Air India flew 1,400 kilometres extra to shave hours off its Delhi-San Francisco flight

Raring to go.
Raring to go.
Image: AP Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

India’s national carrier just raised the stakes in the long-haul flights game.

Last week, Air India reportedly set a record with its flight from Delhi to San Francisco. Instead of traveling West over the Atlantic, it flew East over the Pacific on an over 15,000-kilometre, 14-and-a-half-hour journey. In March, the record for the world’s longest non-stop flight was held by Emirates with its Dubai-Auckland route that covered 14,200 km in around 16-and-a-half hours.

Air India’s unconventional flight traveled 1,400 km more than usual, but it took two hours less to complete, thanks to helpful tailwinds. By flying over China and the North Pacific Ocean, instead of the Atlantic, flight AI173 was able to take advantage of jet streams flowing in that direction, boosting its ground speed and allowing it to travel a longer distance in a shorter time, according to flight tracking service Flightradar24. Flying westwards would have meant facing these winds head-on, slowing down the speed and adding to the time taken for the journey.

In a video posted by Air India’s Twitter account, Captain Rajneesh Sharma, who flew the Boeing 777-200 long range plane, said this route saved around 13 tons of fuel.

Air India currently runs flights on the Delhi-San Francisco route three times a week but its growing popularity has prompted the airline to double this from November, flying east each time for the next six months. The success of the route is great news for the beleaguered airline which has struggled with losses and bad press for nearly a decade.

Air India’s record comes as airlines around the world try to one-up each other to cover longer distances. Qatar Airways had plans to top Emirates’ earlier record with its own ultra long-haul flights from Doha to Auckland and to Santiago. And Singapore Airlines has said it plans to re-launch its Singapore-New York route in 2018, which would cover around 15,300 km.

But it looks like Air India got there first.