Boston to Hawaii: Is this really the world’s longest domestic flight?

Simon Calder

One of the many benefits of 21st-century media is that readers can heckle within seconds of a story being published online.

So it proved when I wrote a story about a new record for the world’s longest domestic flight: the Hawaiian Airlines link from Boston to Honolulu.

During the route’s first week of operation, two flights took 11 hours and 36 minutes to cover the 5,095 miles between the Massachusetts and Hawaii state capitals, meaning most passengers would have spent 12 hours on the plane. (Travelling in the opposite direction, the jet stream assisted a flight time of about 10 hours.)

But my assertion that the Airbus A330 flight was an aviation superlative “unlikely to be broken for many years, if at all” lasted about a minute.

Neil Morrow was first to claim supremacy for France, citing the link from Paris to Réunion.

With many others making the same point, Rocco added: “What about the 22-hour flight from Paris to Papeete [the capital of Tahiti]? Would that be considered domestic by the French? They will be voting for their MEP soon.”

They are referring to the “DomToms” – départements d’outre-mer and territoires d’outre mer – which are politically part of France.

So we need to talk about why I believe links between “metropolitan” France and far-flung categories do not count as domestic flights.

First, allow me to dispatch the Tahiti services. Air France, Air Tahiti Nui and French Bee all fly from Paris to Papeete. But they refuel in California (the first two in Los Angeles, the last in San Francisco) so I regard them as a pair of international flights rather than a single domestic trip.

Next, what about the non-stop flights to the Indian Ocean “Dom” of Réunion?

Another reader asserts: “Réunion is of equal status to any department in Metropolitan France. Every bit a piece of France as Hawaii is part of the US, just further away.”

If I were to allow this, then France would take not just the first place but second and third too:

3 – Marseilles-Réunion, 5,456 miles.

2 – Paris Orly-Réunion, 5,802 miles.

1 – Paris CDG-Réunion, 5,809 miles.

But I don’t count these as domestic flights. Not because the most direct route from Paris to Réunion crosses the territory of Switzerland, Italy, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – many internal flights use other countries’ airspace, such as Boston-Seattle over Canada and Zagreb-Dubrovnik, which spends almost all its flight over Bosnia-Herzegovina.

I rule out French overseas departments because they are outside the Schengen area (as is the UK) while metropolitan France is inside. And, to quote a traveller who returned to France from Réunion last weekend: “Passport and customs both ways, just like going to the States.” That doesn’t happen between the mainland US and Hawaii. (Incidentally, I would also class links between the UK and the Channel Islands as non-domestic, because there is a customs check coming back.)

At the other end of the argument, Stefan Paetow objects to my classifying the Hawaiian Airlines flight as a domestic service, because of the time it spends over the Pacific – almost half the journey. According to ICAO, the UN regulation of aviation, international airspace begins 12 nautical miles (14 in the imperial measure) from the US shore.

“Sorry Simon, but technically you ‘leave’ the country, enter international airspace, then cross another country’s airspace before you re-enter the country,” he writes.

“Show me the longest never leaving domestic airspace, then we talk.”

The longest flight within Russia is 4,203 miles from Petropavlovsk at the southern end of the Kamchatka Peninsula to Moscow. But if international waters are not to be counted, then it must be excluded. It flies over a patch of the Sea of Okhotsk and (depending on the prevailing winds) a sliver of Arctic Ocean.

Yuzhno Sakhalinsk (on Sakhalin Island north of Japan) to Moscow is excluded for the same reason.

Nicholas Gilroy nominates Vladivostok to Moscow as the longest domestic flight that remains over national territory – and, having made the trip, I concur.

The most direct route from the Russian far east city would cross into Chinese airspace within minutes of take off, and would fly over the People’s Republic for over an hour. But instead Aeroflot initially follows the route of the world’s longest railway, the Trans-Siberian, which also happens to run from Vladivostok to Moscow.

The thrice-daily flight spends the first half-hour of the journey flying north-northeast (getting further away from the Russian capital, as a dog-leg to avoid Chinese airspace). The official distance is 3,986 miles, but the reality is hundreds of miles longer – with an average flight time of eight and a half hours on the Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s used for the link.

To round off the discussion: one more category that may bring yet more heckles. Longest domestic flight using a narrow-bodied aircraft? I claim victory for Ural Airlines flight 366 – from Vladivostok via the Siberian cities of Irkutsk and Yekaterinburg to St Petersburg.

You depart onboard an Airbus A320 at 10.55am, arriving four hours later at Irkutsk, where some lucky passengers get off and the plane refuels for the next four-hour hop to Yekaterinburg, the last city before the Urals. One more giant leap, taking three hours, and you are in St Petersburg. The overall journey time: 14 hours 20 minutes, far longer than the scheduled duration of the Boston-Honolulu trip that started this discussion.