Still early days for ultra-longhaul travel as world’s longest flight takes off

SIA has mounted the world's longest flight with its newest Airbus A350-900ULR aircraft

Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) landmark New York flight will lead to more ultra-long haul routes opening up but such moves are still a long way from becoming the norm, GlobalData said following the airline’s completion of the world’s longest non-stop commercial flight.

The 18-hour route is operated on SIA’s all-new Airbus A350-900ULR, configured in a two-class layout, with 67 business class seats and 94 premium economy class seats.

SIA has mounted the world’s longest flight with its newest Airbus A350-900ULR aircraft

Sara Grady, head of tourism at GlobalData, said: “The past year has seen a wave of ultra-longhaul flights open up, transporting passengers across the globe in record time and comfort. This is driven by greater technological efficiencies, which have made it possible to travel such long distances without fuel stops, and advances that have helped lessen the physiological impacts on the human body.

‘‘But of course, this would be nothing without market demand. That Singapore Airlines does not offer an economy seat is telling, and hints at the underlying truth that such journeys will, in the short to mid-term at least, be reserved for the wealthiest of travellers.

Elaborating, she pointed out that it is currently around a third cheaper to travel from London to Perth with a stopover than it is to fly direct. “With a time saving of only a couple of hours in some cases, the benefits of a direct connection will only be justifiable to the business traveller or the elite holidaymaker,” she remarked.

The impact on the industry, therefore, is not expected to be hugely significant.

The airline industry is already in a period of great change, GlobalData noted, with LCCs offering more and more and full service carriers (FSCs) either disaggregating their tickets to compete with LCCs, or conversely enhancing their premium offering – as with Qatar’s Qsuite business class bedroom launched this time last year.

The re-emergence of ultra-long haul flights seems to be a natural progression of this market shift, said the data and analytics company.

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