Aussies can fly non-stop to UK
AS I stepped onto Qantas' new Dreamliner plane, I knew I was staring down the barrel of the longest flight to ever depart from Aussie soil.
It was intimidating: 17 hours and 20 minutes.
Nearly 600,000 Australians travel to the UK every single year, but they'd never done it like this before.
Anyone who's flown to London knows the drill: it's a two-leg trip, and you'll be spending at least a few hours - probably eating fast food or napping across a row of seats - at a random airport in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong or maybe Dubai.
But there would be no groggy midnight stopover for me. I was in it for the long haul - literally. Straight from Perth to London, 14,498 kilometres, with absolutely no breaks.
I'm a bit of a nervous flier at times, so dove into research ahead of the journey to figure out how to make it as comfortable as possible.
It was a daunting prospect. How do you prepare for so many hours in the skies?
Stay hydrated, the experts told me. Drink plenty of water before, during and after the flight - resist the temptation to lay into the wines.
Even though the new Dreamliner 787-9 boasts a quieter and smoother cabin than its rivals - it's still a plane, and planes are noisy. Which makes noise-cancelling headphones an absolute necessity.
Take eye drops and nasal spray. Wear loose clothes, and pack an eye mask and neck pillow. On board, go for a walk every hour or so. Stow all your belongings in the overhead compartment to maximise leg space.
But perhaps the most important advice I was given was to get myself on local time as soon as possible. I was told not to fall asleep as soon as I got tired, to try and hold out for a few hours so my body clock was more closely-matched with the time at our destination.
I was lucky enough to be in Business class for the packed inaugural Perth-London flight, but with the bulk of passengers further back, I was more keen to hear about their experience.
It's clear that the airline has done its best to make comfort the top priority - and when you're in Economy for 17 hours, you'll be grateful for every bit of help you can get. The good news? There's more legroom on these planes, which will help ease the pain.
There are 236 seats: First class has been scrapped to make way for 42 Business class suites, 28 Premium Economy, and 166 Economy seats. Other similar aircraft hold 300 passengers.
The Economy layout is in a 3 - 3 - 3 configuration, so there's more space for those in the dreaded middle seats.
I nabbed an empty seat next to a window, and could tell straight away it was a little roomier. However, at 5'2", even I was a bit nervous at the thought of that amount of legroom for such a huge stretch.
My advice? Always go for the aisle. The window seat view was novel for a little while, but as soon as I needed to use the bathroom I realised why it wasn't the best choice.
I also noticed early on that the windows were much bigger than usual - 65 per cent bigger, in fact.
One of the most irritating things about any flight is having the shade pulled up or down when you're not expecting it - that beam of sunlight after hours in the dark can be savage on your eyes.
Well, that's not a problem anymore. The amount of light streaming in is now adjusted with electronic controls, and there's even a simulated sunrise to wake everyone up and keep their body clocks from going haywire.
I was really curious about how the chirpy flight attendants were going to keep everyone happy, full and hydrated for so many hours, so I popped into the galley to chat to customer service manager Ross.
I'd figured there'd be extra staff onboard to swap shifts halfway through - you wouldn't find me working a 17-hour shift - but surprisingly, I was wrong.
"We're twelve crew and we work start to finish, but we have time on and time off," Ross explained to me, adding that they all work at the beginning and end of the flight, but take three-hour breaks in the middle.
"There's a crew bunk facility right down the back left hand side of the aircraft, in the roof. There are six bunks, but you obviously can't stand up."
There are also no extra pilots.
"We have four pilots. There's a captain, and a first officer, and two second officers," he told me.
I made a beeline back to my seat as soon as I saw the food trolleys being prepared. I was pretty keen to try out the much-hyped new Dreamliner meals. Neil Perry has been in charge of Qantas food for more than 20 years, but this time around, things have changed.
He's been working with sleep experts and nutritionists, and the team reckons their new menu will help aid sleep and reduce jetlag. I was cautiously optimistic, and wouldn't know if it worked until much later - but at the very least, I can confirm it was absolutely delicious.
There's a heavy focus on fresh, modern items, with plenty of greens, plus bespoke teas and hot chocolate are on offer to help with relaxation.
If you're in Economy or Premium Economy, you'll be chowing down on meals including a salad of cumin spiced beef with zucchini, cheese ravioli, or chicken with red rice and roasted Mediterranean vegetables.
In Business, there's a tuna poke salad, chicken breast with bok choy, barramundi with potatoes and broccolini, and beef fillet with polenta, roasted tomatoes, and rocket.
It's a fancy menu, but the crew has had to make adjustments to be able to serve it. As Ross told me, working conditions are a bit tighter than usual.
"It's much smaller, so in terms of working within the galley to still deliver a service to 42 business class passengers… It's been a bit trickier."
Regardless, when my meal came out - an entrée of baked rigatoni with eggplant, tomato sugo and zucchini, and the beef fillet main - it was delicious.
Plus, for those like me who get peckish when they're bored, there's also an impressive snack service. With this many hours in the sky, I was always going to hit a few of those patches. I had plenty of choices, including ice cream, fruit, a bacon baguette, carrot sticks and hummus, spinach and ricotta pastizzis, and cheese and biscuits.
The first stretch of the flight flew by (sorry). When I woke up from my nap, we were 10 hours in, and that's when things started to feel a bit weird. This is the point at which we'd normally be stopping to refuel or change planes.
Instead, I decided to stretch my legs and go for a walk. (I crossed paths with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce - decked out in his airline PJs - doing the same thing, so figured I had the right idea).
Usually, a few hours into a flight, I'd feel my breathing becoming congested.
Hours on a plane usually have me sounding like I have the flu, but this time around, I was reasonably clear, and had managed to avoid getting bloodshot eyes.
And it was no fluke. The new planes have had their humidity adjusted with a lower altitude in the cabin, which helps prevent dry eyes and runny noses.
While the elimination of the stopover meant I felt much more settled throughout the lengthy trip, by the last hour, the minutes started to really drag - although it was much less draining than the usual two-leg route.
No matter how comfortable you are, or how well prepared, by the end of the flight, you'll be looking forward to getting your feet back on solid ground - that's the price we pay to travel to the other side of the world.
My advice? Just steer clear of the moving map.
WORLD'S LONGEST FLIGHT ROUTES (BY DISTANCE)
1. Doha-Auckland, Qatar Airways, 14,529km
2. Perth-London, Qantas, 14,498km
3. Dubai-Auckland, Emirates, 14,200km
4. Los Angeles-Singapore, United Airlines, 14,114km
5. Sydney-Houston, United Airlines, 13,850km
The journalist was a guest of Qantas for the inaugural Perth-London flight.