Cathay Pacific to operate the world’s longest flight — with a catch

Mar 31, 2022

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Thanks to geopolitical tensions surrounding Russia’s war in Ukraine, there will soon be a new world’s longest flight — sort of.

Cathay Pacific’s service from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) will soon take considerably longer as the airline avoids Russian airspace, according to Bloomberg News.

Instead of taking a conventional great circle routing that brings departures out of Kennedy over Greenland, Russia, Mongolia and China, the new flight path will bring Cathay’s flights on a more southerly route over the North Atlantic Ocean, Great Britain, continental Europe, the Black Sea and Turkey.

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The new routing will add about 2,254 miles to the trip, which is normally 8,071 miles long, but thanks to seasonal tailwinds, will only add one to two hours, according to Bloomberg. Cathay will operate the route with the Airbus A350-1000.

Cathay’s adjustment to its New York-Hong Kong service comes amid severe disruptions to the carrier’s operation as Hong Kong grapples with stringent COVID-related travel restrictions.

While restrictions there have eased slightly in recent days, travel rules remain strict and it’s unlikely many people will fly the route as a result. In the fallout, Cathay in recent months has operated only a small fraction of the service it did prior to the pandemic. The carrier’s January passenger capacity, for example, dropped to just 2% of what it was prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Those pandemic-related capacity cuts are also reflected in Cathay’s JFK service. The airline will operate the JFK-HKG flight only four times during the entire month of April, Cirium schedules data shows. Prior to the pandemic, Cathay operated the route as many as three times a day.

There also was a fourth frequency — a fifth-freedom routing that stopped at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) before continuing on to Hong Kong — though the carrier announced plans to discontinue that service in September 2019.

Singapore Airlines A350-900
Singapore Airlines uses an A350-900ULR, similar to the A350-900 pictured here, to operate the world’s longest flight by great circle distance. (Photo by Fasttailwind/Shutterstock)

The world’s longest flight by great circle distance continues to be Singapore Airlines’ nonstop flight between Singapore’s Changi Airport (SIN) and Kennedy, at 9,527 miles, according to OAG. That flight operates daily, while a similar service between Singapore and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) that is two miles shorter and operates five times a week. Those flights use the Airbus A350-900ULR, an ultra-long-range version of the A350.

More: How Russia’s airspace disruption affects European, Western airlines

Cathay is just the latest airline to see its routings disrupted due to the war in Ukraine and the subsequent avoidance of Russian airspace. Japan Airlines’ flight from Tokyo to London now takes as much as 4 1/2 hours longer than before and transits American airspace near Alaska before taking a polar route to Great Britain. One estimate puts JAL on the hook for about $20,000 more per flight in fuel costs with the longer distance.

Featured photo by Marc Fernandes/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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