Recently, I was asked what was the farthest I’d ever traveled. Now, if you have followed my posts here on A Balanced Diet, you will know that I have written a good deal about road trips that Steph and I made in Peru during the early 1970s, in Australia in 2003, in the USA since 2011, and around Scotland in 2015.
I’ve also written about my love-hate relationship with aviation, and some of the flights I’ve made.
So, in the context of the question I was asked, I think it has to be a trip (or several) that I’ve made over the past 50 years. And how aviation has changed during that period.
The Boeing 747 made its maiden flight on 9 February 1969 and changed aviation forever, so it’s rather sad realizing that for most airlines, the Queen of the Skies is no longer operational as a passenger aircraft. The Covid pandemic essentially killed commercial passenger travel for two years. With the introduction simultaneously of more efficient jet liners like the Boeing 777 or 787, and the Airbus A350, the 747 became, except for a handful of airlines, an aviation white elephant. Notwithstanding that Emirates Airlines has reaffirmed its commitment—for the foreseeable future—to the Super Jumbo A380.
Before 1973, when I made my first intercontinental flight, I had flown only three times: from Glasgow (GLA) to Benbecula (BEB) in the Outer Hebrides in 1966; from London Heathrow (LHR) to Glasgow in January or February 1969 to attend a folk festival at Strathclyde University; and in April 1972 to attend a conference in Izmir, Turkey flying from Birmingham International (known as Elmdon Airport back in the day) to London, and on to Izmir (IGL, now a military airbase) with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul-Yesilköy (IST, now closed to passenger flights, I believe).
Then, on 4 January 1973, I flew from London Heathrow (LHR) to Lima, Peru (LIM) with intermediate stops at Antigua (ANU) in the Caribbean, Caracas (CCS) in Venezuela, and Bogotá (BOG) in Colombia, before touching down, late at night, at a rather sultry Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima.
This flight, just over 6500 miles, was operated by BOAC, the forerunner of British Airways, using a Boeing 707 like this one.
The Boeing 707 had a range of just over 4000 miles, and the stop in Antigua was necessary for refueling. Today, flights from Europe can easily reach Lima non-stop, and in July 2016 I flew from Amsterdam (AMS) on a Boeing 777 operated by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, taking about 13 hours if my memory serves me right.
I first flew to Asia in the 1980s, to attend a conference in Jakarta (HLP), Indonesia from Birmingham via Amsterdam. The AMS-HLP flight, operated by KLM was a Boeing 747 (probably 300) and there must have been an intermediate layover, but I don’t remember where. There were no non-stop flights into Asia then, a distance of over 7000 miles. And since I moved to the Philippines in July 1991, and remained there until April 2012, I have flown from there all over the world. Such as the trip I made around 1994 to South Africa on Singapore Airlines: 6855 miles and almost 11 hours flying time from Singapore (SIN) to Johannesburg (JNB) across the Indian Ocean.
We stayed in the Philippines for almost 19 years, returning to the UK each year on home leave. For the first decade we traveled with KLM through Amsterdam and with intermediate stops in either Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia or Bangkok in Thailand. Then, in 2001, when Emirates began operating out of both Manila and Birmingham, we could fly home on a wide-bodied 777 with a short layover in Dubai of a couple of hours or so. The BHX-DXB flights were a little under 7 hours, and between DXB and Manila, a little over 8, with a total distance of more than 7700 miles.
It was a flight around 2005 that was my longest both in terms of miles and hours in the air. I had flown into Minneapolis-St Paul (MSP) from Manila (MNL) to spend a weekend with my elder daughter Hannah who was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. Direct flights to the USA (via a Tokyo hub) were operated by Northwest Airlines (NWA, now Delta Airlines). And I’d expected to continue all my internal flights on NWA. However there was a major strike and I had to scrabble around to find alternative flights on other airlines that would accept my NWA ticket. Eventually all was sorted, and the trip went ahead without any other hitches.
After my last stop in New York, I flew from New York-La Guardia (LGA) to Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to connect with a United flight to Hong Kong-Kai Tak (HKG), with yet another connection on Canadian Pacific to Manila.
My intercontinental flights on NWA had been booked in Business Class (First on US domestic flights). United honored these tickets, and I was upgraded to First on the ORD-HKG flight, much to my relief. I knew it would be a long haul, but hadn’t appreciated just how long. Just under 7800 miles, and 17½ hours.
It was a 747-400, and every seat was taken. We were heavy! In fact, as we taxied out for take-off, our captain advised us there was a better than even chance that we would have to make a stop in Beijing to refuel given the anticipated headwinds. I can remember willing that aircraft into the air; what a long roll before rotation. As it transpired we didn’t have to land in Beijing, but the final couple of hours we must have been flying on vapor, or gliding into Hong Kong. The total trip was just under 9300 miles.
However, the longest trip of all was from BHX to Melbourne (MEL), Australia via Dubai (DXB) on Emirates Airlines (EK) in November 2016 when I had to attend a 3-day meeting of a genebank program I was reviewing.
I was joined by my good friend and former colleague Professor Brian Ford-Lloyd. We met up in the Emirates lounge at BHX before setting off to DXB on a Boeing 777-300 ER, and connecting, after a layover of an hour or so, with an A380 flight to MEL.
The flight to DXB took about 7 hours, a distance of 3500 miles. The connecting flight was 7200 miles and about 14½ hours. The return flights were slightly longer due to headwinds.
In total then this trip to Australia was the farthest I’ve traveled: more than 21 hours flying time, and around 10,700 miles.