The term “road trip” can bring instant excitement, with images of blaring tunes, yummy snacks, sunset views and great memories filling the mind. But one of the fun elements of a road trip is always the stops involved along the way. It’s just nice to get up, stretch your legs, breath actual air and take a minute to reset.
After Qantas completed the world’s first successful test flight between New York and Sydney last week, spanning nearly 20 hours, it’s safe to say that the world feels divided on whether or not they’d like to take part. Would you, or would you rather a better stopover experience?
Airports have been dull, listless and borderline hostile environments for travellers for as long as they’ve existed, perhaps with the exception of the Eero Saarinen terminal at JFK. Low ceilings, poor air circulation and a lack of natural light have made passengers despise the layover. While that’s long been the case, it’s changing now, particularly in cities reliant on transit traffic.
Singapore Changi Airport rivals the world’s greatest shopping malls and event spaces, with the world’s largest indoor waterfall, an outdoor butterfly garden, hawker food stalls bringing the best cuisine from city to the airport and a movie theatre, not to mention hotel rooms galore.
Dubai Airport offers a gym, plenty of lounges and shopping too. The point is: the transit experience is actually becoming quite nice in airports all over the world, with leading chefs attempting to debunk the age old “airport food sucks” mentality while leading hospitality brands like Sofitel and Fairmont create airport hotel concepts, none of which require a fancy boarding pass to take part.
Taking a 12 hour flight, and then a 9 hour flight isn’t exactly ideal, but they are semi manageable periods of time to be stuck in the air. That’s particularly true if you can go attend a stretching class, breath outside air, take a dip in the airport hotel pool and then get back to it. There are more airports where that’s realistic for any passenger, and for health sake, it may be better for you too.
There’s also a case for price. A one stop itinerary between New York, or London and the South Pacific is almost always going to be exponentially more affordable than a direct flight. If you’re paying, that’s a factor that cannot be ignored. Airlines know that it’s primarily business clientele who will prefer the direct ultra long haul, and they charge enterprise prices accordingly, even in the back…
The case for both arguments are totally fair, but the answer usually has something to do with where you’re sitting, what your scheduling needs are and who’s paying.
A 10 hour flight is hardly bearable in economy, so doubling that length sounds ghastly. Think about it: you eat for 3 hours, sleep for 7, and you’re literally only half way there, with 10 hours left to go. How do you then spend the rest of that time? In any economy seat, it certainly wouldn’t be pleasant.
But then again, you’re currently facing 15 hours on a flight, plus another 5 hour or more on a route like New York to Sydney via Los Angeles, or London to Perth, via Singapore, so you might as well suck it up in one go, right?
In the front of the plane, the case is even stronger.
All the same applies, but you have space to lay out fully flat, and if you’re a business type, you leave your office in New York and arrive in Australia just over 20 hours later, as opposed to a 5 hour journey to Los Angeles, followed by a few hours on the ground, and then a 15 hour journey onward. For busy business people aiming to minimise time wasted on the ground, bypassing these transit hours can make all the difference.
If someone else is paying, or money is no object, many travellers would pay more for a direct flight that takes any hassle or potential for hiccups out of the equation, but knowing precisely this, it’s precisely why these flights are designed to be ultra premium in price.
When Qantas announced Project Sunrise, their ultra-long haul development initiative, there was talk of major innovation and world firsts in aviation. Think: on board gyms, wellness, showers and all that sort of stuff. But as plans have unfolded, there’s been less and less talk about things that might tempt those weary of 20 hours in, and more about just getting the food and jet lag science right.
I for one would be far more eager to give into ultra long haul flights if I could shower, or enjoy wellness facilities on board to stretch, or reset. A little bike ride followed by a shower? That sounds like the way forward. Obviously the logistics of carrying enough water for each and every passenger, or at least all business class passengers to shower isn’t easy, but I view a workout and a shower as a real feeling of reset. That kinda thing can come in handy after 12 hours surrounded by coughing strangers.
What’s most interesting here is the demise of the Airbus A380 program. The A380 was the only plane which offered enough room to create innovative spaces, such as those found on Emirates, Singapore, Etihad, Qantas and Qatar. While some futuristic designs of turning areas of the cargo hold into sleep quarters and what not have been floated, there’s no sign of them appearing on the Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the two planes vying for this business, any time soon.