United’s New 17.5-hour Flight from Houston to Sydney Is One of the World’s Longest

United 787-9 Airplane
Photo: Courtesy of United

Today marks a shake-up in the rankings of the longest flights in the world as United commences service from its hub in Houston, Texas, to Sydney, Australia.

The airline already flies from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Sydney. “Our Houston-Sydney service brings customers another new nonstop flight between the U.S. and Australia,” says United spokesman Jonathan Guerin, “and connects more than 70 cities across eastern North America that did not have one-stop service to Australia on United before.”

Tickets for the inaugural flight were going for about $1,200 one-way in economy, and nearly $7,200 in business class. Round-trip itineraries in the following weeks and months start at a more reasonable $1,090 in economy, or $7,627 in business class.

United Flight 101 departs Houston at 8:00 p.m. and arrives in Sydney two days later at 6:30 a.m. The return flight, United 100, departs Sydney at 11:50 a.m. and arrives back in Houston at 10:30 a.m. the same day. It’s time travel!

The new route, which is operated by a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, spans a distance of 8,596 miles and crosses seven time zones. All told, the outbound flight clocks in at a whopping 17 hours and 30 minutes while the return is blocked out at 15 hours, 40 minutes.

Despite those numbers, the flight is not the longest route in the world — by distance or by time. It’s not even the longest route that United flies. However, it still debuts at number three on the list, shaking up rankings that also include journeys from the Middle East to the U.S. and the South Pacific.

“With the addition of the Houston-Sydney route, United now has eight of the 10 longest flights operated by U.S. carriers,” said Guerin.

Among those is the flight that earns the number two spot, United’s Los Angeles–Singapore service, which covers 8,770 miles and lasts 17 hours, 55 minutes in one direction and 15 hours, 15 minutes (it’s all about the tailwinds) on the return.

The new Houston–Sydney flight edges out United’s other flight from San Francisco to Singapore, a route also operated by Singapore Airlines, with a flight time of 17 hours, 20 minutes for the number three spot. It also beats Qantas’ flight from Dallas to Sydney by a mere 18 miles but 25 minutes of onboard time. The discrepancy there is probably due mainly to airport congestion and other operational factors.

It won’t be long until we see more ultra-longhaul routes join the fray. Qantas launches service between Perth and London in March aboard one of its own new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which recently joined the airline’s fleet. That flight is blocked out at 17 hours, 20 minutes on the outbound and 16 hours, 45 minutes on the return, and will cover a distance of 9,008 miles. Qantas is also already talking with Boeing and Airbus to figure out ways newer aircraft might make even longer journeys possible within the next decade; say from Sydney to London, or Melbourne to New York City, either of which would hit the 20-hour mark.

For its part, Singapore Airlines is waiting to take delivery of several Airbus A350-900ULR (ultra-long-range) aircraft to begin flying nonstop to both Los Angeles and New York.

For now, we have ranked the top 10 longest flights in the world as of January 18, 2018. These rankings are by scheduled flight time, not by distance flown.

So, for instance, Air India’s flight from New Delhi to San Francisco sometimes operates a route over the Pacific (instead of polar) of around 9,500 miles, making it the longest flight by distance. However, because of tailwinds, it only lasts 16 hours, 15 minutes, which means it doesn’t make this list.

Flight times blocked out by airlines also involve factors like the type of aircraft flown, routing requirements, head or tailwinds, airport operations and traffic congestion and other factors. For example, Qatar Airways’ flight from Auckland to Doha, which was already one of the longest flights in the world, ranks at number one because of restricted airspace around Doha that requires the airline to circumvent Saudi and some U.A.E. airspace. If and when the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbors is resolved, that should shave down the flight time.

With all that in mind, the flight times and routes listed here are those that are currently operating.

The World’s Longest Flights

  • 1. Qatar Airways: Auckland–Doha
  • Flight time: 18 hours, 20 minutes
  • Distance: 9,032 miles

3. United: Houston–Sydney (starting Thursday)
Flight time: 17 hours, 30 minutes
Distance: 8,596 miles

4. United and Singapore Airlines: San Francisco–Singapore
Flight time: 17 hours, 20-35 minutes
Distance: 8,444 miles

5. Emirates: Auckland–Dubai
Flight time: 17 hours, 15 minutes
Distance: 8,824

6. Qantas: Dallas Ft. Worth–Sydney
Flight time: 17 hours, 5 minutes
Distance: 8,578 miles

7. Etihad: Abu Dhabi–Los Angeles
Flight time: 17 hours
Distance: 8,390 miles

  • 8. Delta: Johannesburg–Atlanta
  • Flight time: 16 hours, 50 minutes
  • Distance: 8,436 miles

9. Emirates: Dubai–Houston
Flight time: 16 hours, 45 minutes
Distance: 8,167 miles

10. Saudia: Jeddah–Los Angeles
Flight time: 16 hours, 40 minutes
Distance: 8,332 miles

Check back in March once Qantas launches its Perth–London route since that will shake up the rankings again.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles