17 hours in the air: This is what the non-stop flight from the UK to Australia is really like

The first non-stop flight from the UK to Australia has launched (Qantas)
The first non-stop flight from the UK to Australia has launched (Qantas)

When the first ‘Kangaroo Route’ flight connecting the UK to Australia was launched by Qantas in 1947, the journey took four days, stopped off six times and carried just 29 passengers and 11 crew members.

71 years later, the Aussie airline has launched the first non-stop flight between Blighty and Down Under, jetting from London to Perth in a single 17-hour stint.

It’s not quite the longest flight in the world – that dubious accolade is held by Qatar Airways’ heroic Doha-Auckland slog.

But it’s still enough time to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy – plus the first two Hobbit films.

It’s comfortably long enough to drive from Heathrow to Edinburgh and back again.

You could cycle to Sheffield from the terminal, or walk to Winchester at a leisurely pace.

Arriving at the check-in desk at Heathrow, all of those options were looking preferable to being wedged into a chair breathing in other people’s halitosis for the best part of a day.

The epic journey takes 17 hours (Qantas)
The epic journey takes 17 hours (Qantas)

Qantas insists its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners are stocked with design features to make the experience of ultra-long-haul more bearable.

The planes have larger windows than usual, and cabin pressure is closer to that found on terra firma than on standard flights. And the humidity is higher than the usual Saharan levels.

Even the food is designed to beat jet lag – meals are ‘light and healthy’, Qantas says, and contain proteins that promote the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Does this clever trickery actually make any difference in practice? I took off from Heathrow to find out.

Full disclosure at this point: I was travelling in Premium Economy. The seats are wider than the ones at the back and they recline further.

The food is fancier and there are more cabin crew members per person.

But, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is almost a full rotation of the earth spent in the same chair.

The premium economy seats vs the economy seats on board
The premium economy seats vs the economy seats on board

Two hours before take off

Arrive at Heathrow and check in at the Qantas desk with a slight sense of trepidation. Are my trousers really comfortable enough? What if my new book is boring?

These concerns see me through security and into duty free where I buy an emergency litre of water.

45 minutes before take off

Stride around departures to make the most of these final moments of freedom.

Marvel at the couple boarding with their tiny baby. Smile at them encouragingly while praying they aren’t sitting anywhere near me.

15 minutes before take off

Settle into my window seat and have a final gaze at a drizzly and grey London. Maybe this is a good idea after all.

Have a chat with my friendly Aussie neighbour, who it turns out is an amateur aviation buff who was on board the very first non-stop flight from Perth to London a few days ago. He doesn’t appear to be too traumatised by the experience and excitedly shows me the autograph he got from the flight’s captain. Time to put on my noise-cancelling headphones.

We take off at 1.15pm UK time.

30 minutes in

Seatbelt signs are off. You know it’s a long flight when the cabin crew make an announcement reminding passengers they’re not allowed to sleep on the floor.

Two hours in

First appearance of the bar trolley, staffed by a chirpy and helpful cabin team. Munch on a virtuous nut mix and an Aussie chardonnay. Diligently down some water.

15 hours to go…
15 hours to go…

Realise it’s coming up to bed time at our destination.

Two and a half hours in

Grub’s up. I’m devastated to discover I accidentally ordered a vegan meal rather than a vegetarian one. The one thing plainer than plane food? Vegan plane food. Console myself with wine number two.

The vegan option
The vegan option

Three hours in

I’ve finished a film and completed two levels of Candy Crush. So far so productive. It’s 11pm in Perth but sleep is feeling some way off.

Five hours in

Wander round the cabin to stretch my now pretty stiff legs and poke my nose into business class. The other half are wearing their free Qantas pyjamas and lying down on their flat beds. Very jealous.

Business class, where the seats convert to flat beds
Business class, where the seats convert to flat beds

Back in my seat I scroll through the world map, which helpfully informs me that it’s 6.30 am in Honolulu.

Five and a half hours in

Cabin lights are dimmed to signal the arrival of night, but I’m still resolutely on UK time. Start another film – it’s a weepy. Luckily my neighbour is gently snoring and hasn’t noticed my emotional outpouring.

Six and a half hours in

Realise that I’ve spent 15 minutes spying on a middle-aged man in the row in front having the time of his life watching Boss Baby. Must be cabin fever kicking in.

Eight and a half hours in

Half way! Drink more water and engage in some low-level contortion to climb over my snoozing seat buddy and go for another miniature stroll. Return and settle in for some kip. The Boss Baby fan is now watching Frozen.

Edging towards the destination
Edging towards the destination

14 hours in

Wake up after a reasonably successful slumber. There’s a little net suspended from the seat in front of you for resting your feet which makes things a little bit more comfortable. Breakfast is served. Look enviously at other people’s cheesy omelettes as I tuck into a mysteriously spongy vegan substitute.

15 hours in

Feeling a little woozy and not very well rested but the unbearable stuffiness I associate with long-haul doesn’t seem to have materialised. Maybe all that cabin pressure / moisture level science is stacking up.

16 and a half hours in

Peer out of the window as we descend towards Perth. We land just shy of 17 hours before take-off.

I’m feeling surprisingly fresh for someone who’s just jetted halfway across the world. Sure, my body thinks it’s the middle of the night and my last two meals have consisted of dairy-free pulp, but I’d that would be the case if I’d chosen a flight with a pit-stop in Dubai or Hong Kong.

Before and after: Just boarded and just landed
Before and after: Just boarded and just landed

Not having to wake up when you’ve finally dozed off to trudge through security was a welcome relief, and the souped-up cabin conditions really do pay off.

Given the chance, I’d choose the ultra-long-haul again next time.