTHER THEM they are off the clock, if you require something get a hold of one of the working flight attendants. On long flights over night they normally congregate in the galleys whilst the majority of the passengers are sleeping. The polite thing to do during this time if you want something is to get up out of your seat, if you can, and go and ask them in the galley rather than pushing the call button, it’s also good to get up and walk around periodically on a long flight anyway so kill 2 birds with one stone.

  10. says

    My longest wasn’t direct, but it was on the same aircraft: it was Cathay Pacific (wonderful airline and service, btw, and available in half a dozen languages that I heard different flight attendants speaking), leaving from Toronto, and stopping at Vancouver and Hong Kong for fuel before landing at Bangkok. I don’t know exactly what route we took, but I do know that we passed just south of Mount Fuji as the dawn broke, and it was one of the most glorious sights i’ve ever seen from an aircraft. Japan dark all over, and then the light hit the snowcap, dazzling reflections, and it crawled down the side of the mountain as cities started to lose their lightedness. Very cool.

    I think it took us something like 19 hours, including the stops.

    It took me even longer to get back, but only because my booking agent at the Canadian end had a time-zone fail, and booked me on a local flight from Bangkok to HK that arrived twelve hours before my flight back to Canada, leaving me with twelve hours of kipping on airport seats at Kai Tak, looking out the windows at those peculiarly Chinese-looking islands around there (the sort of round-topped, nearly vertical-sided rocky ones that are so common in those waters).

  11. lsamaknight says

    Point of order: it’s Qantas. There’s no ‘u’ there. Strictly speaking it would be QANTAS in all caps because its an acronym. Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services, at least originally.

  12. Mano Singham says

    I hate using the call button. It seems so feudal. I usually wait until one of them passes by or go to the galley.

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