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Richard Quest: My record-breaking flight

By CNN's Richard Quest

Quest: "This trip was further indication of the growth of the ultra-long-haul flight."


Richard Quest

ONBOARD FLIGHT 002 (CNN) -- The idea of spending 22 hours on a plane would fill most people with horror. But for the 35 of us who joined Boeing 002, it was a treat.

We were about to fly non-stop from Hong Kong to London -- the wrong way around the world.

We would cross the Pacific, the continental United States, and then the Atlantic Ocean.

But there was method in the madness.

We were going to break the world record for the longest flight (previously held by a Boeing 747 which went non-stop from London to Sydney.) But we were going further. More than 13,000 miles (11,646 nautical miles for those who care.)

The aircraft being used was a Boeing 777-LR, where the letters stand for long range.

It is the latest in the 777 series and is designed to compete directly with Airbus's 340-500, which is already used for instance by Singapore Airlines from Singapore to New York, Cathay from Hong Kong to New York.

Boeing's 777-LR opens up ever more opportunities ... but more of that in a moment.

Our plane was kitted out in suitable style. In the first class area there was an empty space where we could sit, drink and chat. Business class had our chairs and our beds. There was a small economy section -- which ironically was used by the eight captains who would fly the plane. And right at the back, computers and machines used for testing the aircraft.

There was a rather worrying sign as we boarded reminding us this was an experimental plane -- and that it was not covered by the normal safety rules of the U.S. federal agency. Gulp!

We needn't have worried. This was classically covering someone's backside. Our flight had exceptionally experienced crew and our route had been planned many months before.

To win the record we had to follow certain rules. We could only make three way-point turns of no more than 90 degrees.

Our turns were the International Date Line, as we crossed into California over Los Angeles Airport and then over New York's JFK Airport.

Throughout the flight we had an exceptionally favorable tailwind -- sometimes as high as 170 miles an hour. It meant we rocketed across the Pacific and our fuel consumption was better than they had forecast. We landed at London's Heathrow Airport with 25,000 lbs of fuel to spare -- we could have easily flown on.

But this trip was more than just about setting a record. It was further indication of the growth of the ultra-long-haul flight.
Fire trucks spray water to greet the Boeing 777-200LR on the runway on London's Heathrow airport.

Now, no two places on Earth can be separated by a single flight. Even London to Sydney has potential provided the airline is prepared to reduce the number of passengers on board to make the trip non stop.

For our trip -- well, we had the opportunity to watch more than 60 films. Most of us didn't watch any. Interesting conversations were constantly being started up about which plane or airline or route was doing what. And before long ad hoc discussions abounded.

While safety was always first, there was non of the silly rules that always annoy frequent travelers. We could use cell phones on board, because the plane was specially equipped.

At the first whiff of turbulence we weren't immediately strapped back into our seats with the fasten seat belt sign. Common sense prevailed. We knew when to sit down.

And best of all, because it was an experimental flight we could chit chat with the pilots as they flew the plane.

For sleep, I rested in the crew bunks that sit above the back of the cabin. Comfortable. Private. And a good night's rest.

And so I now finish this off as we are two hours out of London Heathrow.

We know we have the record. Those of us who have been on the plane feel pretty lucky to have had the chance for the experience.

As for the future of air travel? Well, I think we pretty much know what this flight means. Longer flights. I only hope you experience them at the front!

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