What we know about Qantas’ 19.5 hour non-stop flight
Qantas will make history tonight with the world's first ever non-stop flight for a commercial airline from New York to Sydney.
Aboard the new purpose-designed Boeing 787 will be about 50 passengers, including a small crew, airline brass, media and volunteers who will be monitored during the 19.5-hour flight by a team of scientists.
The top goal for experts studying the six "human guinea-pig" passengers is to find ways to beat jet lag, while the brain activity and melatonin levels of the crew and pilots will be measured for alertness.
Researchers from the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre are hoping to build on early findings about how long-haul passengers try to overcome the debilitating and exhausting bodily response to long flights and changing time zones.
Shutting out excess noise is most common, with 54 per cent of passengers using ear plugs or headphones when they try to sleep.
And although health experts have been warning for years about the ill-effects of alcohol while flying, some 38 per cent of respondents drink to try to get to sleep. Ten per cent of flyers take sleeping tablets and almost 40 per cent opt for healthy food when they arrive.
Sleep researcher Dr Yu Sun Bin said more than half of travellers don't take the most effective option, which is heading outdoors as soon as possible after landing.
"We know that going outdoors for sunlight at the destination is one of the most important strategies for syncing the body clock, but only 47 per cent of passengers made the effort to do it," said Dr Bin, of the surveys of almost 500 Qantas passengers who took flights of more than nine hours.
"Drinking more than a few glasses of alcohol will make jet lag worse. It might make us fall asleep faster but beyond a certain point, it also disrupts the quality of sleep and causes dehydration."
The flight is the first of three over three months and comes after Qantas launched a direct Perth to London service last year. The airline has said it wants to introduce direct flights from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney to New York and London by 2022 or 2023.
Previous research informed the design of the airline's lounge in Western Australia, offering "light therapy" inside, access to outdoor areas and an exercise studio for passengers.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, who will be aboard the maiden flight, said it would be carbon offset.
"We know we need to think harder about crew and passenger wellbeing when you're airborne for almost 20 hours, and that's why this research is so important," he said in a statement.
"A lot of what we'll be doing is world-first. We'll be fitting pilots with equipment to monitor their brain patterns when they're on the flight deck and when they're resting."
The researchers will study the alertness and activity of four pilots and take urine samples to check their melatonin levels.
The six passengers, who were volunteers from the airline's frequent flyer program, have kept a daily log in the lead up to the flight and will continue to record how they are faring for a fortnight after landing on Sunday morning, local time.
During the flight, they will be served meals at different times and their sleep and rest monitored.
"The passenger research will test alternatives to how airlines have managed in-flight service for decades," Mr Joyce said.
"Usually with night flights, passengers are provided with dinner shortly after takeoff and then lights are turned off. But this may not necessarily be the best way to help reset a passenger's body clock to the destination time zone."
Baggage limits on the plane were set at 25kg per passenger to enable to it to carry the fuel necessary to make the approximately 16,000km flight.
Disclaimer: This reporter will be a media guest of Qantas on the maiden New York to Sydney flight.