Restrictions Force Airlines To Make Ultra-Long-Haul Nonstop Flights
International flights still operating are sadly becoming a novelty. There is an even more peculiar group of flights: new ultra-long-haul services. As coronavirus travel restrictions make it difficult or impossible to transit in another country, airlines are turning to ultra-long-haul flights.
Qantas’ flagship QF1 Sydney-London Heathrow A380 flight used to transit in Singapore but will change the stopover to Darwin in northern Australia. The 6,765 mile Singapore-London sector will be replaced by a 8,620 mile Darwin-London flight. That is a little under Qantas’ 9,009 mile Perth-London flight (operated by a 787).
Darwin-London temporarily becomes Qantas’ longest A380 flight. Previously it was Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth at 8,578 miles. Yet Darwin-London is not totally one for the record books. The longest A380 flight in the world remains Emirates’ Dubai-Auckland (8,824 miles).
The change was prompted by Singapore’s move to prohibit non-residents from entering or transiting through Changi Airport. Qantas will be dependent on the local market as it will no longer be able to carry Singapore-London passengers on a fifth freedom basis. But overall global demand is weak, and Qantas will soon end regularly scheduled international flights. As the Darwin stop is only for refuelling, Qantas will only sell Sydney-London and vice versa, and not Darwin-London.
British Airways also flies between Sydney and London with a Singapore stopover, and its schedules show it will continue this routing for now. Non-Singapore residents were denied boarding in Sydney on March 24, according to Executive Traveller, which expects British Airways to continue with a Singapore stopover but only for refuelling and without passengers disembarking or boarding in Singapore.
Air New Zealand flies between Auckland and London via Los Angeles. After the U.S. imposed travel restrictions on most foreigners who had been in Europe, Air New Zealand suspended London-Los Angeles until June 30. It will resume the service until its previously announced exit in October 2020.
Also making a stopover in Los Angeles was Air Tahiti Nui on a routing from Papeete to Paris. After the travel restrictions, Air Tahiti flew non-stop. The distance was a record 9,765 miles, longer than Singapore Airlines’ Newark-Singapore at 9,534 miles. But the west-bound flight time was 15 hours and 45 minutes, well under the 17-18 hours Singapore Airlines’ Newark-Singapore has taken in recent days.
The record-setting flight (on some metrics) was a one-off. Air Tahiti reverted to one-stops via Vancouver and Guadeloupe, but will soon temporarily suspend all flights. Air Tahiti’s flights were not fifth freedoms since fifth freedom entails an airline from country A flying to country B via country C. French Polynesia is an overseas French territory, so Air Tahiti technically flew from country A to country A via country B.
Seemingly the first one-stop flight to change was Singapore Airlines’ Singapore-Hong Kong-San Francisco service. In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, Singapore Airlines swapped the one-stop 777-300ER flight for a non-stop A350 service that eliminated the Hong Kong stopover. This non-stop complemented its regular non-stop Singapore-San Francisco service.
Numerous other fifth freedom flights are being suspended, from the short (KLM’s Singapore-Denpasar Bali) to the long (Singapore Airlines’ Manchester-Houston).