Australia’s longest non-stop flight
STEPPING on board United Airlines' newest flight out of Australia, I anticipated the journey would be more or less like any other long haul trip, Except, of course, for one small detail.
This flight doesn't stop.
At 17 hours and 30 minutes, I was on the longest flight from Australia - and the fourth biggest 'ultra-haul' trip in the world.
Taking off in Sydney, headed for Houston, Texas, I felt a little uneasy at first. I'm not a mad keen flyer and the thought of being one of the first passengers on board the 13,850-kilometre route gave me about as much angst as the impending jet lag.
I followed the best advice from all the available long-haul survival tips online. I made sure to stay well hydrated by guzzling at least a couple of litres of water before takeoff. I went for a walk, wore comfortable clothes and, reluctantly, turned down the pre-flight champagne.
Before settling into my seat, I got a tour of the aircraft by the cabin crew to see how it works behind the scenes.
There are 252 seats: 48 flat beds in business class, 63 Economy Plus seats and 141 in standard economy. And this inaugural flight was bursting at the seams.
I was lucky enough to be sitting in business class for the flight, but I was more interested in what - and how - the passengers were going to handle the trip out back.
While stationed on the tarmac, air hostess Delores walked me to the main kitchen on board the aircraft. When you've got 17+ hours ahead of you, what you're going to eat is pretty important.
A wall of silver boxes stretched from one side of the cabin to the other. Each box was filled with snacks, entrees and mains including beef, fish and chicken, for passengers and crew on board the flight.
But what caught my eye was the 'sundae service' being set up on a trolley for dessert.
I'd been told stories about why ice cream is a rare sight on planes, and that frozen treats don't fare too well at 35,000 feet. But this proved otherwise and gave passengers a cool fix while flying above the Pacific. Sure it wasn't the creamiest, and perhaps even a little icy, but it was a welcome distraction mid-flight.
The tray service made its way down each aisle, handing out cups of vanilla ice cream with a choice of toppings - nuts, fruits and even sprinkles. It struck an even bigger cord for me than the wine tasting. Yes, on board wine tasting.
Delores then invited me to check out an area that's traditionally out of bounds for passengers. Climbing up a narrow staircase on top of one of the amenities, I squeezed my way through a small door and into the crew quarters. The small space above the toilets, is where the fresh-faced air cabin crew sleep, freshen up or simply take some time out from needy passengers.
If you had even a skerrick of claustrophobia in your bones, this part of the plane would be your undoing. The small space had a thin mattresses on the floor with a pillow, a blanket and not much else.
With no windows and no room to even stand up, it wasn't a luxury space. But Delores insisted it was the perfect hangout for a few hours. The sleeping cabin for the pilots was more or less the same set up, although positioned at the front of the aircraft.
As we made our way through the rows of seats, I couldn't help but wondered how we would last the journey - especially in economy. The leg space, although a smidgen bigger than other flights I've been on, was still pretty cosy for 17 hours straight.
About a third of the way into the flight I realised why you should always opt for the aisle. There's no way you can sit through the whole flight without needing to visit the aeroplane bathroom during the journey. With all that hydration, I learnt pretty quickly you want to be on the inner seat - especially if you're next to a passenger who likes their shut-eye.
Thankfully, the man in the seat next to me was a very sound sleeper, and I hadn't skipped any pilates classes so hurdling over his body mid-flight was achieved. Just. But next time, an aisle will be a priority.
The route is expected to bring in 27,000 visitors to Sydney each year, and will remain the fourth longest flight in the world until Qantas launches their Perth to London fare in March 2018.
The world's longest flight routes (by distance)
1. Doha-Auckland, Qatar Airways, 14,529km
2. Dubai-Auckland, Emirates, 14,200km
3. Los Angeles-Singapore, United Airlines, 14,114km
4. Sydney-Houston, United Airlines, 13,850km
5. Sydney-Dallas, Qantas, 13,804km
6. San Francisco-Singapore, United Airlines & Singapore Airlines, 13,592km
7. Atlanta-Johannesburg, Delta, 13,581km
8. Abu Dhabi-Los Angeles, Etihad, 13,502km
9. Dubai-Los Angeles, Emirates, 13,420km
10. Jeddah-Los Angeles, Saudia, 13,409km
This journalist was a guest of United Airways for the inaugural Sydney to Houston flight.