How Will We Adapt to Flights in Excess of 19 Hours?

Quantas Airlines recent non-stop flight between New York City and Sydney is ushering in a whole new era of ultra long-haul flights.
Marcia Wendorf

On October 20, 2019, Quantas Airways completed an unprecedented test flight, flying non-stop between New York City and Sydney, making it the longest non-stop commercial passenger flight in history.

With only 49 people on board, the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flew the 10,066-mile trip in 19 hours and 16 minutes.


Quantas conducted extensive research during the flight, monitoring both the pilots and the passengers. Quantas plans to offer these ultra long-haul flights, New York City and London non-stop to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, beginning in 2022.

Flights of that duration will put an unprecedented burden on passengers' physical and mental health. Here are some of the more common physical conditions caused by jet flight:

1. Bloating

Even though airplane cabins are pressurized, there is still less atmospheric pressure at 29,000 feet than there is at sea level. This drop can cause gases in your stomach to expand, making you feel bloated. To avoid bloating, don't eat beans before you fly, and avoid drinking carbonated drinks while on board.

2. Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT)

On the more severe end of the spectrum is deep-vein thrombosis, or DVT. It is the formation of blood clots in the legs due to poor circulation caused by sitting for a long time. The clots can travel up through veins to the lungs or brain, where their effect can be catastrophic.

How Will We Adapt to Flights in Excess of 19 Hours?
Compression or "flight socks" Source: Jitz Limi/iStock

The first sign of DVT is pain and swelling in a leg. To avoid DVT, stay well hydrated while flying, and avoid excessive alcohol consumption. The best thing you can do though, is to get up fairly regularly from your seat and move around the cabin. This is easier to do on larger, double-aisle airplanes.

When flying, be sure to wear roomy, comfortable shoes, and if your feet swell, slip your shoes off. Many frequent flyers don "flight socks", which are compression socks that go up almost to the knee and aid circulation in the legs.

3. Jet lag

Jet lag causes exhaustion, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, constipation, indigestion and diarrhea. The German word Zeitgeber describes any external or environmental cue that synchronizes an organism's biological rhythms to our Earth's 24-hour cycle of light and dark.

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Getting in sync quickly with your destination can help with jet lag. For example, sitting down to dinner even though it's breakfast time at home can help reset your biological clock. Other ways of combating jet lag are drinking lots of water, exercising and getting some sleep.

4. Back pain

Many people experience back pain after sitting in a cramped airline seat for a long period. To combat back pain, get up from your seat once every hour and walk up and down the aisle. Find a spot, often near the restrooms, and stretch your arms above your head.

How Will We Adapt to Flights in Excess of 19 Hours?

When we're cold, our muscles and ligaments contract, so be sure to bring a sweater, fleece or jacket in your carry-on. Also, don't be shy about asking the flight attendants for a blanket.

5. Getting sick on a flight

Many people board a plane feeling fine and get off feeling sick. Airplane cabin air is constantly recycled, which removes most of its moisture. This can make you dehydrated, so either bring along a water bottle, or else ask the flight attendants for something to drink.

Another way to avoid illness is to wash your hands before eating, and to bring a bottle of hand sanitizer along with you.

6. Feeling drunk from just one drink

The low cabin pressure and the dry air in the cabin can make you feel drunk from just one drink. While a cocktail or a glass of wine with dinner sounds nice, it's better to wait until you're on the ground and enjoy a drink then.

What Quantas is doing

A year ago, Qantas began a partnership with Sydney University's Charles Perkins Center to use scientific research to help shape the customer experience on these long-haul flights. Quantas plans to use Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350 for its London-Sydney and New York City-Sydney non-stop flights.

Together, Quantas and the Charles Perkins Center are soliciting comments from passengers flying the London-Perth route about their experiences and suggestions. The Perth-London flight is on a B787-9 Dreamliner that is configured to have only 236 seats. This is far fewer seats than most aircraft of its type.

Also, windows on the Dreamliner are 65% bigger than comparable aircraft windows. This allows passengers to experience sunlight and to see what's below them.

How Will We Adapt to Flights in Excess of 19 Hours?
Source: DeSid/iStock

What Quantas has heard from its London-Perth flyers is a focus on health and wellness, and a "separation of experience" at various stages of a long-haul flight.

The top five suggestions are that Quantas provide:

Quantas has already put these health and wellness initiatives into place:

Quantas CEO Alison Webster has said, "Our job now is to determine where the most demand is and create this cabin in a way that makes it both affordable for customers and commercially viable for the airline."

Flying the Dreamliner, Quantas will be flying the following long-haul routes:

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