Let's start with the king of nonstop flights: Singapore Airlines Flights 21 and 22 between Singapore and Newark, New Jersey. The route is the longest both in distance -- about 9,500 miles -- and in time -- about 19 hours. All 100 seats aboard the flight are business class. Add hundreds of in-flight movie choices, and long-haul travel isn't so bad for this Discovery Channel executive.
His long-distance travel tips for surviving 19 hours aloft: "Walk around. Explore the cabin. Don't force yourself to sleep. "You should try on the day before to get on the same clock as your destination," "For long west-to-east flights -- a day or two before you leave, start moving your bedtime earlier in the evening. For long east-to-west flights, try to delay sleep until late at night. Planning ahead makes you a lot more productive when you hit the ground." Uriarte should know. He logs more than 200,000 flight miles a year.
Your seating position on the plane is "absolutely key," to a good longhaul, Uriarte says. Singapore uses Airbus A340 with a spacious 1-2-1 seating configuration. The back two rows are even better with 1-1-1 seating. In general, Uriarte recommends aisle seats in the center section. Sleeping is easier when "there's no one climbing over you," he says. Seats behind the plane's four wing-mounted engines will be louder, but some travelers enjoy.
Try to sleep at the time when your body is asleep, he says, although "that's not always possible." And avoid eating a heavy meal. For the traveler, avoiding exhaustion is nice if you can swing it. For pilots, it's critical.
Every three hours, the two crews will switch off command of the cockpit until about 90 minutes before landing, when the captain and first officer will land the aircraft.
So, those are some of the ultralonghaul challenges for humans. As for the machines -- they have their own hurdles. Obviously over vast oceans it's critically important for airliner engines to be reliable and powerful. But hey, it's a business, so the engines also have to be efficient enough to keep airline fuel costs low. Decades ago, that meant ultralonghaulers were likely four-engine planes, like the 747. In the unlikely event that an engine failed, the other three engines could power the plane the rest of the trip, no problem.
The downside: Four engines guzzle a lot of fuel. Now, engines are way more reliable. They're also more powerful and fuel-saving. That's why Boeing's twin-engine 777 Worldliner flies so many of the world's longest nonstop routes.
In the coming years look for newer wide-bodies to fly more longhaul routes, like Boeing's twin-engine 787 Dreamliner and the twin-engine Airbus A350 XWB. Both aircraft are made with superlightweight materials which also cut down on fuel costs.
The FAA requires twin-engine planes to fly within close reach of a safe landing spot, in case of engine trouble. Some travelers seem intrigued by the idea that an airliner can fly in a straight line with only one engine. "Wouldn't the thrust from the engine be unbalanced and make the plane fly in circles?" they ask.
If a 777 lost one of its two engines, the plane has a computer that automatically adjusts the aircraft's controls to compensate for unbalanced thrust. Pilots flying other airliners may have to manually adjust the plane to compensate.
How reliable are those engines?
"We've never seen an issue where a twin-engine plane has lost one engine during a transoceanic flight and can't make it somewhere with the other engine," says Snyder. "And engines almost never fail. With high reliability, airlines are free to look at economics and say, 'Why would we have aircraft with four engines when we can have one that performs the same mission with two and save us money?'"
What killed the longest flight in the world? In fact, money is exactly what's being blamed for killing the longest flight in the world.
That's right -- after nine years of service, Singapore Airlines Flights 21 and 22 are scheduled for cancellation. Snyder and most other experts suspect the airline got tired of dealing with poor profit margins on the fuel-guzzling four-engine Airbus A340. "They do use a ton of fuel, and that's always painful," says Snyder. "But the schedule advantage isn't that great either when you fly so far."
Also, the world's second-longest nonstop -- a Singapore Airlines 18-hour flight between Singapore and LAX -- is scheduled to be canceled this month.
That will leave Qantas Flight 7, a Boeing 747 from Sydney to Dallas, atop the list of world's longest nonstops by distance, at 8,600 miles. The longest nonstop by time will be Delta's Flight 201 -- a 777 from Atlanta to Johannesburg which clocks in at about 17 hours.
Fans of the Singapore-Newark flight say they'll miss its spacious seats and well-trained flight attendants. On a Singapore passenger website, commenter Buster CT1K -- tongue firmly in cheek -- called the airline's decision to cancel the flight a "very sad day in the history of aerospace and aviation. First, man stops going to the moon. Then the space shuttle stops flying. Then Concorde stops flying