Have a comfy long flight

As more ultra-long-haul flights take off, airlines are experimenting with everything from healthy menus to on-board gyms to make 20 hours in the air more bearable

NEW YORK • Last month, the world's longest non-stop flight - a 15,343km, 181/2-hour journey from Singapore to Newark, New Jersey, on Singapore Airlines' (SIA) new Airbus A350-900 Ultra Long Range aircraft - touched down, raising the bar for super-long-haul travel, which most industry experts define as any flight more than 12,874km one way.

The new route takes 18 hours and 45 minutes in the opposite direction.

New, lighter and more fuelefficient, dual-engine aircraft - including the Airbus models and Boeing's Dreamliner - make flying for nearly a day economically viable as the number of ultra-long-haul flights increases.

As flight times grow, carriers are experimenting with everything from healthy menus to on-board gyms to make almost 20 hours in the air more bearable.

Business classes are the beneficiaries of most of the new investment. Some airplanes, like SIA's new craft, contain only business (a recent round-trip fare was US$5,000 or S$6,884) and premium economy seats (US$1,498 round-trip next month), which are more spacious than standard coach.

But across the industry, even regular economy passengers will find extra perks.

HEALTHIER AND BETTER-TIMED FOOD

Business-class fliers on SIA from Newark can still get dishes by its partner chef, Alfred Portale, of Gotham Bar and Grill, but with its new Newark-Singapore route, the airline is introducing meal options created by the spa Canyon Ranch.

Available in both classes of service, the dishes might include prawn ceviche (170 calories), seared organic chicken and zucchini noodles (370 calories) and lemon angel food cake (140 calories).

Working with researchers from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre, Qantas offers lemon and ginger kombucha, wake-up shots of probiotic-infused juice and sleep-inducing tea in its top two classes.

In addition, meals are delayed upon take off to align closer to meal times at the destination to help travellers adjust to time-zone changes.

And then there is food on demand. Rather than requiring passengers to climb over sleeping neighbours to reach the galley for a Coke mid-flight (not necessarily bad, from a movement perspective), Air New Zealand will allow passengers on its newest super long-haul flight to order snacks via the touch-screen entertainment system.

RELAXATION, HYDRATION, YOGA AND SLEEP STRATEGIES

Well-being exercises on some of the new long-haul flights go beyond the extend-and-flex directions of older exercise programmes. In some cases, they are beginning before passengers even get on the plane.

When it launched its PerthLondon route earlier this year, Qantas created a new transit lounge at the Perth airport for business-class travellers featuring stretching and breathing classes offered every 15 minutes, bathrooms with light therapy in the shower suites designed to help travellers adjust to time changes and a hydration station with fruit-infused water and herbal tea.

An open-air terrace is open to fliers in all classes of travel.

Earlier this year, Cathay Pacific joined with international yoga studio Pure Yoga to launch a new in-flight wellness programme called Travel Well With Yoga.

Six videos feature yoga and meditation exercises to improve circulation, mobility and relaxation.

SIA's partnership with Canyon Ranch extends to guided stretching exercises demonstrated by the spa's exercise physiologists in videos on the seat-back entertainment systems.

The on-board e-library also includes suggested sleep strategies and fliers who download the airline's app may receive push notifications with the advice.

GYMS, BARS AND NURSERIES

As far back as 2005, according to reporting in The Guardian, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson touted the advent of casinos, gyms and beauty salons on aircraft, which never fully materialised.

More recently, the Middle Eastern carriers, including Etihad Airways, which sells an apartment-like suite, and Emirates, which offers showers, have offered deluxe amenities in their highest service classes.

Now Qantas aims to re-imagine how aircraft cabins are designed to include, possibly, bars, children's nurseries and exercise areas.

Its new exploratory programme called Project Sunrise has challenged aircraft-makers to design planes that could fly more than 20 hours between Sydney and London or New York by 2022.

The airline is exploring how it can convert space not suited for seats into bars, stretching zones and work and study areas.

In part, the efforts are motivated by Australia's remote locale relative to other major airports.

"We're not a hub carrier, we're an end-of-line carrier," said Mr Phil Capps, head of customer experience at Qantas. "We have to take the customer more seriously than other carriers might in global hubs."

SLEEPING AND SITTING (MORE COMFORTABLY) IN COACH

The most exciting on-board amenities that have been proposed, such as gyms, tend to be restricted to business-and first-class fliers, and most analysts think such offerings will not fly if they cannot be monetised.

But Qantas is also considering repurposing part of its cargo holds on long-haul aircraft and converting them to economy sleeping bunks and areas for passengers to walk around and stretch their legs.

When Air New Zealand begins its service between Chicago and Auckland with the Dreamliner 787-9 V2, the 15-and 16-hour flights, depending on the direction of travel, will include two coach classes.

In Premium Economy, 33 seats will offer 104 to 106cm seat pitch, leg and foot rests. In the 215-seat economy cabin, with 78 to 83cm seat pitch, the Economy Skycouch combines three seats sold together with leg rests that extend 90 degrees up to create a 1.5m, 2.5cm couch for a more comfortable place to sleep.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 18, 2018, with the headline 'Have a comfy long flight'. Print Edition | Subscribe