On board the 19 hour Qantas flight from New York to Sydney
I'm dancing the Macarena in the aisle of a mostly empty jet plane as it hurtles past Las Vegas 10,972 metres up in the night's sky.
This isn't some bizarre dream - it's a taste of what Qantas thinks will be the future of long-haul travel.
At 7.43am on Sunday a factory-fresh Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliner touched down in Sydney after completing an epic 16,200 kilometre, 19 hour and 16 minute non-stop flight from New York.
The time elapsed from the moment the jets doors dock at JFK Airport to when they open Charles Kingsford-Smith is 19 hours and 42 minutes.
It's the first time a commercial airline has flown directly between the two cities - a longer journey in duration and distance than any airline route flown in the world today.
The trip is the first of three "test flights" set out to improve passengers' health and wellbeing on journeys this long, and to ensure pilots aren't too fatigued to fly them safely.
It comes as Qantas nears a decision on what it calls Project Sunrise - launching regular passenger services from New York and London to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in the next few years.
Five and a half hours into the flight, passenger Laurie Kozlovic says he's feels wide awake and comfortable.
"I'd normally watch a movie and have a glass of wine and my meal and then go straight to sleep," he says.
The 50-year-old travels overseas often for his work for an environment services firm and is one of six passengers who were due to fly home from New York this weekend but agreed to be human guinea pigs on Qantas' test flights instead.
"I think the lighting has had a reasonable effect... and the exercise was great; I came back from that feeling fairly invigorated," he says.
They are all elements implemented by researchers from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre to see if they improve passengers' mood, health and wellbeing.
The six tests passengers are completing alertness tests on iPads four times a day before, during and after the flight to measure how the flight affected them.
Easing the jetlag pain
Easing the pain of jetlag is a priority of the study. So when we take off from JKF Airport at 9pm Friday, New York time, the crew try to trick our bodies into operating at Sydney time where it's already midday Saturday.
The cabin lights remain bright for the first six hours to keep us awake, and the meals served two hours in are spicy and light to invigorate the body (spiced tomato soup, green papaya salad, Jiangxi style fish). Alcohol isn't recommended.
None of this works for me, and by three hours in my eyelids are heavy and I doubt if I can make the distance. But an in-flight exercise session in the rear galley led by Professor Marie Carroll, from Charles Perkins Centre, revives me.
Professor Carroll says the routines - completed four time through the flight - will improve metabolic health and maintain proper circulation to combats the risk of deep vein thrombosis.
We go through a quick succession of stretches, squats and then, yes, the Macarena arms-shoulders-head dance steps.
I feel enlivened after the exercise - maybe because it got my blood moving, or perhaps just the comic relief.
Either way, I can push through to around the six hour mark (4.30am in New York and 7.30pm in Sydney), when the cabin crew serve a second meal of sweet potato soup and a rich panna cotta - a big serve of carbohydrates and cream designed to lull us to sleep. At the nine hour mark, like most passengers, I'm out cold.
Not the usual experience
There are plenty of reasons why this trip is very different to what most travellers will experience if Qantas' ever flies these routes.
For starters there are only 50 people on board - including 10 pilots and cabin crew - on a plane that sits 236 passengers. And we're all in business class.
But Qantas says it will use the findings from the study to improve passengers' experiences on all long-haul flights. On the propopsed new ultra-long haul fight, it's promised to install bigger seats and dedicated stretching areas for economy passengers.
"Some of these ideas will vary overtime," Qantas boss Alan Joyce tells me as we approach Sydney.
"We'll be asking people what they think of it, what worked what didn't work - and people are being measured to so we'll see are there real benefits."
It will be all about choice... but it makes a difference when we have the scientific evidence to prove what's working," he says.
The flight's crew is also under the microscope, with the four pilots' fatigue levels tested with brain monitors and operational tests to judge their performance.
Researchers from the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness are also taking urine samples from the pilots before, during and after the flight which researchers to test for melatonin- a hormone that regulates the body clock.
That is part of research aiming to understand and manage pilot fatigue, and help Qantas convince Australia's aviation safety regulator that it is safe to operate flights this long.
Alan Joyce says this first test flight has already boosted his confidence the route is viable
As we prepare for landing, I have to say I'm feeling better now than I was when I touched down in New York five days ago. The journey home was three hours quicker and it didn't include a traumatising transfer through Los Angeles' LAX airport.
After seven hours sleep, test passenger Laurie Kozlovic also says he's also feeling pretty good.
"I thought I'd feel a bit more tired but I'm feeling pretty fresh," he says.
He admits he would have been relucatant to take a non-stop route to New York, "but having done it - no hesitation".
It will take a few days to really know whether any of us avoided the worst effects of jet lag. And the passenger and crew research will be ongoing, with a test flights from London and another from New York to take place by the end of the year.
But as we prepare for landing, Joyce says this first test flight has already boosted his confidence the route is viable. As for passengers accepting the idea of almost 20 hours in an aeroplane, the airline points out that its 17-hour Perth-London flight has the best customer satisfaction score in its network.
Qantas will decide by the end of this year whether to launch its Project Sunrise flights as regular passenger services, likely at some point in 2023.The reporter travelled to New York as a guest of Qantas for the purpose of flying on its first Sunrise test flight
Business reporter at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Oct. 19 (UPI) -- A planned 19.5-hour test flight took off from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport on Saturday en route to Sydney Airport in Australia. Fifty passengers and crew were aboard the Boeing 787-9
Qantas' first Project Sunrise (opens in new window) research flight is set to take off from New York to Sydney this evening. Qantas Flight 7879, with 50 passengers and crew on board, will depart New York's
Qantas launches its first 20-hour test flight today to check how the human body copes with its planned ultra-long-haul routes. The airline intends to fly direct between both London and New York and Sydney - the
A plane and its passengers are set to test the mental and physical limits of long-haul aviation when Qantas operates the first direct flight by a commercial airline from New York to Sydney this weekend.
Qantas is embarking on its non-stop flight from New York to Sydney this weekend, which will take nearly 20 hours. Alertness CRC Project Leader Dr Tracey Sletten, one of the researchers on the
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