Risk of sitting for 20 hours When Flying

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Australian airline Qantas has finally unveiled its plans to fly passengers directly from Sydney to New York, with tests scheduled for as early as October 2019. The 10,573-mile, 20-hour trip would be the longest direct passenger flight in aviation history.

Even though some military aircraft stay in the air even longer, a 20-hour flight is unprecedented for commercial planes. Currently, the longest commercial flight route is Singapore to New York – a distance of 9,540 miles (15,353 km). Only Singapore Airlines flights ply the route, with the flights lasting 17 hours 50 minutes. Next on the list is Auckland to Doha, a route plied by the Qatar Airlines. It’s a 9,032-mile route with a scheduled flight time of 17 hours 40 minutes.

The proposed Sydney-NY route would be 1,000+ miles longer than these already rather long direct flights. It would also keep passengers in the air for at least two more hours. Are humans ready for the extended stay in the air?

There are Mixed Reactions from Passengers

Some of the people who’ve already traveled on 17-hour flights see the 20-hour flights as a relief, citing getting off the plane at multiple airports as “unnecessary.” One such travel-enthusiast who has flown from London to Perth non-stop via Qantas (a 9,010-mile route with a scheduled flight time of 17 hours 20 minutes) even raved about the experience on tripadviser.com.

“Loved the flight,” she wrote. “Can’t stand all the getting off, wandering aimlessly around the airport.”

She was particularly relieved that she didn’t have to go through a new round of security checks at multiple stop-overs.

Others, meanwhile, aren’t so excited. The blogger at Jalopik.com, for instance, feels that 20 hours is just too much. Commenting on Qantas’ planned tests, he writes;

“In not sure my bottom can withstand 20 straight hours of sitting or my legs and knees physically bear that many hours of being jammed against the next seat.”

He is especially concerned that passengers in the coach would be seriously affected. “I’d do 20-hour flights with pleasure in business or first class,” he says. “But, in the coach section, it’s a whole different story.”

Flight Crew Aren't 100% Ready Either

Currently, the maximum duty time allowed by the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) is 20 hours. The proposed New York to Sydney route would, however, push this figure to 23 hours. Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, who recently indicated that their aircraft are ready “with only details such as seat configuration left to hammer,” is the first to admit that this extended duty time comes at a “cost” that flight crew might not be ready for – just yet.

Speaking to Reuters in May this year, Joyce said they “don’t have the ability to do that length of duty today” adding that the airline would have to discuss the issue with the regulator.

The head of the Australian and International Pilots Association (AIPA), Mark Sedgwick, has also raised concerns over the proposed longer work hours, saying that despite technological advancements in the field, humans remain humans.

“The technology is obviously there. But, the human side remains as it was during the days of the Wright Brothers,” he said. We must understand the effects of these longer flights on human performance.”

Regulators To Have Final Say

A spokesman of CASA says the agency will comprehensively evaluate the proposal by Qantas based on a recent study on pilot fatigue on the Perth-London Route. Depending on the findings, CASA could approve or reject the proposal outright, or require new measures such as extended rest periods or more experienced crew.

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