Two sunrises, wine for breakfast and aerobics in the gangway: Weary passengers including man in the sky reveal how they spent their 19-and-a-half hours on record-breaking Qantas flight from London to Sydney
- The non-stop flight left Heathrow on Thursday and arrived in Sydney on Friday
- Qantas ran the 11,060-mile flight to test the world’s longest commercial route
- The flight ran on Sydney time, meaning passengers had dinner in the morning
- A physiologist led the passengers in a series of aerobic exercises in the aisles
- Nick Boulos was on board and described seeing two sunrises during the historic flight
Passengers enjoyed two sunrises, drank wine for breakfast and stretched together in the gangway on board a 19-and-a-half hour Qantas flight from London to Sydney which landed today.
The non-stop flight took off from Heathrow on Thursday morning and touched down at Sydney airport at lunchtime today, 45 minutes behind schedule.
Among those on board was Nick Boulos, who described how a physiologist led the passengers in a series of aerobic exercises including stretches, squats and walks around the cabin.
Qantas used the flight as an endurance test to see how passengers and crew would cope with 19 hours of flying and jetlag on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
The airline is now considering whether to order planes for what would be the world’s longest-ever commercial route.
Passengers on board the ultra-long-haul flight take part in a series of stretching exercises
On board: Passengers on their seats aboard Qantas flight QF7879, flying direct from London to Sydney
The Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliner lands at Sydney Airport today after a 19-and-a-half hour non-stop flight from London
The journey cuts around three hours off a two-part journey with a stopover in Singapore and Qantas hopes passengers may be willing to pay more.
When the plane took off it was Thursday morning in England, but the flight was run on Sydney time – meaning passengers were served supper rather than breakfast.
Meal composition and schedules, well-timed exercise and lighting can all ‘help people adjust better and reduce jetlag’, University of Sydney physiologist Corinne Caillaud said.
WHAT’S ON THE MENU? EVERYTHING NICK BOULOS ATE ON HIS 19 HOUR, 19 MINUTE FLIGHT
First meal – supper
Roast chicken broth with macaroni, shiitake mushrooms and snap peas.
Steak sandwich with roasted tomatoes, rocket and caramalised onions.
Vanilla rose cream with strawberries, pistachio cake and strawberry jelly.
Second meal – breakfast
Cold pressed green juice containing cucumber, celery, kale, parsley and lemon.
Free range scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and spinach.
Third meal – lunch before landing
Black pepper tagliatelle with slow cooked beef ragu, gremolata and parmesan.
Mini chocolate tarts.
One passenger, Jill Gralow of Reuters, described how passengers were offered steak sandwiches, soup and wine instead of regular breakfast fare.
Customers saw the first of two sunrises on their 11,060-mile journey shortly after take-off from London.
The lights were switched off within a few hours of take-off, simulating the night in Sydney although it was still daytime in Europe.
The timings were drawn up by a specialist team to trick passengers’ body clocks into making the 11-hour leap.
As the plane travelled over Indonesia, passengers witnessed their second sunrise and were served a spicy breakfast to help their body clock adjust.
Footage taken on board showed the aerobics exercises underway, with passengers keen not to stay stuck in their seat for 19 hours.
Besides raising alertness, the airborne work-out is also key to reducing the risk of deep-vein thrombosis on such a long flight.
A physiologist led the way as passengers walked between the aisles and stretched to touch the ceiling of the cabin.
One of the guests described how the exercises had been carried out ‘with varying degrees of enthusiasm’.
Another passenger, journalist Luke Jones, said the 19-hour journey had been both ‘fun’ and ‘strange’.
Test passenger Andy Chevis said: ‘I actually feel fantastic, I feel really well. Probably a lot better than I normally would at this point in the flight, to be honest.’
The view from above: Nick Boulos captured this spectacular image from the plane as it flew over Australia
Crew members prepare food on board Qantas flight QF7879, flying direct from London to Sydney
The plane was met by more than 1,000 Qantas employees to mark the carrier’s 99th birthday and kick off 12 months of celebrations as it heads towards its centenary
HOW NICK BOULOS FELT WHEN HE DISEMBARKED
After feeling rather restless, fidgety, anxious and bored during the final two hours, it was a relief to finally alight and feel the wind on my skin and while I felt a little frazzled I certainly didn’t feel like I’d been hit with a sledgehammer.
