Boeing Company, Qantas Airways Ltd

Boeing Company, Qantas Airways Ltd

I just took the world’s first 20-hour flight. Here’s what it did to me and why I would take it again

Flying laboratory explored ways to reduce soul-crushing, body-buckling jet lag


I just took the world's first 20-hour flight. Here’s what it did to me and why I would take it again

Flying laboratory explored ways to reduce soul-crushing, body-buckling jet lag

Off the GroundOur plane has just left JFK International Airport, and it’s already become a flying laboratory. Since the goal is to adapt to our destination’s time zone as fast as possible, we click into the Sydney clock right off the bat. That means no snoozing. The lights stay up and we’re under instructions to stay awake for at least six hours — until it’s evening in Australia.

Down one side of the business-class section, six Qantas frequent flyers are following a pre-planned schedule for eating and drinking (including limiting alcohol), exercise and sleep. They wear movement and light readers on their wrists and have been asked to log their activities; they’ve already been under observation for a few days and will be monitored for 21 days in total. Most of them are bingeing on movies or reading books, but one of them is dozing within minutes. To be fair, I feel his pain. It may be the middle of the day in Sydney, but my body is telling me it’s pushing midnight back in New York.

The plane’s 40 passengers, including media, are all in business class: With so few passengers, nobody needs to travel economy. In an interview, chief executive Alan Joyce tells me the real Project Sunrise flights — if they go ahead — will have more legroom in economy than standard planes, and there will be some space at the back of the aircraft for stretching.

The three-hourly tests I take during the first half of the flight reflect the demands of this trip. My blood pressure is elevated, though not high, and my heart rate picking up. My mood is light, though darkening very gradually.

While I’m finding this regime fairly challenging — and I’m not even in a do-it-tough economy seat — I try to keep things in perspective. After I first wrote about this upcoming flight last week, one reader emailed to urge me into a stouter mindset. During the Korean War in the early 1950s, he said, he regularly flew 40-hour reconnaissance missions with crew rotations every six hours. “Man up,” the 83-year-old told me. Point taken.

Seven Hours InA second meal arrives. For me, being fed twice in a relatively quick succession has really helped time pass quickly during the first part of the flight. This part of the menu should mean the next few hours slip by too: It’s heavy on carbohydrates and designed to send us to sleep. The sweet potato soup with creme fraiche is thick and luxurious, the toasted cheese sandwich less so. The chef on the plane tells me he’s been preparing our meals for three days.

The research on the passengers and crew will feed into Project Sunrise, Qantas’s plan to start direct commercial services connecting Sydney with New York and London. Other super-long flights from Australia’s eastern seaboard to South America and Africa might follow, Qantas says.

Our plane doesn’t have the range to haul a full load of passengers with luggage to Sydney. It took off with its fuel tanks maxed out — about 101 tons. To keep the weight down, there’s no cargo, and food and drink are limited. In New York, the captain had seemed confident we’d make it to Sydney with gas to spare. He planned on landing with six tons of fuel, enough to stay airborne for another 90 minutes.

One of the frequent flyers, Sydney-based investor Nick Mole, says he got almost eight hours’ sleep and feels good. What about a full day’s work after landing? “I probably could do that,” he says. He thinks the bigger test will be how he copes in a couple of days.

Personally, I would choose a direct Sydney-New York flight over one with a layover. But it won’t suit everyone: It took discipline and work to stick to the no-sleep routine in the first half of this flight. There may be a benefit to switching to the destination time immediately, but it comes at a price. I feel like I had to earn it.

Read more: National Post

That’s insane I could never do a 20 hour flight but kudos to those that tested it 👏 Bc I'm trying to bore myself to death. I predict that flights like this will reveal a new medical condition called Numb Bum. And they even managed to make it in only 19h 16m! In any case, it should take a few days to recover from that one :)

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