CHARLOTTE, NC: What a difference a century makes. When Orville Wright piloted the first successful flight of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft in history on December 17, 1903, at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, you have to wonder whether he and his brother Wilbur, ever imagined something called “jet lag.” Much less the huge flying cities or airlines like Singapore Airlines containing 500 people that transport travelers halfway around the world in a single long-haul flights.
After all, that first flight only lasted 12 seconds over a distance of about 120 feet or roughly, 30 feet longer than home to first base on a baseball diamond.
Still, it was a remarkable feat that literally changed the world in countless real and unimaginable ways.
Singapore Airlines: The longest non-stop flight in history
Consider for a moment that on Thursday, October 10th, Singapore Airlines touched down from Newark, NJ after 18 and a half hours in the air to complete the longest non-stop flight in history. That’s a long, long, long way from 12 seconds and 130 feet.
Not only that, not a single passenger or crew member flew resting on their stomachs. Instead, they ate and drank, watched movies, played video games, read books, used computers, had restrooms and, some, even slept.
For the record, the distance was 9,534 miles.
The future of long-distance travel
With the advent of newer, lighter, more fuel-efficient aircraft, it begs the question of whether commercial aircraft are on the cusp of making routes of 8,000 miles, or longer, a regular part of their schedules.
Is it possible that long-haul flying could potentially signal the return of supersonic or even trigger the advent of hypersonic flights? Only time will tell.
Between 1976 and 2003, both British Airways and Air France operated Concordes that flew at speeds that topped twice the speed of sound.
After a crash on take-off in July 2000, and in the wake of a slump in air travel following terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, the cost of operations combined with low occupancy rates caused Concorde services to be discontinued in late 2003.
Upcoming long-distance trends
Today, however, it appears there is renewed interest in long-haul and ultra-high-speed flying. If that trend continues, it’s certain that services on long-haul flights will be forced to change in every ticket category from coach to first class in order to adjust to the length of time in the air as well as the overall comfort for passengers.
Cramped seats with virtually no leg room, poor quality meal service and other amenities that disappeared in recent years, will most assuredly re-emerge in order to fill the extra seats and to compensate for added hours in the sky.
While business class fliers will still get their big cushy seats and added perks, Singapore Airlines is introducing meal options in both classes of service created by Canyon Ranch Spa that might include the options of prawn ceviche, seared organic chicken and zucchini noodles and lemon angel food cake, for example.
According to Elaine Glusac of The New York Times
“Qantas offers lemon and ginger kombucha, wake-up shots of probiotic-infused juice and sleep-inducing tea in its top two classes. In addition, meals are delayed upon take off to align closer to meal times at the destination to help travelers adjust to time-zone changes.”
Air New Zealand has added another twist, food on demand, which is guaranteed to be popular. This service allows passengers to order snacks via the touch-screen entertainment system on its newest super long-haul flight.
Keeping fit while flying
For years aviation experts have advocated some form of simple exercise during mid and long-range flights, but it has always been a proposition that is typically easier said than done.
Elaine Glusac notes that earlier this year, Qantas created a new transit lounge at the Perth airport for business travelers offering stretching and breathing classes every 15 minutes. Bathrooms with light therapy in the shower suites are designed to help travelers adjust to time changes. A hydration station with fruit-infused water and herbal tea is a welcome healthy treat.
There is also an open-air terrace available open to fliers in all classes of travel.
Singapore Airlines’ onboard e-library includes suggested sleep strategies, and fliers who download the airline’s app may receive push notifications to help best use the app.
The future of flying horizontal skyscrapers
Back in the day when Juan Trippe was pioneering international air travel with Pam Am, airlines featured sit down dinners at circular tables, showers and railroad-style overnight sleeping compartments. Such concepts will never return, but with modern jumbo flying horizontal skyscrapers, similar ideas are now evolving to occupy those long hours in the air.
In 2005, for example, Richard Branson envisioned casinos, workout areas and beauty salons. While those ideas never came to fruition, Qantas is now exploring the concepts of bars, nurseries, and gyms.
Because of its geographical situation, Qantas must be innovative to compete with competitive carriers that operate from more centrally located destinations.
The future demands amenities for all fliers
For the moment at least, the sexier amenities are largely the domain of business and first-class fliers, but if airlines ignore their “bread and butter” passengers for long, especially on extra-lengthy flights, they will ultimately feel a pinch in their wallets.
If you don’t believe it, just ask any coach passenger how they feel when they board through the plane through the “elite” seat gauntlet as they watch their “privileged” flying companions sip their mixed drinks and mimosas as the untouchables slog to the rear.
“Qantas is considering repurposing part of its cargo holds on long-haul aircraft, and converting them to economy sleeping bunks and areas for passengers to walk around and stretch their legs,” writes Glusac.
Sleep, especially on a plane, can do wonders for a traveler’s mood at the journey’s end.
As of now the future of long-haul flying appears brighter than ever. If amenities are able to keep pace with time and distance, no destination will ever be too far away, proving once and for all the reverse of the adage that “two Wrights don’t make a long-haul”…flight, that is.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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