Travelling by long haul flights
What should you expect if you’re considering taking a long haul flight? Read on for information on all this and more.
First of all, you have to understand that every direct, non-stop flight is not a long haul flight. A direct flight could be any flight without any stopover along the way. A long haul flight is generally one with a route length of 11,000 km or more and that is over 12 hours in duration, with no intermediate stop or stops. With airlines buying more planes with long-range capacity, and passengers, specially business travellers who have to make long journeys, persistently boarding them, the number of long non-stop flights is increasing steadily since the last few years.
On August 1 this year, Air India launched its first Mumbai to New York long haul flight, covering the distance of 14,000 km in just 16 hours. Ever since, long haul flights have been making news in the Indian media for different reasons, sometimes to report the hospitalization or death of a passenger who had just completed one. None-the-less, the Mumbai to New York long haul flights and other similar non-stop flights are quite popular with Indian and international travellers.
Since ultra-long, non-stop flights are a new phenomenon, passengers need to understand the implications fully before they undertake one.
- Larger fuel capacity: The airliners used for long haul flights have a greater fuel capacity and hence don’t have to stop along the route for refuelling. Some of the aircrafts used for these flights include the Boeing 777-200ER, the Boeing 777-200LR and the Airbus A340-500. Air India uses the Boeing 777-200LR for the Mumbai-London non-stop flight. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is expected to be introduced soon for long haul flights by Virgin Atlantic, Quantas and Continental Airlines.
- Higher Fare: The aircrafts used for long haul flights have a prescribed capacity weight that cannot be exceeded. Since more fuel is required for long, non-stop flights, the number of passengers carried has to be reduced to maintain the specified weight. But the flight has to be economical for the airline. So, they have to raise the price of tickets to compensate for carrying fewer passengers.
- More comforts: A plane used for a long flight could have a capacity of 300, but the airline may book just around 250 passengers since it will be carrying extra fuel. So, even though you might be paying more for your ticket, since there’ll be less passengers, there’ll be more room to stretch out comfortably and more elbow room too as the seats are bigger in most of these planes. There are full-flat beds in the business class and more amenities across all classes, such as USB ports for laptops, complimentary toiletries and better food too. So it might be ‘paisa vasool’ in terms of comfort.
- Fluctuating ticket prices: The difference of price between a non-stop flight and one with a stopover (connecting the same two places) could vary from hundreds of dollars to a mere 30 to 40 dollars depending on the day and season. So check out the prices for different times of the year to find out when the fare could be the most economical for you.
- Fluctuating flight durations: Different weather conditions, specially the direction of the winds, have an impact on the time needed to complete a flight. For instance, the Singapore Airlines’ flights from Singapore to Newark (NJ in USA) follow a 15,700 km route; but the return flight has to take a longer route of 16,600 km that goes over the North Pole. So, obviously, the return route takes around 2 hours longer to complete.
- Shorter flight time: This is the greatest advantage of taking an ultra-long flight. You get to your destination in a shorter time, as you don’t have the hassle of making a stopover and waiting for 2 to 4 hours to commence the second leg of your journey.
- Possibility of health problems: But these flights also have a downside. The stress of undertaking a long, non-stop flight could give rise to flight-related health problems, specially in middle-aged and elderly passengers. So make sure you’re aware of what problems to expect and what you could do to avoid or minimize such discomforts. And if you already suffer from heart ailments, hypertension, or varicose veins, take your doctor’s advice before embarking on a long haul flight.
At present, the longest ultra-long flights are operated between South East Asia and North America. And the Singapore-Newark flight is the longest non-stop flight in the world.
In Part II we’ll cover the precautions you need to take on a long haul flight.