The genius thing about this direct flight to Australia was the long stint of interrupted rest time in the middle of the flight that you simply don’t get when you have to factor in the faff of landing, refuelling and disembarking.
I didn’t notice anything specifically different about my body either. I moisturised more than normal but the cabin was kept at 18 to 21C at all times so maybe that helped?
Qantas are onto a winner with this service but would I do it in economy? Not a chance.
US journalist Richard Quest was also on the flight, saying it was ‘excellent’ and writing for CNN how even the crew had ‘goosebumps’.
‘The empty plane means there’s plenty of room first for walking circuits, then stretches and squats, to help invigorate bodies preparing for another 18 hours in the air,’ he wrote.
Another passenger, a researcher from Monash University in Melbourne, went on board with a wearable brainwave tracker to aid the airline’s research.
The plane was met in Sydney by more than 1,000 Qantas employees to mark the carrier’s 99th birthday and kick off 12 months of celebrations as it heads towards its centenary.
The journey was part of Project Sunrise – Qantas’s goal to operate regular, nonstop commercial flights from Australia’s east coast cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York.
Stepping off the flight, Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said: ‘We saw a double sunrise.’
It is named after the airline’s double sunrise endurance flights during World War Two, which remained airborne long enough to see two sunrises.
Last month, Qantas completed the first nonstop flight from New York to Sydney, which took 19 hours and 16 minutes.
On that flight, passengers were asked to play a ‘whack-a-mole’ game on an iPad to how they were coping.
Another New York to Sydney flight is expected next month to round out the project.
Nick Boulos was put through medical tests as he joined passengers on the mammoth flight
Some passengers were fitted with wearable technology devices and followed a redesigned eating and sleeping schedule
Cabin lighting and temperature played roles in the research into the impact of ultra-long-haul flights on crew fatigue and jet lag
HEATHROW TO SYDNEY NON-STOP – THE FAST FACTS
- The QF 787-9 flight from London to Sydney left London Heathrow on Thursday morning and arrived at lunchtime today in Sydney around 19-and-a-half hours later.
- The distance from London to Sydney is 11,060 miles (17,800km). The journey time compares to 22 hours and 35 minutes on the current London to Sydney via Singapore flight.
- The flight was be operated by a brand-new Boeing 787-9 with a special Qantas Centenary livery, registration VH ZNJ, named Longreach.
- Four pilots were on rotation throughout the flight. Two additional pilots were in the cabin, having flown the aircraft to London.
- The route took the plane over 11 countries including Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Philippines and Indonesia before crossing the Australian coast near Darwin, tracking across the country before descending into Sydney.
- The aircraft operated with a maximum fuel load of approximately 126,000 litres. Crew estimated the plane still had enough fuel for 1hr 45 mins of flying after it landed.
There were 52 people – mostly Qantas employees – on board the London to Sydney flight, leaving the Dreamliner three-quarters empty.
Among them were researchers from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre as well as the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC), who collected passenger and crew data.
Caillaud, one of the University of Sydney researchers, said: ‘What we’ve done basically is to design three very important things on the flight.
‘First, the lighting, then the meal schedule and the meal composition, and physical activity onboard.
‘And why we are doing on this very long flight, to help people to adjust better when they arrive in Sydney and to reduce jet-lag on arrival.’
Six Qantas Frequent Flyers took part in the passenger research. They were fitted with wearable technology devices and followed a redesigned eating and sleeping schedule which aimed to facilitate onboard wellbeing and adjustment to new time zones.
After take-off at 6am yesterday, they were expected to be offered a range of high GI supper options such as chicken broth with macaroni or a steak sandwich, along with a glass of wine and a milk-based pana cotta dessert.
Cabin lighting and temperature, stretching and meditation were also set to play key roles in the research.
One of the specially prepared in-flight meals that was served to the passengers
Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre as well as the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC), who collected passenger and crew data
Speaking before the flight, professor Corinne Caillaud from the Charles Perkins Centre said: ‘We are hopeful that the interventions and strategies we tried on the first research flight helped passengers better manage the challenges of crossing multiple time zones. From a research point of view, it was something quite novel.
‘We’re looking forward to this second flight, which will involve passengers eating supper at breakfast time, with the aim of encouraging them to sleep at 10am in the morning London time to help avoid light and reset their body clock to Sydney time.’
