The thought of being in the air for 19 hours in a metal tube doesn’t sound that appealing.
I guess that’s partly why Qantas wanted to test out their 19-hour non-stop flight between Sydney and New York, before getting too carried away.
The Qantas “Sunrise Project” is the first-ever passenger airline to fly nonstop between America and Australia.
Ben Mutzabaugh was onboard and wrote about his experience for The Points Guy.
Here’s what he had to say:
I boarded the plane around 8:20 p.m. and was directed to my seat: 10E.
Qantas’ business-class cabin is divided into two sections on its 787-9s. The first eight rows are separated from the last three by a bulkhead. The second section is almost exclusively media, and it’s where I’m seated.
To check in on how passengers and crew deal with the extended period in the sky, Qantas used tech to run a few key experiments.
Nick Mole and the other passengers invited on the flight agree to take part in three weeks of testing, covering one week before the flight and two weeks after. They’ve been given several tasks, which include sleep and nutrition journaling and wearing monitors that measure things like movement and light.
He and the others are also given devices that test alertness, requiring them to touch the screen when given a prompt. It’s meant to measure the reaction time between the prompt and the response.
Pilots wore EEG monitors to measure brainwaves while in the cockpit and gave urine samples throughout the flight to show levels of melatonin (the hormone that regulates sleep).
Flight attendants were given wrist monitors like the ones worn by passengers.
Also part of the experiment: Passengers on QF 7879 are asked to stay awake for the first six hours of the flight. The idea is to battle jet lag by putting the cabin on Sydney time right from takeoff. It was 9 p.m. when we left in New York, but that was noon in Sydney.
Cabin lights are bright to help keep folks from falling asleep too soon. It mostly works, though there are some folks who have dozed off. Fortunately, I’m not one of them.
Even the meals are designed to help combat jet lag by resetting body clocks.
The first meals are spicy and include ingredients meant to stimulate passengers.
I started with spicy tomato and saffron soup and then select “Jiangxi-style white fish” that comes with a bit of a kick. It’s tasty, and — honestly — it did perk me up.
To keep passengers active, the crew also leads in-flight exercise sessions to get the blood flowing.
The exercises occur every two hours, except for the period set aside for sleep. One of the exercise sessions includes a “Macarena” dance with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce standing along the sidelines.
The Macarena is an interesting choice.
At 3:30 a.m. New York time (6:30 p.m. Sydney time), flight attendants come around to put the sleeping pads on our seats. It’s not time to sleep yet – the second meal service is about to begin – but it’s getting closer.
The second meal is heavy on carbs and other items, according to the special in-flight menu, to “assist your body clock to be in line with your breakfast service and arrival into Sydney.”
After the second meal, the cabin goes into sleep mode.
I change into my Qantas pajamas handed out by the airline and recline my seat into the lie-flat position. I get a solid three hours of sleep, and then I am in and out of sleep for the next four hours.
But I do manage to fall back asleep each time, at least for a little bit. The dark cabin reinforced the urge to sleep. And it’s quiet now, meaning that I fear waking up my neighbors if I get up and begin rustling around in my belongings. It’s a good incentive to try to get back to sleep.
In the ‘morning’, breakfast is served, but soon after that Mutzabaugh’s resilience begins to fade:
It’s 3 p.m. New York time and we’ve been on the plane for about 18 hours. I’m getting antsy; I’m ready to be off the plane. I fetch my jeans and shirt and head to the lav to change back out of my pajamas.
Finally, we start making our descent. My fatigue gives way to adrenaline as the prospect of completing the historic flight sets in.
When the flight lands, Mutzabaugh heads to the hotel and reflects on whether the strategy to avoid jet lag worked.
To help, I figured out a way to stream the college football game between Penn State (my alma mater) and Michigan, which kicked off right after I arrived to my hotel. The combination of work and football kept me awake.
Then, I heeded the advice of the sleep specialists on board QF 7879: “Go out and walk in the sun after you arrive. It’s one of the best ways to help moderate jet lag.” So I did. I found some coffee, and checked out my immediate surroundings in Sydney, where I’m a first-time visitor.
It’s now 10 p.m. Sunday in Sydney, and I’m still awake! That’s 7 a.m. Sunday in New York. I haven’t slept in a real bed since Thursday night, but — despite that — I’ve made it through my entire first day here in Australia.
I take it that means the flight was a success.
It sure beats the hell out of layovers.
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