UK-Australia nonstop: 17 hours on the record-breaking flight - in a window seat without a window

An insider account of the longest flight you can take from the UK

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 02 April 2018 10:10
Simon Calder experiences the first nonstop flight from London to Perth

With only 15 minutes remaining before the desk closes, there is no queue.

1pm: Last aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner waiting at Gate 1. My original reservation had been for a bulkhead seat, with no one in front, but a week before departure Qantas phoned to say that a mother with a baby and two other children had booked, and therefore I was being moved.

I spot a row of three seats with only one chap sitting there, so I move to 44K. Not quite a window seat, because there is no window on that bit of fuselage, but at least it provides a little elbow room with no one in the middle seat. Pushback is one minute early at 1.14pm.

Departure screen at Heathrow for first nonstop flight to Perth

2pm: After a relatively short taxi at Heathrow and minimal queueing, we are over the coast of Belgium.

3pm: Those with windows on the left side can look out at Brno, the second city of the Czech Republic. And I can talk to the captain, who is walking around the aircraft to meet the passengers. He says the route is finalised only three hours before departure, and the final fuel load decided just an hour ahead.

4pm: Flying over the Romanian capital, Bucharest, at 35,000ft. The dinner service begins. Chicken or beef? Having failed to eat at Heathrow, I have both as the Boeing flies over the southern part of the Black Sea, giving the Crimea a wide berth.

5pm: Landfall over north-east Turkey. A second can of Boag’s beer, and very tasty it is, too. Concerning, though, that it had travelled halfway around the world from Tasmania to Heathrow in order to be served on board. Some British beers are really quite good.

6pm: Already in Iranian airspace. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the alcohol ban at ground level does not apply to overflights. So I have a glass of Shiraz to celebrate being very close to the Iranian city of that name.

Globe shrinking: Moving map on Qantas flight 10

7pm: Loo and exercise break, which involves an interesting manoeuvre climbing backwards from the unoccupied 44J to avoid disturbing Dave from Canada who is in 44H.

8pm: Talk to Noel Marsh-Giddings from Inflight Video who makes real-time films of flights. This one will last 17 hours and from next weekend should be available on YouTube.

9pm: The halfway point: after 4,500 miles, a journey roughly equivalent to London to Mumbai or Vancouver. As it is 4am in my destination, it’s time to try to sleep.

I have never been in a straitjacket, but the most comfortable position for sleeping gave me a clue what it might feel like: feet suspended in a fairly comfortable net hanging from the seat in front, head held firmly in position by a muscular headrest.

10pm: Goa in India is about 200 miles off the port wing. The Maldives are ahead, the last fragments of land before Australia. The track flown is slightly south of the most direct trajectory, which would clip the tip of India and cross Sri Lanka.

11pm: The first in a series of overnight snacks is served to anyone who wants them: carrots and hummus. Two, thanks. The cabin crew, all of whom are based in London, are remarkably friendly and helpful right through the flight.

The first London-Perth nonstop flight at dawn over the Indian Ocean

12 midnight: Twelve hours after arriving at Heathrow. This hour the snack is a Margarita Calzone. Plenty of water is brought around, too, refreshingly poured from jugs rather than in individual plastic bottles.

1am: Crossing the equator. For the only time on the journey, the ride gets a bit bumpy, but not enough for the seat belts sign to go on.

On one of the standard routes to Perth, via Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, the flight would be landing now. While stretching the legs appeals to some passengers, many others embrace the nonstop flight.

Removing the transit stop eliminates the hassle of an extra security check, and all the queueing, and reduces the chance of disruption: if you don’t have a connection, you can’t miss it. For passengers with mobility issues (or small children), cutting out the stop is especially beneficial.

2am: Light begins to fill the sky, but little of the dawn infiltrates the cabin due to the deftly darkened windows. Dave from Canada in 44H is snoring as the tireless cabin crew bring round a strange green concoction which is said to be full of vitamins and will enhance my wellbeing.

The flight has now been aloft longer than the previous longest route from the UK: Heathrow to Jakarta on Garuda Indonesia. It will exceed that distance by almost a quarter.

Inflight breakfast on London-Perth nonstop flight

Meanwhile, the Indonesian capital provides a useful role as one of the alternate airports to which the 787 could divert if necessary, for mechanical or medical reasons.

3am: By now everyone is awake. Breakfast of omelette or fruit salad, plus yoghurt and a muffin. I calculate we are now past the point of no return. From here onwards it’s not quite Perth or bust –but if fog closes the city’s airport, we could be visiting Learmonth, an air force base 700 miles north.

Anxious flyers may have noticed we are just north of the area of the Indian Ocean where the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is continuing. Four years ago, the Boeing 777 disappeared on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, and was tracked to this lonely patch of ocean. The tragedy remains unsolved.

4am: The sky map is promising touchdown at 5.40am British time. I meet a family who bagged the bulkhead seats, and marvel at the six-month-old baby who has been extraordinarily quiet for the whole journey. With all the breakfast palaver out of the way, the queues for the loos are discouragingly long.

5am: Just 320 miles to go. We are still at 40,000ft, but in the next 40 minutes that altitude will vanish. Meanwhile, the toothbrush provided shortly after take-off proves invaluable.

Arriving in Perth – 15 minutes ahead of schedule

The first officer tells us that it is raining in Perth. At 5.10am, the descent begins. It is not as ear-popping as most flights, because the Dreamliner is pressurised to a lower altitude.

6am: After arrival at the gate 15 minutes ahead of schedule, the queue for border control erodes any advantages. I emerge from arrivals to meet two didgeridoo players.

My Australian dollars have cost a quarter more than on my last visit. And the weather is dismal. I am reminded of an old Australian joke which can now be refreshed.

“What’s the difference between a Boeing 787 and a Pom?”

“A Boeing 787 stops whining when it lands at Perth.”

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