Captain Helen Trenerry, who led the test flight, said before takeoff on Wednesday that research data including activity monitoring, sleep diaries, cognitive testing and monitoring of melatonin levels would help determine whether the crew mix of one captain, one first officer and two second officers was appropriate or if more people were needed.
She said she would be happy to fly Sydney-London or Sydney-New York but would prefer regulations that limited the trips to around one a month for pilots.
The extreme long-haul trips ‘will be very, very long flights and fatiguing over the long term,’ she said.
A final decision on whether the ultralong-haul flights will become a commercial reality is expected by the year’s end, with the service potentially launching by 2022.
To fly direct to Sydney with a full passenger load, Qantas will need a longer-range plane than the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner.
On the flight deck of the 19 and a half hour flight. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline wants to improve comfort on long-haul flights
Qantas has been considering an order for either an ultra-long range version of Airbus SE’s A350-1000 or the Boeing Co 777-8.
However, the latter plane’s entry into service has been delayed and so Boeing has put together an alternative offer to deal with that.
The airline also needs to get pilots to agree on contract terms and a sign-off from Australia’s aviation regulator to launch the flights.
It was the second time a commercial airline has flown the route. The first was in 1989, with a journey time of 20 hours and 9 minutes.
Ahead of the flight, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline wants to improve comfort on long-haul flights.
He explained: ‘We know that travellers want room to move on these direct flights, and the exercises we encouraged on the first research flight seemed to work really well.
‘So, we’re definitely looking to incorporate on-board stretching zones and even some simple modifications like overhead handles to encourage low impact exercises.’
On board Qantas’ ultra-long-haul test flight: MailOnline’s passenger Nick Boulos of MakeMyDay describes ‘nine-hour blackout’ and breakfast spiked with chilli aboard Boeing jet
By Nick Boulos for MailOnline
Medical tests, two sunrises and squats and lunges at 38,000ft – welcome aboard the world’s longest passenger flight.
Today marked a pioneering moment as the first ever passenger flight travelled non-stop between the UK and Australia.
Billed by many as the final frontier of commercial aviation, Qantas’ dreams of starting direct flights between Sydney and London and New York just got a little closer.
Covering a total distance of 17,800km in 19 hours and 19 minutes, when QF7879 touched down amidst blazing sunshine and great fanfare on Australia’s East Coast it become the world’s longest passenger flight – and I was onboard to experience the whole adventure.
Along with 52 other carefully selected people/guinea pigs – a mix of journalists, scientists, frequent flyers and Qantas staff – we took off from a rainy Heathrow at 6.09am on Thursday morning on a journey that would take us east across Europe and Central Asia, over China and skirting past the Philippines and the islands of Indonesia before entering Australian airspace.
Pioneering moment: Nick Boulos sits in seat 11F during the historic flight from London to Sydney
Nick Boulos (pictured onboard) said ‘the first few hours passed in a blur of excitement’
Qantas, which is celebrating its currently celebrating its centenary, already made headlines last year with a direct 17-hour service between London and Perth Australia but this is pushing the boundaries even further.
It soon became clear that this was no ordinary flight. Soon after take-off, the plane switched to Australian time. It was no longer early morning in London but actually late afternoon in Sydney despite us actually being somewhere over the Netherlands.
Excitement reached fever pitch at around the 16-hour mark when the inky horizon erupted with a streak of amber and crushed pinks
The lighting onboard our brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s (so new, in fact, it had only been delivered the day before) was designed to reflect this. But it’s not just the lighting that has been specially developed to minimise jetlag.
Meals are timed accordingly to the destination with ingredients designed to promote rest and sleep at bedtime, such as dairy and warming food, while elements including chocolate and spices are factored into daytime dishes to increase awareness and add some ‘zing’ prior to arrival.
The first few hours passed in a blur of excitement, firstly from the first of two sunrises that we would see and a demo of onboard exercises specially designed to aid well-being on this ultra long-haul flight.
After a briefing in the galley, we set off doing circuits around the empty Economy cabin (mercifully everyone on board was in Business Class) pausing only to stretch high towards the overhead lockers before squatting low in the aisles.
