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Making long-haul longer

Will passengers want to fly the ultimate red-eye?

By CNN's Richard Quest



Would you be willing to spend 22 hours on a non-stop flight?
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Biz Traveller

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Air travel has spread its wings even farther with a record-breaking 22-hour Boeing flight from Hong Kong to London, but will ultra long-haul flights last the distance in a competitive air industry?

I was among a select list of passengers on board Boeing flight 002 successfully made the journey from Hong Kong to London -- the wrong way round the world.

The flight was Boeing's answer to rival Airbus, whose A340-500 aircraft last year began operating on an 18 and a half hour route last year when Singapore Airlines launched a non-stop service to New York.

Airbus will give Boeing another run for its money next year when it rolls out its A380, although the A380's selling point is size rather than distance.

Our route on the November 10 flight took us from Hong Kong over the Pacific to Los Angeles, on to New York and across the Atlantic into London.

Carrying more than 53,000 gallons of fuel to power its massive General Electric engines, the 777 jet made a picture perfect take off from Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport.

Boeing made sure the 35 journalists on board has plenty to occupy their time.

We were shown mock-ups of how the plane will be used commercially and, because it was an experimental flight, we were given free rein to roam all the cabins, access to our mobile phones, and regular visits to the cock-pit.

Getting shut-eye was also an easier option with plenty of spare beds in business and economy. I opted for a mattress on the floor -- you don't get get a better flat bed than that!

As we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise, we took advantage of the experimental aircraft's space for some exercises, making sure deep vein thrombosis was kept at bay.

Cause for celebration?

But without these extra comforts, will enough ordinary passengers be willing to spend 22 hours in the air to justify the plane's $200 million dollar price tag?

The plane's pilots were confident.

"It will give us what we desire. Hot temperatures, short runways, long distance all the way to the USA," said captain Asif Reza of Pakistan International Airlines.

PIA is one of the first airlines to buy the 777, which can accommodate 301 passengers in its 209 foot fuselage, and is expected to take delivery of the jets early next year.

The jet is also expected to be used on routes such as Perth to London, New York to Auckland, Chicago to Sydney and Miami to Taipei.

After we were greeted by another stunning sunrise over the Atlantic, the champagne came out to toast the completion of more than 11,000 nautical miles non-stop.

Malcolm Ginsberg, editor of Air and Business Travel News magazine is not convinced the 777 is cause for celebration.

"The problem with the planes are just sitting on an aircraft. It doesn't matter if you're in first class, in business class, premium economy or economy.

"The fact of the matter is, sitting in the aircraft for that length of time, what can you do? Can you sleep? Can you eat? Can you keep yourself in a reasonable state, not just your health, your brain, your whole attitude?

"So there are only certain people who want to be sitting in an aircraft that long."

For me, the 22 hours literally flew by. At London Heathrow we were greeted by a typical gray, miserable day, but that couldn't dampen the spirits inside.

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