Qantas's flying experiment from New York to Sydney has landed, with passengers reporting macarena-dancing, avocado puree - and unprecented access.
Linking the east coast of the United States to Australia with a non-stop flight for the first time, the 16,200km flight took 19 hours 16 minutes, and along the way 49 passengers and crew were monitored to assess health and wellbeing on board.
The experiment started at 9pm New York time, but the plane was designed to evoke midday in Australia, their final (and only) destination. Patrick Hatch of the Sydney Morning Herald reports;
"The cabin lights remain bright for the first six hours to keep us awake, and the meals served two hours in are spicy and light to invigorate the body (spiced tomato soup, green papaya salad, Jiangxi style fish). Alcohol isn't recommended."
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"None of this works for me, and by three hours in my eyelids are heavy and I doubt if I can make the distance. But an in-flight exercise session in the rear galley led by Professor Marie Carroll, from Charles Perkins Centre, revives me."
Data from this flight will be used help shape the crew rostering and customer service of Qantas' ultra-long-haul flights in future. This includes Project Sunrise - the airline's plan to fly from the US east coast and from London to eastern Australian cities.
The flight's crew is also under the microscope, with the four pilots' fatigue levels tested with brain monitors and operational tests to judge their performance.
It has yet to decide whether to commit to the routes which would use new generation aircraft, either Airbus A350s or Boeing's 777X.
The Qantas flight was nearly 1000km longer than the longest commercial flight - Singapore Airlines' service from Singapore to Newark, New York, which started a year ago.
Tests during the Qantas flight ranged from monitoring pilot brain waves, melatonin levels and alertness, through to exercise classes for passengers.
These included stretches, squats "and then, yes, the Macarena arms-shoulders-head dance steps."
Bloomberg was there; "The physical pressure of this experiment is clear. Around me, passengers are standing up just to stay awake."
Cabin lighting and in-flight meals were also adjusted in ways that are expected to help reduce jet lag, according to the medical researchers and scientists who have partnered with Qantas.
After the spicy, enlivening first meal a second was served, "sweet potato soup and a rich panna cotta – a big serve of carbohydrates and cream designed to lull us to sleep"
Chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline was always looking at ways of minimising fatigue for the pilots and the crew. Food is one such way.
Bloomberg reports that breakfast was "no limp sausage." Instead, he was served a bowl of ancient grains, avocado puree, warm haloumi cheese and a herb salad.
Data and feedback would also determine products and service on the ultra-long-range flights. It would largely be up to individuals.
''We've got to give people the choice. Do you want the healthy way of doing it as the scientists recommend it, or do you want to drink as much as you want during the flight,'' Joyce said on board the plane.
There were only 50 people on board for the pilot flight – including 10 pilots and cabin crew – on a plane that sits 236 passengers. All were in business class.
Goulding said the flight used around 95 tonnes to 101 tonnes of fuel.
Two more research flights are planned as part of the Project Sunrise evaluations – London to Sydney in November and another New York to Sydney in December. Emissions from all research flights will be fully offset.
A decision on Project Sunrise is expected by the end of the year. Air New Zealand is also considering direct flights to New York from Auckland, although the distance would not be as great.
"I thought I'd feel a bit more tired but I'm feeling pretty fresh," said one passenger.
He admits he would have been reluctant to take a non-stop route to New York, "but having done it - no hesitation".