I’m not sure how that would have worked out had it been a full flight and I had been lunging directly beside the man in 53C trying to watch a movie and eat his chicken penne.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce and the crew wave as they disembark the aircraft at Sydney Airport
But on a flight as long as this – and believe me, it is long – the wellbeing of all onboard is paramount including, of course, for the flight crew.
At the helm of QF7879 was a four-strong team led by Captain Helen Trennery, a lady who has flown for Qantas for almost 31 years. She and her co-pilots appeared from the cockpit every so often wearing futuristic headbands designed to carefully monitor tiredness and brain activity.
I return to my seat – 11F – and dine on a menu conceived by Neil Perry: roast chicken broth, a steak sandwich with roasted tomatoes and rocket followed by a silky vanilla rose cream dessert with strawberries, jelly and pistachio cake. A trifle, basically.
After a briefing in the galley, we set off doing circuits around the empty Economy cabin – mercifully everyone on board was in Business Class
Then it’s time to sleep and it’s lights out for around nine blissful hours.
Somewhere over Indonesia, with 16 long hours under our belt and a mere three or so remaining, it was time to check I was still alive.
Alertness researcher at Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre, Dr Tracey Sletten, hooked me up and after referring to the results on her iPad confirmed that I was not indeed, as some may speculate, brain dead.
Every blink and droop of the head is recorded with coloured lines and graphs zooming across the page.
Good fun but also entirely necessary. The biggest challenge Qantas face in making these new ‘Project Sunrise’ flights a reality is proving to regulators that they’re safe.
Pilots and crew on board these three special test flights (the two others departing from New York JFK) mist undergo strenuous testing that also includes sleep diaries, cognitive exercises and urine samples to monitor melatonin levels.
Qantas’ grand masterplan involves launching direct flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York in 2023 pending a good deal from Airbus or Boeing (Boeing seems to be the bookies favourite) and regulatory approval. A decision is expected by the end of the year.
Last month, Qantas completed the first nonstop flight from New York to Sydney, which took 19 hours and 16 minutes
Excitement reached fever pitch at around the 16-hour mark when the inky horizon erupted with a streak of amber and crushed pinks.
The only flight in the world to experience two sunrises, the first rays of the day kissed the islands of Indonesia and filled with fuselage with a golden glow that energised everyone. There were high-fives, handshakes and hugs at this rarest and most spectacular of achievements.
Up until now, passengers wishing to travel between Europe and Australia must transit in the Middle East or Asia but a direct service would put an end to that and shave off 3-4 hours from the journey.
But the idea of being cooped up in a metal tube for 20-odd hours isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. In fact, people tend to belong in one of two camps: Sign Me Up and Absolutely No Chance.
There were high-fives, handshakes and hugs at this rarest and most spectacular of achievements
It’s an issue I put directly to the man at the top: Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce. Still in our grey Qantas pyjamas with the coast of northern Australian looming somewhere on the horizon, we sat down for a chat.
‘This isn’t the aircraft we would use on a commercial direct service between London and Australia,’ he said. ‘We are in talks to see what changes need to be made to make all cabins suitable for such a long journey. Our direct flight from London to Perth is one of our busiest services so there’s definitely demand for a Sydney service.’
‘But have you flown London-Perth in economy?’ I ask, cheekily.
‘No,’ laughs Alan. ‘But I would. I’m the right size for it.’
Despite the distance, this isn’t the first time an aircraft has flown from London to Sydney without stopping.
The only other time it’s been down was in 1989 when a Qantas 747 took to the skies with barely enough fuel to make it. There were only a dozen people on board, the seats had to be stripped to reduce weight and the aircraft had to be towed to the runway to save every drop of fuel for the flight itself.
Fast forward 30 years and how times have changed. Fifty human guinea pigs emerged into the Sydney sunshine feeling (fairly) well rested. Must’ve been all those squats.
Nick Boulos is the founder of MakeMyDay
QANTAS AND THE UK – A TIMELINE
The world’s first flight from London to Australia touches down in Darwin. It took 28 days. Hudson Fysh, one of the men who would go on to found Qantas was first to meet it – he’d just built the airfield, and with Paul McGinness had plotted an air route across Queensland and the Northern Territory to get there. In this moment, they recognised the potential to link up outback towns in short hops, and distant continents in long-haul leaps. Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services was born one year later.
