SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA —Airline operators signal international travel rebound with launch of Ultra-Long-Haul flights.

Long-haul flights are seeing a resurgence, signaling that airlines anticipate a sustained recovery of international travel, which was severely impacted during the Covid pandemic.

On Wednesday, Qantas began offering service from New York to Sydney via a stopover in Auckland, New Zealand with Boeing 787 Dreamliners. This deviates from the previous stop in Los Angeles. The Australian airline is also setting its sights on even longer routes: direct flights from Sydney to New York and London. These journeys could span around 20 hours - enough time to view almost the entire Star Wars Skywalker Saga.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce highlighted the benefits of these routes in an interview with CNBC on Thursday. "You don’t have to take your bags off, you don’t have to transfer, you don’t have a chance of misconnecting," he said. The airline believes the new routes could decrease travel time by over three hours compared to flights that require stops at other airports.

Qantas has been collaborating with sleep scientists for eight years, studying passenger mood, sleep habits, and food consumption in an effort to minimize jet lag on these ultra-long flights. The research, which was tested in 2019, showed that postponing meal service and keeping passengers awake longer with cabin lighting could help mitigate jet lag upon reaching their destination.

The new nonstop flights are planned to begin on ultra-long-range Airbus A350-1000 planes, potentially as early as late 2025. These planes, which can accommodate 238 passengers—much less than the over 350 passengers standard versions of the planes can seat—have been customized to allow for more spacious seating and to accommodate the aircraft’s weight and range restrictions.

Qantas has purchased 12 of these special aircraft. Joyce explained, "Qantas is the only airline wanting to do this. Because from Australia, we’re so far away from everywhere that we can justify at least 12 [of these] aircraft."

The planes will be equipped with six private first-class suites, each featuring a table for two, a reclining chair, a 32-inch touch-screen television, and a 2-meter (over 6.5-foot) flatbed. Additionally, there will be 52 business-class suites with lie-flat beds, 40 premium economy seats, and 140 economy class seats.

Another unique feature is the “Wellbeing Zone,” which provides handles for stretching, on-screen exercise instructions, and refreshments. Wi-Fi will be provided free of charge, Qantas confirmed.

According to Joyce, the airline’s international capacity has recovered to 85% of pre-pandemic levels, and he expects a full recovery by next March.

Despite the technical feasibility of ultra-long-haul flights owing to more efficient engines and aircraft, they pose additional challenges.

"There’s technical feasibility, and then there’s economic feasibility," Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst and former airline executive, noted.

Singapore Airlines launched a nonstop flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Singapore in 2004, lasting around 18 hours. This service, which was an attempt to attract business travel, was discontinued in 2013 due to the aircraft's excessive fuel consumption. It resumed in 2018 with a mix of business-class and premium-economy seats and was relaunched last year following a pandemic-induced pause.

In November 2020, the airline introduced what is currently the longest flight in the world, from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Singapore.