Long Flights vs. Layovers: The Pros and Cons of Flying Nonstop

Is 19 hours on a plane too long?

Gray premium economy airline seats with orange pillows

On Singapore Airlines’ 19-hour route between New York and Singapore, you could be spending about 19 hours in seats like these premium economy ones.

Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

If you’re the type of traveler who prefers a non-stop flight, no matter the cost or length, this is your era. Of the 10 longest flights in the world, Singapore Airlines’ two flights between Singapore and NYC top out at nearly 19 hours and more than 9,500 miles; Air India’s flight between San Francisco and Bangalore is nearly 18 hours. These are the latest in what has been a steady stream of super-long-haul flights in the past few years.

Qantas—which currently flies from JFK to Auckland, New Zealand, in 17 hours 40 minutes—has plans to roll out a 20-hour flight between London and Sydney in mid-2025. If and when it does launch, it would take the top spot as the longest flight.

And it isn’t just international flights that are going the distance. Hawaiian Airlines runs an 11-hour nonstop service between Boston and Honolulu, a 5,095-mile flight that is the longest in the United States.

Still, while some travelers are cheering on the trend of ultra-long nonstop flights, others think that many hours is simply too much time to spend on a single plane.

The Advantages of Super-Long-Haul Flights

For many jet-setters, the more direct the better, even if that means spending numerous hours on a single flight.

“I will always choose a super-long-haul flight instead of a layover,” said author and professor Michael Meyer, who frequently travels between the United States and Asia to give talks on his nonfiction trilogy about China. He said his biggest issue with layovers is that they increase the risk of missed flights and can cause further delays to an already very long journey.

Meyer also runs marathons, and he said the same mindset applies to super-long-haul flights. “Mentally divide the journey into quarters. I’ll read a book I’ve been saving for the first four or five hours, then take an Advil PM and sleep for four or five hours, then watch two movies for the next quarter, and then go back to reading,” said Meyer, adding that this approach makes it feel much more like a relaxed journey rather than an endless struggle.

A Singapore Airlines' plane in the sky

Singapore Airlines’s super-long-haul flights take place on the ultra-long-range Airbus A350-900ULRs.

Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

Nicola Farinetti, chairman of the board of Eataly, said that regardless of the distance or duration of the flight, he always prefers to fly direct because it’s less stressful for him, and it helps him maintain his schedule.

Singapore-based TV executive Alysha Chopra often travels to Sydney, the United States, and Europe, plus she grew up in Sydney, so she’s no stranger to hours on planes. Still, she prefers fewer, longer flights. “Long-haul flights are tiring,” Chopra says, “but I’d much rather get there sooner than stop somewhere.”

Why Long Hauls Aren’t for Everyone

While few would debate the convenience of a single, longer flight, there are some health concerns to consider, according to Sheryl Hill, founder of Depart Smart, an organization that advocates for travel safety and is now owned by AIG.

“Flights, in general, have health risks. Flying at high altitudes [there is] thinner oxygen, more air pressure, and less humidity,” said Hill. “You are more likely to get sick on a flight. So, building up your immune system with exercise, rest, and vitamins is a good defense.”

She recommended that long-haul travelers get their flu shots, bring their own filled [reusable] water bottles on board, and use disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer liberally.

“We all think long direct flights are best, but they may not be best for you,” said Hill, noting that those at risk for blood clots or with certain medical conditions should perhaps consider shorter flight options instead.

Others admitted that where they’re sitting on the plane makes a big difference in whether they can withstand a marathon in-flight experience.

“I will only undertake a super-long-haul if I am in the front of the plane where it is possible to stretch and walk about,” said George Morgan-Grenville, the founder and CEO of luxury travel company Red Savannah, referring to traveling either business or first class. When traveling a longer distance in economy, Morgan-Grenville said he prefers to break up the trip, spend a night on the ground, exercise properly, and then continue on. It should be noted that on its super-long-haul nonstop flights, Singapore Airlines has no regular economy class, only premium.

Sangeeta Sadarangani, founder and CEO of London-based Crossing Travel, has family, clients, and employees based around the world and frequently travels long distances herself. She said she will almost always choose a flight with a stopover so that she can stretch her legs, make calls and check emails, and have a healthier meal and nicer restroom than on board.

A plate of smoked trout, caviar, lettuce, beans, wakame, and tarragon mustard dressing served on Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines has partnered with wellness brand Golden Door to develop meals for its long-haul flights.

Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

The Airlines Making Long Flights More Comfortable

While some flyers may never take to the idea of seemingly interminable flights, Singapore Airlines and other long-haul carriers have and continue to make numerous efforts to ensure that these longer jaunts are as comfortable as can be, from jet-lag-reducing lighting to more nutritious food served on board.

Singapore Airlines’ 9,500-mile flights between JFK and Newark and Singapore take place on the ultra-long-range Airbus A350-900ULRs, which have higher ceilings and larger windows than other Airbus planes, an extra-wide body, and lighting designed to reduce jet lag. The interior cabins are pressurized to a lower altitude (6,000 feet versus 8,000 feet), and a HEPA airflow management system replaces cabin air every two minutes.

Singapore Airlines has partnered with wellness brand Golden Door to develop nutrition- and hydration-focused menus as well as guided stretching exercises that passengers can access via their seatback entertainment systems, available on the carrier’s long-haul flights.

The super-long-haul flights offered by United and Qantas are carried out by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, aircraft with Boeing’s most enhanced ventilation systems and bigger windows than Airbus’ A350; they also have cabins pressurized to a lower altitude.

The Future of the World’s Longest Flights

“The real focus of these flights is a combination of some saving in flight time and the convenience,” said John Grant, partner with aviation consulting group MIDAS Aviation, explaining why we have seen an uptick in these long-haul flights.

But, he added, “those 14-hour-plus sector lengths are stretching both passengers’ service requirements and the creativity of airlines’ in-flight services.”

Love ’em or hate ’em, there is a good chance we’ll continue to see a few more super-long-haul flights launch in the near future, not least because of advancements in aircraft technology that are making these epic journeys possible.

This article was originally published in 2018 and most recently updated on July 5, 2024, with current information.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at Afar where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined Afar in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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