SYDNEY (Reuters) – When I signed up to take a test run on the world's longest commercial flight, I expected an endurance exercise, but not steak for breakfast and a physical exercise regimen.
In preparation for the first 19-hour commercial flight scheduled for 2022-3, Qantas Airways is conducting three dummy flights from London and New York to Sydney to test the effect of ultra-long flight on passengers, staff and pilots.
Although I often travel for my job as a TV journalist, this "research escape" was a whole new experience.
On board six test passengers were under constant electronic surveillance by the Australian carrier. Me and a handful of other journalists largely shared the experience, minus the wires.
It began with a sunrise in London and a dinner in the morning, followed by light as we immediately adopted the Sydney time ̵
It meant a sleep-inducing carb party of steak sandwich and soup instead of the expected breakfast. I turned down the wine.
Meal composition and schedules, good exercise time and lighting can all "help people adapt better and reduce jet lag," University of Sydney physiologist Corinne Caillaud told during the approximately 17,000-kilometer flight.
After the eight-hour darkness and a breakfast of chilli – to boost metabolism – Caillaud led regular attacks of stretches and squats, performed in the corridors with varying degrees of enthusiasm by his guinea pig passengers.
In addition to increasing alertness, the airborne training is also the key to reducing the risk of deep vein thrombosis on such a long flight.
The meals, sleep schedules and encouragement of training are likely to appear to some extent in the cabin service that is finally offered to Qantas & # 39; commercial customers on these routes.
To fly directly to Sydney with full passenger load, Qantas needs a longer range than the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner we flew in, which was more than three-quarters of an inch.
The airline is betting that customers will pay more to avoid stops. The new aircraft ordered from Boeing or Airbus will have cabin features tailored to ultra-long vehicles, and exceptional bus class space.
The interior will offer a "very designed product for long-distance travel," as Qanta's CEO Alan Joyce explained to me during the flight.
"Our intention is to have a bigger seat in the economy than we have ever done before, and to have dedicated stretches in the economy."
So how did I sleep?
I actually didn't – not a kiss. But then I worked.
And although I can't be sure, the carefully planned meals and blackouts may have made me feel a little less devastated than I might have sold through two sunrises, with a final flight time of 19 hours and 19 minutes.
More reassuringly, the test passengers were able to sleep mostly in line and did much better.
"I feel really good," exclaimed Andy Chevis, a Sydney-based management consultant, during the final approach. "Probably a lot better than I normally would at this point in the flight."
Written by Laurence Frost; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle