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]

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

The absolute distance between two points is the great-circle distance, which is always the shortest geographical route. In the example (right), the aircraft travelling westward from North America to Japan is following a great-circle route extending northward towards the Arctic region. The apparent curve of the route is a result of distortion when plotted onto a conventional map projection and makes the route appear to be longer than it really is. Stretching a string between North America and Japan on a globe will demonstrate why this really is the shortest route despite appearances.

The actual flight length is the length of the track flown across the ground in practice, which is usually longer than the ideal great-circle and is influenced by a number of factors such as the need to avoid bad weather, wind direction and speed, fuel economy, navigational restrictions and other requirements. In the example, easterly flights from Japan to North America are shown taking a longer, more southerly, route than the shorter great-circle; this is to take advantage of the favourable jet stream, a fast, high-altitude tail-wind, that assists the aircraft along its ground track saving more time and fuel than the geographically shortest route.

Air time versus schedule times[edit]

Air time is the elapsed time that the aircraft is airborne, regardless of what time-zone the flight began and ended in.

Schedule time is the difference between the scheduled local time at the origin and the scheduled local time at the destination and usually differs from the actual time in the air as it is affected by the local time zones. Local clock time flying westward, or "chasing the sun", is slowed,[1] while local clock time flying eastbound is sped up. However, flights over the International Date Line located at approximately 180o E in the Pacific will subtract 24 hours from the schedule time going eastwards and add 24 hours going westwards. For example, the eastward flight shown in the example from Japan to North America will have a scheduled time of arrival earlier than the departure time, while from North America to Japan the flight will take a whole day longer by local time; the actual flying time in both cases being the same or similar.

The flight classification as long-, medium- or short-haul is classified according to the elapsed air time, not the scheduled time difference.


Short-haul flights[edit]

Lufthansa Regional CityLine Avro RJ85, a typical short-haul aircraft

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 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi). 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[edit]

Boeing 737-700, a typical medium-haul aircraft

A medium-haul flight lasts from three to six hours and is typically made by an Airbus A320, Airbus A321, Airbus A319, Airbus A318, Boeing 737-300, Boeing 737-400, Boeing 737-500, Boeing 737-600, Boeing 737-700, Boeing 737-800, Boeing 737-900, Boeing 737-900 ER, Boeing 757-200, Boeing 757-300. 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[edit]

A long-haul flight lasts from six to twelve hours and is typically made by a wide-body aircraft, such as the Airbus A330, Airbus A340, Airbus A350, Airbus A380, Boeing 747, Boeing 767, Boeing 777 or Boeing 787. The flight length typically requires over six and a half hours to cover 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. Some of the longest domestic flights are between Moscow and the Russian Far East (Vladivostok or Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky), as well as between New York City and Hawaii.

Ultra long-haul flights[edit]

Main article: ultra long-haul

See a list of the longest scheduled flights here.

Boeing 747-8, the second largest long-haul commercial airliner after the Airbus A380

An ultra long-haul flight is typically made by a long-range wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 777-200LR, Boeing 787-9, Airbus A340-500, Airbus A350-900, or the Airbus A380-800, such as Dubai to Auckland and Dubai to Los Angeles by Emirates with its Airbus A380-800.[5] 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, Emirates Flights 448 and 449, from Dubai to Auckland (DXB-AKL), is operated by an Airbus A380-800. The flight takes 17 hours and 15 minutes in the westbound direction and will traverse a distance of approximately 14,210 km (8,824 miles). The flight departs Auckland at 9:30 p.m. and arrive in Dubai at 5:45 a.m. daily. The return flight (EK 448) leaves Dubai at 10:05 a.m., arriving in Auckland at 11:00 a.m. the next day.[6]

Qatar Airways has announced the longest ultra long-haul flight between Auckland and Doha. The 17-hour-and-30-minute flight will commence on 3 December 2016 and will cover a distance of 14,535 km (9,032 miles) - approximately 320 km longer than the Emirates operated Dubai - Auckland flight. QR920 will depart Doha at 3:30 a.m. and arrive in Auckland at 5:50 a.m. the following day, and QR921 will depart Auckland at 2:40 p.m. and arrive in Doha at 10:10 p.m. It will be operated by a Boeing 777-200LR in a two cabin configuration, offering Economy and Business Class.[7][needs update]

The previous longest flight, Qantas flight 8 from Dallas to Sydney (DFW-SYD), was by Airbus A380-800 with the flight before that, 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.[8]

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. ^ "Online Flight Booking - Airfare - Hong Kong - Cathay Pacific". Cathay Pacific. 
  4. ^ "Flight Time from JFK to LAX". 
  5. ^ Amol. "Emirates to fly Airbus A380 to LAX from December 2, 2013". Travel Codex. 
  6. ^ Sandilands, Ben. "Emirates comes in fast with world's longest flight to Auckland". Crikey. PRIVATE MEDIA OPERATIONS PTY LTD. Retrieved 29 January 2016. 
  7. ^ "Qatar Airways coming to NZ - confirmed". New Zealand Herald. 2016-03-10. ISSN 1170-0777. Retrieved 2016-03-10. 
  8. ^ "Singapore Air Wants to Bring Back Nonstop Flight to U.S.". bloomberg. 2015-07-17. 

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