Flight length

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"Long Haul" redirects here. For other uses, see The Long Haul.

In aviation, the flight length is defined as the time airborne during a flight. There are four categories, short-haul, medium-haul, long-haul and ultra long-haul.

Short-haul flight: Under 3 hours
Medium-haul flight: 3 to 6 hours
Long-haul flight: 6 to 12 hours
Ultra long-haul flight: Over 12 hours


Absolute distance versus flight length[edit]

A flight is typically planned to follow a direct route wherever possible to minimise flight length. For long-haul flights, the most direct route follows a great circle along the diameter of the Earth. For example, aircraft travelling westward between continents in the northern hemisphere often follow paths extending northward near or into the Arctic region. When shown on a conventional projection of a world map, the resulting route looks curved and appears longer than it really is. The great-circle distance between airports may therefore give a better indication of the shortest flight length.

Airline routes between San Francisco and Tokyo following the most direct great circle (top) westward, and following a longer-distance jet stream route (bottom) when heading eastward

However, a flight route must also take into account weather conditions, air currents, and fuel economy. A long-haul flight in an easterly direction often takes a longer more southerly route than the great circle in order to take advantage of the jet stream, a high-altitude wind that can allow an aircraft to cover a longer absolute distance using less fuel than on a more direct route.

Air time versus time zones on the ground[edit]

Time on the ground will be affected by time zones. A flight going westward, or "chasing the sun", is lengthened,[1] and conversely an eastbound flight is shortened in terms of clock time. This does not affect the classification as long, medium, or short haul.


Short-haul flights

Airline definitions differ on what is to be considered a short-haul flight, Thomas Cook Airlines defines it as a flight taking less than three hours to complete.[2] A short-haul flight for Cathay Pacific may be a flight between Hong Kong and Taipei or Manila.[3] For Etihad, a short-haul might include a flight from the UAE to India. In the United Kingdom, Air Passenger Duty is levied on all flights by the UK Treasury according to banding by distance. It defines a short-haul flight as an absolute flight distance under 2,000 miles (3,200 km). Most domestic flights (where the departure airport and the arrival airport are in the same country) are short-haul.

The shortest commercial flight in the world is a flight between Westray and Papa Westray, The distance is 2.8 km (1.7 mi) and the scheduled flight time, including taxiing, is two minutes.

Medium-haul flights

A medium-haul flight lasts from three and six hours and is typically made by an Airbus A320, Airbus A321, Airbus A319, Airbus A318 or a Boeing 737-700. An example of a medium-haul flight is between the United Kingdom and Egypt, which takes approximately five and half hours. Domestic flights can be medium-haul in larger countries; flights between the east and west coasts of the United States also average around five and a half hours.[4]

Long-haul flights

A long-haul flight lasts from six to twelve hours and is typically made by a wide-body aircraft, such as Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A380 or Boeing 747. The flight length typically requires over six and a half hours to cover[5] and is often a non-stop flight. Only a few narrow-body aircraft, such as the Boeing 757, have true long-haul capability. These aircraft are commonly used on secondary transatlantic routes. Domestic flights can be long-haul in larger countries.

Ultra long-haul flights

An ultra long-haul flight is typically made by a long-range wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 777-200LR, the Airbus A380-800 or the Airbus A340-500, such as Dubai to Toronto and Dubai to Los Angeles by Emirates with its Airbus A380-800.[6] These flights involve the longest distances flown by commercial aircraft, requiring over 12 hours to cover, and are also often non-stop flights. The longest such flight, Qantas flight 8 from Dallas to Sydney (DFW-SYD) is also an Airbus A380-800, The previous longest non-stop flight, Singapore Airlines Flight 21 from Newark to Singapore, covered 15,343 kilometres (9,534 mi) in about 18.5 hours flight time using an Airbus A340-500.[7]

Emirates has announced two flights that will compete for the world's longest, both operated by Boeing 777-200LR:

  • Flight 251 will be the longest regularly scheduled nonstop flight by duration (17 hours, 35 minutes): daily connection between Dubai (DXB) and Panama City (PTY). Initially scheduled to begin on February 1, 2016 before being pushed back to 31 March 2016. The flight will take 17 hours and 35 minutes in the westbound direction and will traverse a distance of approximately 13,830 km (8,588 miles). The flight will depart Dubai at 8:05 a.m. and arrive in Panama City at 4:40 p.m. daily. The return flight (EK 252) will leave Panama City at 10:10 p.m., arriving in Dubai at 11:55 p.m. the next day.[8]
  • Flight 449 will be the longest regularly scheduled nonstop flight by distance (14,210km): also with a daily connection between Dubai (DXB) and Auckland (AKL). From 1 March 2016. The flight will take 17 hours and 15 minutes in the westbound direction (20 minutes shorter than Flight 251) but will traverse a distance of approximately 14,210 km (8,824 miles), 236 miles longer. The flight will depart Auckland at 9:30 p.m. and arrive in Dubai at 5:45 a.m. daily. The return flight (EK 448) will leave Dubai at 10:05 a.m., arriving in Auckland at 11:00 a.m. the next day.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dik A. Daso Doolittle: Aerospace Visionary 2003 - Page 116 "While flying west, a pilot actually lengthens her day by “chasing the sun.” Hence, there are effectively three hours more daylight than darkness on this east-to-west flight. "
  2. ^ Eaves, Matthew (2008). How to Survive a Long Haul Flight. London: Mandival. ISBN 978-0-9559844-0-2. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ http://www.travelmath.com/flying-time/from/JFK/to/LAX
  5. ^ Thomas Cook Airlines - Prices
  6. ^ http://hackmytrip.com/2013/06/emirates-a380-lax-december-2-2013/
  7. ^ "Singapore Air Wants to Bring Back Nonstop Flight to U.S.". bloomberg. 2015-07-17. 
  8. ^ "World's longest nonstop flight announced". CNN.com. 2015-08-17. 
  9. ^ Sandilands, Ben. "Emirates comes in fast with world’s longest flight to Auckland". Crikey. PRIVATE MEDIA OPERATIONS PTY LTD. Retrieved 29 January 2016. 

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