With a new name to reflect its overseas ambitions, Qantas Empire Airways made its first international flight. In February, a Qantas four-engine de Havilland DH86 flew airmail to Singapore, with Britain’s Imperial Airways taking it onto London. By April, passengers were on board, too. These were among the earliest codeshare arrangements. One leg over Mussolini’s Italy had to be completed by train. Still, it was faster than the six-week voyage by boat.
Flying boats joined the Qantas fleet. The Dreamliners of their day, they represented a new era of space, style and comfort, with in-flight meals and reclining seats. They made their inaugural flight from Sydney in July, taking off from the international ‘airport’ in Sydney Harbour’s Rose Bay and again linking arms with Imperial Airways in Singapore. It was the pinnacle of an incredible decade of progress – but world war loomed.
During the Second World War, mail couldn’t be delivered across the Mediterranean. It was instead sent from London to South Africa by sea, and then flown to Sydney on an unlikely flight path that followed the coastline of the Indian Ocean around in a giant semi-circle, making more than 40 stops along the way. It was called the Horseshoe Route. Qantas operated the 11-stop leg between Singapore and Sydney, and then onto Auckland.
Singapore was the critical hub for all Australia-UK operations. When it fell in 1942, Qantas was forced to improvise – attempting a new route to bridge the communications gap to Britain. It was, and remains, the longest passenger flight by elapsed time in aviation history. From 1943, 30-hour flights spanned the Indian Ocean between Perth and Colombo in today’s Sri Lanka. Pilots had to operate in total radio silence, using celestial navigation to find their way. Passengers spent so long in the air that they saw the sun rise twice and were presented with a certificate upon landing inducting them into the Rare and Secret Order of the Double Sunrise. Hundreds of these flights took place over two years. Every one of them landed without incident.
Qantas was operating larger Liberator aircraft on its Indian Ocean route by the war’s end, and for the first time, the flying kangaroo emblem joined passengers and crew on their journey. The Kangaroo Service was born – but flights still had to meet their British partners half-way along the journey at Karachi to hand over passengers for the final legs to London. To fly higher and further, the airline sorely needed an even larger aircraft with a pressurised cabin.
The Qantas ‘Connie’, which operated the first service from Sydney all the way to London. It reduced the journey time from 10 days to 58 hours
The American-built Lockheed Constellation was a spectacular and revolutionary long-range aircraft. When Qantas took delivery of the ‘Connie’ in 1947, the Kangaroo Route to London could finally be made whole. The newly-nationalised airline operated the first service from Sydney all the way to London in December. A journey that had taken almost ten days on a flying boat in 1938 was now reduced to 58 flying hours.
The sleeker Super Constellation, which joined the fleet in 1954, began operating Qantas’s first round-the-world service. In 1958, two ‘Super Connies’ departed Sydney at the same time. One headed westbound along the Kangaroo Route and one headed the other direction over the Pacific. They both passed through London on their opposite paths back home.
Everything changed when the Boeing 707 passenger jet joined the Qantas fleet. Qantas was the first non-US airline to take delivery of this revolutionary aircraft, which halved travel times to distant continents and ushered in the modern era of aviation.
Everything changed when the Boeing 707 passenger jet joined the Qantas fleet
When the Qantas 707 began flying the Kangaroo Route on October 27, it marked the first commercial jet service between England and Australia.
Qantas took delivery of its first Boeing 747 jumbo jets and started flying them to London in November. The instantly recognisable aircraft transformed the economics of flying and put overseas travel within reach of all Australians for the first time. By the end of the decade, Qantas was the only airline in the world with a fleet that consisted entirely of Boeing 747s.
A brand new Qantas Boeing 747-400, VH-OJA flew non-stop from London to Sydney, breaking the record for the world’s flight by a commercial aircraft. The new jumbo fleet was named Longreach – a nod to past origins and vast distances – and OJA ran on a special, high-density fuel. Passengers and crew spent 20 hours and nine minutes in the air.
Qantas began the first-ever non-stop scheduled passenger service between Australia and the United Kingdom, departing Perth for Heathrow in the state-of-the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The service finally connected the last two populated continents on earth not linked by a single regular flight, and it instantly became the most popular route on Qantas’s entire network.
Replicating the record-breaking journey aboard the jumbo jet 30 years earlier, a Qantas Dreamliner flies non-stop from London to Sydney – only in less time and with almost half the fuel.