Qantas non-stop flights to London, New York: Is this the end of stopovers forever?

It might have seemed a little crazy, back in the early 1990s, when Qantas made a significant change to the "Kangaroo Route".

Until then, flights from the east coast of Australia to London had always made several stops on the way. The original Kangaroo Route flights – at least, those flown entirely by Qantas – made seven stops, and took 58 hours. Even with the introduction of the Boeing 747 in the early 1970s, there were still three chances to stretch your legs.

However, with the acquisition of its new, long-distance Boeing 747-400s in late 1989, Qantas announced plans to pause just once on the Kangaroo Route, in Singapore, to refuel and recharge.

One stop, between Sydney and London. That probably seemed pretty wild. Passengers may have baulked at the amount of time they would have to spend on board a plane, at the lack of opportunities to get out and walk and breathe fresh air.

Of course, those one-stop journeys would prove to be the future of trans-hemispheric travel. Plenty of us have known no other way to get from Australia to Europe. You take two flights. You stop in South-East Asia, or the Middle East. You spend a few hours or a few days in that place, and then you get back on a plane and continue.

So, it was huge news in 2018 when Qantas began flying direct from Australia to London, first from Perth, and later from Darwin. A total game-changer. It was big, too, when direct flights from Australia to Rome were unveiled this year.

Now, however, we have the biggest announcement of all: a direct service from the east coast of Australia to London. And also, from the east coast to New York. The holy grails, as far as Australian airlines are concerned.

Qantas announced on Monday that its order of 12 of Airbus's new, ultra-long-range A350-1000s, due for delivery in 2025, mean the airline will be able to fly non-stop from Sydney and Melbourne to anywhere in the world.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MAY 02: An Airbus A350-1000 flight test aircraft lands at Sydney airport to mark a major fleet announcement by Australian airline Qantas on May 02, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. Twelve Airbus A350-1000's will be ordered to operate non-stop Photo: Getty
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Sydney to London flights will take a little over 20 hours. Those new A350s will be fitted with 41 per cent fancy seats – that is, business and premium economy – to allow for the fact plenty of people are going to want extra room if they're committing to almost a full day and night in an aeroplane.

It's an amazing, ambitious project, and one that will cause a fair few people to think something like: yeah, nah.

Twenty hours non-stop in a large metal tube? Could you imagine doing that with small kids? Even travelling on your own, 20-plus hours sends a small shiver down the spine.

Twenty hours! You could watch all nine Star Wars films in their entirety on this flight and you would only just be there. You could listen to the Smashing Pumpkins' insanely indulgent, 28-song double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness 10 times over before you touched down.

My feeling, however, is that as wild and intimidating as this flight sounds, we'll soon get used to the idea. In the same way travellers in the 1990s quickly accepted the thought of stopping just once on the way to London, so modern-day travellers will adapt to spending up to 20 hours in a plane to fly direct to the other side of the world.

This could, in fact, be the beginning of the end for the whole idea of stopovers for Australians travelling to Europe or the US east coast. Travel behaviours change over time, our expectations are altered – I can see stopovers soon being a thing that people used to do, a quaint throwback to travel of another era.

If you can fly from Australia's east coast to anywhere in the world, stopovers just cease to be necessary. Not just for Australians either, but for travellers everywhere. If you're flying between two cities that are popular enough, there will be no need to pause on your journey. Paris to Santiago is a possibility. Boston to Shanghai, too. No stopovers needed.

I would imagine aviation and tourism officials in the likes of Dubai and Doha, Singapore and Hong Kong, will be get getting nervous. Obviously, those hubs will still be popular – the Middle East is a huge gateway from Europe into sub-continental Asia and Africa, while the Asian centres also cover large amounts of territory in that region – but I can see plenty of Australians and Europeans choosing to avoid those popular stopovers in future and instead flying direct. (Travellers to the US, too, will be able to avoid nightmarish LAX entirely.)

I've always enjoyed experiencing another country for a day or two on a stopover, getting out and eating some tasty food and wandering around another place. It feels like a little bonus holiday, something to savour that's undeserved.

Young Caucasian woman  eating Japanese food in Lau Pa Sat  market in Singapore credit: istock
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Photo: iStock

Still, the chance to just get to where you need to be in one flight, to watch movies and eat food and sleep where you can, and then exit the plane with what is no doubt a huge cloud of pretty gross air and just be where you want to be, in London, in Europe, in the thick of things? That is going to be very, very tempting.

Soon enough, it will be the norm.

What do you think about flying direct from the east coast of Australia to London, or New York? Would you do it? Do you think this will become normal, or do you intend to still make stopovers part of your travel routine?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

Twitter: twitter.com/bengroundwater

See also: 'Most luxurious aircraft ever created': Inside Qantas' new ultra-long haul Airbus

See also: Almost every country in the world is now open. Except my favourite one

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