I’ve had the opportunity in my career to take a number of long flights to/from Asia. Since many people do not have this opportunity, I’d like to give some details of three of the more memorable ones.
Newark – Hong Kong
While many of my trips to Asia included locations in the northern part of the far east such as South Korea, Japan, and China, these countries are not as far as locations farther to the south. On one trip my first stop was for a few days in Hong Kong. Most of my previous trips here had a stop-over or plane change in Tokyo on the way and the flight path was from Newark toward the northwest (over Canada and the southern part of Alaska). This great-circle route brings you into Tokyo. It is several more hours from there to Hong Kong. But on this particular trip I was able to book a direct flight via United.
I was a bit surprised when the flight path (as shown on the seatback monitor) initially headed northeast. We sent up over Massachusetts, then over Maine where we turned due north. From there the flight went over eastern Canada and Greenland and not too far from Tule AFB which I could see out my window. As it was winter, the area around the North Pole was dark. The sun did not illuminate the ground until where we crossed from the Arctic Ocean into Siberia – a very desolate place if there ever was one. From there the flight was due south over Siberia, part of Tibet, China, and straight south into Hong Kong. According to United, this is their second longest flight (UAL179) and is the current 14th longest flight in the world, clocking in at 8065 nautical miles and taking 15 hours, 50 minutes (*1). Note that the flight path on this particular website shows going due north directly from Newark, but in order to take advantage of the prevailing winds that day my flight went NE first which is why we flew over NW Greenland on the way there.
Singapore – London
On the same series of flights as the above one from Newark to Hong Kong, I then flew on to Singapore for additional meetings. My last stop was in London at the companies UK headquarters not far from Heathrow Airport where I needed to attend a multi-day conference. So, I booked a British Air flight direct from Singapore to London.
As flights go, this one is “moderate” in length, clocking in at a mere 13 hours, 55 minutes and about 6800 nautical miles. But it flies a very interesting route – over India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, and into Heathrow. But unfortunately, the flight I took was an entirely night flight and I did not get to see anything on the ground until we were over the UK (*2). In order to reduce noise and give the people who live around the airport a little quiet for sleeping, Heathrow is closed from midnight to 5am. Our flight was the first to arrive and we were a few minutes early, so we circled at a high altitude over the area to the west of the airport for about 15 minutes, beginning our descent a few minutes before 5am. I was wide awake by then, having boarded after dark in Singapore, gotten a full night’s sleep as we followed the sun, but then awaking at a time which, while it may have been appropriate in Singapore, was way too early in the UK.
Singapore – Newark
As long as the above flights are, they pale in comparison to a flight I took on one trip that was non-stop from Singapore back to Newark. This flight (SQ22) was, until it was discontinued in 2013, the longest scheduled commercial flight in the world, a record which still stands (*3). Singapore Air has recently announced that they will be restarting this flight later this year, but with a different aircraft that is more efficient.
Back when I flew this route, the plane was configured as an all-business-class with only 100 seats. Since our company authorized business travel for flights to/from Asia, the cost was pretty comparable to flights which had a stop-over in Tokyo. As you can see in (*4), in order to take advantage of prevailing winds, the flight went over the Philippines, off the coast of Japan, over the tip of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, then over southern Canada and across North America into Newark. This flight path is 9000 nautical miles, the limit of that aircraft. It is also nearly 18 hours in length, which is why the plane carries 14 cabin crew and 6 flight deck crew, working 4-hour shifts.
Surviving long flights
It’s imperative on such long flights to not just sit in your seat for the entire flight. While one can take advantage of the length of time to get adequate sleep, you should also get up from time-to-time and walk around to exercise your muscles, as well do some stretching exercises to keep the blood from pooling in your legs.
Because I had so many international flights over my career, I also quite adept at techniques to help minimize the amount of jet lag that so many travelers get. One technique is to adjust your watch to the time at your destination as soon as you board the flight, then use your watch while asking, “if this is the time at the destination, what should I be doing?” You essentially trick your mind into making the adjustment right at the beginning of the flight so you have all those hours to make the adjustment instead of trying to deal with the time change when you finally arrive at your destination. In such a manner I usually only had some residual jet lag for the first day there, then was fine afterwards.
*2 - https://globetrekka.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/trip-report-singapore-london-on-singapore-airlines-first-class-august-2017/