Progress? World's longest direct flights end as new planes can't fly as far as old ones

Singapore Airlines has to add stopovers. Wasn't the Airbus A380 supposed to make travel more comfortable?

"Back in my day, we could fly 9,500 miles without refueling. You kids are wimps," said the A340-500 (pictured) to the A380.


We expect a constant flow of "faster" and "more" in our technology-driven world.

So is it a sign of progress or regress that the new showpiece of Airbus' long haul stable, the A380, can't fly as far as an earlier model?

Regular passengers on Singapore Airlines' direct flights from New York and Los Angeles to Singapore would probably answer, "step backward." Those two routes have reigned as the world's longest non-stop commercial flights, but Singapore is now replacing the A340-500 aircraft that served them with the A380, necessitating a refueling stop en route.

The 9,500-mile New York flight from Newark, New Jersey ends after Nov. 23 when it will travel its last regular North Pole route averaging 18 hours, according to Businessweek. The 17-hour Los Angeles daily wrapped up last Sunday. The airline had promoted the flights as saving 5 hours compared to connecting options.

The two routes carried only 100 passengers each and were all business class, priced at over $8,000 there and back. Now those flush round trippers will have to hope for cushy lounges at a layover airport.

When the airline first announced the change a year ago in a press release, it cited "the absence of replacement aircraft in the SIA (Singapore Airlines) fleet with sufficient range and operating economics."

In case you're wondering, the new king of non-stops will be Qantas Airways' 8,600-mile Sydney-Dallas jaunt.

But the Singapore switch could still count as progress. The airline is returning the A340-500s to Airbus and says it's part of a youth movement for its fleet, in which it is buying the A380s as well as the relatively lightweight A350 planes - with improved fuel efficiency - even if they can't stay aloft as long as their predecessor could.

NOTE: In an earlier version of this story I really goofed in saying that the Airbus A380 is also called the "Dreamliner." The Dreamliner is, of course, the new long haul plane from Airbus' arch-rival Boeing. We all make mistakes, but this momentary jumbling of jumbo jets was indeed embarrassing. Apologies all around. Corrected at around 6:15 a.m. PDT. The mistake did not change the premise of the story, which remains the same: the new Airbus A380 cannot travel as far on a tank of fuel as can the earlier model A340-500. -- MH.

Photo is from Singapore Airlines

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