Thursday , August 13 2020

On board the 19-hour Cantas flight from New York to Sydney

I'm dancing Macaroni in the path of a mostly empty plane, as it hurts beside Las Vegas, 10,972 feet in the night sky.

This is not a bizarre dream – it is a taste of what Cantas thinks will be the future of the long journey.

Passengers practice on board QF7879 from New York to Sydney on October 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia.

Passengers practice on board QF7879 from New York to Sydney on October 19, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. Credit:James D. Morgan / Getty Images

At 7.43pm on Sunday, the factory-fresh Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliner touched down in Sydney, finishing at an epic 16,200km, 7pm and 16min nonstop flight from York.

Time has elapsed from the time the aircraft port at the entrance to FKK Airport to Charles Kingford-Smith was opened 19 hours and 42 minutes.

This is the first time a commercial airline has flown directly between the two cities – a longer journey in duration and distance than any airline in the world today.

The voyage is the first of three "test flights" set up to improve the health and well-being of passengers on the long haul, and to ensure pilots are not too tired to fly safely.

It comes when Qantas makes the decision, as Project Sunrise calls it – launching regular passenger services from New York and London to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in the next few years.

Five and a half hours into the flight, passenger Lori Kozlovic says she feels wide awake and comfortable.

"Usually I watch a movie, have a glass of wine and my meal and then go to sleep directly," he says.

Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas Group, with deck crew and cabin crew at Sydney Airport, celebrating 19 hours and 16 minutes of flight from York to Sydney

Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas Group, with deck crew and cabin crew at Sydney Airport, celebrating 19 hours and 16 minutes of flight from York to SydneyCredit:James D. Morgan / Getty Images

The 50-year-old is traveling overseas often due to his job at the environmental services firm and is one of six travelers to fly home from New York this weekend, but instead agreed to be human guinea pigs on test flights to Cantas.

“I think the lighting had a reasonable effect… and the exercise was excellent; I came back from that feeling pretty excited, "he says.

They are all elements carried out by researchers at the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Center to see if they improve the mood, health and well-being of passengers.

The six test passengers complete the iPads vigilance tests four times daily before, during and after the flight to measure how the flight affects them.

Relieve pain on the plane

Relieving pain in the aircraft is a priority of the study. So when we get off at FKK Airport at 9pm on a Friday in New York City, the crew is trying to trick our bodies into working in Sydney time, which is already noon on Saturday.

The cabin lights stay bright for the first six hours to stay awake, and the two-hour meals are spicy and light to encourage the body (spicy tomato soup, papaya salad, Jiangxi-style fish). Alcohol is not recommended.

None of this works for me, and for three hours my eyelids are heavy and I doubt if I can make the distance. But the back-to-back flight training session led by Professor Charles Carroll of the Charles Perkins Center brings me back to life.

Professor Carroll says the routines – completed four times over the flight – will improve metabolism health and maintain proper circulation to fight the risk of deep vein thrombosis.

We go through a quick succession of stretch marks, squats and then, yes, on Macaroni hand dancing steps.

I feel resurrected after the exercise – maybe because my blood was moving, or maybe just the comic.

In any case, I can impose around the six o'clock mark (4.30am in New York and 7:30 pm in Sydney), when the cabin crew serves a second meal of sweet potato sauce and rich patties – a large serving of carbs and cream designed to miss us. to sleep. On the nine-hour mark, like most travelers, I'm cold.

Not the usual experience

There are many reasons why this journey is very different from what most travelers will experience if Qantas ever flies these routes.

For starters, there are only 50 people on board – including 10 pilots and cabin crew – on the 236-passenger plane. And we're all in business class.

Cantas Flight Passengers

Cantas Flight Passengers Credit:James D. Morgan / Getty Images

But Cantas says he will use the findings of the study to improve the passenger experience for all long haul flights. In the proposed new ultra-long struggle, it is promised to install larger seats and dedicated areas to stretch passengers into the economy.

"Some of these ideas will change over time," Qantas boss Alan Joyce tells me as we approach Sydney.

"We're asking people what they think about, what they did for what didn't work – and people measure themselves to see if there are any real benefits."

It will be all about choice … but there is a difference when we have the scientific evidence to prove what works, "he says.

The flight crew is also under the microscope, with four pilots' fatigue tests being tested with brain monitors and operational tests to judge their performance.

Researchers from the Co-operative Research Center are taking urine samples from pilots before, during and after the flight, which researchers have to test for melatonin – a hormone that regulates the body's clock.

This is part of research aimed at understanding and managing pilot fatigue and helping Qantas convince Australia's air safety regulator that it is safe to manage summer this long.

Alan Joyce says this first test flight has already boosted its confidence that the route is viable

As we prepare to land, I have to say I feel better now than I did when I got to New York five days ago. The trip home was faster than three hours and did not involve a traumatized transfer through LAX Airport to Los Angeles.

After seven hours of sleep, passenger test Lori Kozlovic also says she feels good.

"I thought I was going to feel a little tired, but I feel pretty fresh," he says.

He admits he would be willing to stay on a non-stop way to New York, "but he did – without hesitation."


It will take us a few days to really know if any of us have avoided the worst effects of jet lag. Passengers and crew surveys will also be under way, with test flights from London and another from New York to take place by the end of the year.

But as we prepare for landing, Joyce says this first test flight has already boosted its confidence the route is viable. As for travelers embracing the idea of ​​nearly 20 hours on the plane, the airline says its 17-hour Perth-London flight has the best customer satisfaction score on its network.

Qantas will decide by the end of this year whether to launch its Project Sunrise flights as regular passenger services, likely at some point in 2023.

Reporter travels to New York as a guest of Cantas to fly his first sunrise test at sunrise

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