The world’s longest scheduled commercial flight landed in Auckland for the first time early Monday, connecting New Zealand to the Gulf state of Qatar.
The Qatar Airways flight from Doha – which took about 16 hours and 20 minutes – surpassed a record previously held by the airline’s rival, Emirates. The distance from Dubai to the North Island of New Zealand is some 190 miles shorter.
In addition to being the longest nonstop flight, the new route helps position Middle Eastern cities such as Doha and Dubai as gateways between Europe and the Pacific, both for travelers and goods. Business travelers will have more options, while the flight will bring New Zealand exports to Qatar and other parts of the region. But it remains to be seen how much of a market there is for flyers willing to stay seated for hours, as other flights spanning similar distances have been canceled in the past.
Monday morning’s historic flight landed in Auckland just after sunrise, after traveling a distance of 9,032 miles. The Boeing 777-200LR was showered with water on the tarmac, a tradition for airlines after they complete a new route.
Qatar Airways Group chief executive Akbar Al Baker called the flight “an important milestone for Qatar Airways as we expand both in the region and globally across our network.”
Headwinds will make the return flight slightly longer, at 17 hours and 30 minutes.
Each nonstop Qatar flight can carry 259 passengers, as well as exports stored below. The commercial jet has 42 seats in business class and 217 seats in economy. The belly of the plane will also be able to carry goods “such as dairy produce, meat and fruits from Auckland into the Middle East and on to major European cities,” according to a statement from Qatar Airways.
But experts say it’s not the flight itself, but the network it creates that’s significant.
"On its own, it wouldn't be viable to fly between Auckland and Doha, but Qatar is focusing on the passengers from Auckland going on to Europe, Africa, the US or elsewhere," Ellis Taylor of Flightglobal, a news site that focuses on airline travel, told BBC. "In that light, even though it may take some time for the route to stack up from a profit perspective, it may help the economics of its wider network."
And Qatar had to keep up with Emirates, according to Geoffrey Thomas of Airlineratings.com.
"It's also about reach for Middle East airlines striving to outdo each other,” Mr. Thomas told BBC.
Of course, the record isn’t static. For one, individual flights can be longer or travel further distances. An airline can choose to avoid certain countries or take alternate routes. And the longest actual distance a nonstop route travels is Air India’s nonstop from San Francisco to Delhi.
But there’s also questions over how many flyers are willing to stay in their seat for nearly a whole day. In 2012, the then-record holder for the longest commercial route canceled the routes because of poor sales. Singapore Airlines canceled its flights to Newark, New Jersey, and Los Angeles.
“The airline found the only way to make the routes profitable was by configuring the plane with 98 business class seats that sell for about $8,000 roundtrip,” wrote the Associated Press at the time. “Other airlines operate the same plane with about 250 seats in first, business and economy classes.”
But new technology, lower fuel prices, and even better in-flight entertainment and amenities could increase the demand for these types of flights from different business and vacation hubs.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.