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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?

The Case For Stopovers

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.

Of course, if you can spread things out and fit a micro trip into an extended stopover of 23:59 minutes or less, getting to leave the airport and see the city, things are even more compelling.

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 Direct 20 Hour Flights

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.

qantas a330All 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.

ek 380 barRoom For Improvement

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.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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6 Comments

  1. I agree with you but I also think that flying in economy class is bearable for 20 hours if you get an empty seat next to you or if luck is on your side, get an entire row for yourself! I’ve flown on ultra-longhaul flights in economy and the difference in experience between a 60% full and 100% full plane is huge.

    As far as exercising, I prefer not to sweat while onboard a plane but wouldn’t mind stretching or at least enjoying a lounge/bar area.

  2. I find that people who travel infrequently, or mostly for leisure, are much more likely to think that ultra-long-haul flights are a bad thing to be avoided. People who travel a lot, and mostly for business, have a much better understanding of all the reasons why point to point travel is vastly superior and an appreciation of both the massive time suck and all of the things that can go wrong every time you need to take-off, land, or transfer. Spending a few more hours in the air — particularly in the comfort of a Business Class cabin — is vastly preferable to stopping. There is clear proof of the fact that most people prefer point-to-point in the fact that nonstop flights are almost always command higher fares than flights with a stop.

  3. Surely this is the wrong question in the first place? The question should be when will we have supersonic passenger flights again? No-one actually wants a 20 hour flight, that’s a given. A stopover is nice if the location is of interest to the traveller, but a direct super fast flight is what people actually want. Any point to any point globally in under 10 hours is what will really change the game.

  4. The wellness proposition is nonsense. I understand a shower but you don’t need to ride an exercise bicycle on a 20 flight. Lay in the bed, get up and walk around but a gym on board is absurd.

  5. An airline would have to pay me to sit for 20 hours in an economy seat. I just flew back yesterday from London to New York in economy and it was unbearable. The flight took over 8 hours and everyone was complaining, even the flight crew. Now, I’ve done the 15 hour Newark to Hong Kong flight before and the Newark to Singapore at 16 hours, but in those cases I had a nice flat bed business class seat. For 20 hour flights airlines need to change the rules for passengers. We need places to stand up and move around. A Virgin style bar, even for economy would help, and more creative ideas. I would go so far as to say Airbus and Boing need to design a new type of plane for this

  6. I’ve lost count of how many times companies I worked for planned new offices, and to get everyone to commute to the new place they were going to have spas and gyms. This all appeared in slide presentations to the staff showing maps of the new building, and even in mockups. Guess what?! Those never made it off the drawing board. Somehow they never appeared in the new building. But boy did they sound good when introducing the project to the staff who were going to be on board.

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