Air India has snuck up on its competitors to snatch the title of the world's longest non-stop flight route.
Until earlier this month, the airline's Delhi to San Francisco route sat second in the table of greatest distances flown by a passenger jet, but then the Indian flag carrier changed the direction of travel from crossing to the Atlantic to the Pacific, and added 1400 kilometres onto its route.
The eastern route meant that Air India's Boeing-777 200ER flew 15,300 kilometres, surpassing the previous holder of world's longest flight, Emirates' Dubai-Auckland route that clocks up 14,120 kilometres. What's more, by flying east over the Pacific, Air India took advantage of the 138 km/h tailwinds of the Jet Stream and knocked two hours off its flight time, covering the distance in just 14-and-a-half hours.
"The Earth rotates from west to east, and winds flow in that direction too," a senior Air India official told the Times of India. "Flying west means facing strong headwinds, that decrease an aircraft's actual ground speed, and flying east means getting strong tailwinds, which do the opposite."
He said that flying across the Atlantic usually means headwinds of 24 km/h, making the aircraft's speed around 776 km/h, whereas the eastern route over the Pacific usually encounters tailwinds of 138 km/h, making the aircraft's ground speed around 938 km/h.
The aircraft's crew were said to be ecstatic at the record. "The aircraft took off from Delhi at 4am on Sunday (October 16) morning. We were in that date until Japan. After that, we crossed the International Date Line and were in October 15. By the time we landed in San Francisco, it was 6.30am on October 16," one of the pilots told the newspaper.
The eastern route flies over Myanmar and China. It then heads over the East China Sea, skirting Japan, before crossing the Pacific and landing at the West Coast city.
FlightRadar24.com tracked the record-breaking route, which Air India has continued to use since. The carrier then flies the return leg over the Atlantic as before.
The carrier made the change to its service after receiving permission from India's Director General of Civil Aviation.
The record will not stand for long, however, as Singapore Airlines prepares to reinstate its Singapore-New York route that will cover 16,500 kilometres in 19 hours.
Airlines are well aware of the advantages of riding the Jet Stream and adjust their flight routes accordingly. Last year, after a British Airways plane reached 745mph using tailwinds on the way from New York to London, nearly breaking the sound barrier, former BA pilot Alastair Rosenschein said: "It's like surfing. It's extraordinary how fast you can go."
World's 10 longest flights
- Delhi – San Francisco, Air India, 15127.83km
- Auckland – Dubai, Emirates, 14200.85km
- Dallas – Sydney, Qantas, 13804.95km
- San Francisco – Singapore, United Airlines, 13592.52km
- Johannesburg – Atlanta, Delta, 13581.25km
- Abu Dhabi – Los Angeles, Etihad, 13502.40km
- Dubai – Los Angeles, Emirates, 13420.32km
- Jeddah – Los Angeles, Saudia, 13409.05km
- Doha – Los Angeles, Qatar Airways, 13367.21km
- Dubai – Houston, Emirates, 13145.12km
The Telegraph, London