You used to have to stop six times to get from Sydney to London. When Qantas first introduced the “Kangaroo Route” in 1947, its Lockheed Constellation plane, carrying a grand total of 29 passengers, would depart Sydney and then stop in Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo and Tripoli before eventually touching down in London.
Two of those stops – Singapore and Cairo – were overnight stays, where passengers could sleep in a real bed and work off a little jet-lag. Then they’d all get back on the plane and off they’d go, over the horizon once again.
Sounds fun, to me. Sounds like it would have been an adventure, a shared experience with hardy souls. It also sounds completely different to modern-day air travel, to the facelessness of the contemporary flyer, to the squished seats and the rapid transits as millions of us make our way across the globe.
Many of those forced stopovers are a thing of the past, and it now appears that even the few surviving mini-breaks could soon become a quaint part of history, something our kids look back on and shake their heads and wonder how we all did it. The idea of a stopover could soon become obsolete.
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Think about it. You can already easily fly to North America without stopping. Used to be that you’d have to call through Auckland, or Nadi, or Hawaii, but now you can go straight through. You can fly direct from the east coast of to Los Angeles, to Vancouver, to San Francisco, to Dallas, and now, with United Airlines’ announcement last week, to Houston without a stop.
Europe has always been the final frontier in this sense. It used to take six stops to get to London, but now you can do it with one. As of next year, however, Qantas will be flying direct from Perth to London via a 17-hour Dreamliner journey. The company also recently sent out a challenge to Airbus and Boeing to improve the range of their planes, allowing Qantas to fly direct from the east coast of to London and New York by 2022.
So what happens to the stopover? What happens to the couple of hours wandering around Changi, or the couple of days lounging by a pool in Hawaii? What happens to the overnight at a fancy hotel in Dubai, or the chance to go shopping in KL?
These breaks could soon become a thing of the past, stashed in aviation history next to smoking on planes and watching movies on one giant screen at the front of the cabin.
The question, however, is whether you really want that to happen. Do you want to spend 20 hours or more in a big metal tube in the sky? Do you want to have four airplane meals in a row? Do you want to get the whole thing over with in one hit, to board that one plane, stay on it for a full day and night and then be belched into your destination in a fog of jet-lag and boredom?
For the sake of expediency, I’m sure plenty of people will. However, I’m not sure it’s such a great way to go.
I love a stopover. I try to work them into my plans now wherever I can. I’m pretty sure I would make these detours even if I had the chance to avoid them.
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It’s not just the break from flying either, though that’s definitely something to take into account. These are seriously long-haul journeys we’re talking about. The discomfort of Sydney to Europe non-stop is going to be intense. The jet-lag is going to be brutal.
What I like about a stopover, however, is that it adds something different to your journey. Say you’re flying to New York – add in a stopover, and suddenly you get to check out Texas, or spend a couple of days in Hawaii, or even call through Fiji. If you’re going to Europe, you suddenly have the chance to spend a few days in Asia, to eat street food in Bangkok, or go shopping in Hong Kong, or wander the old souks in Dubai.
That’s a small slice of a completely different part of the world, and it usually costs you very little to experience it. It’s like two holidays in one.
I wouldn’t want to pass up the chance to do that. If you have to get somewhere quickly, then sure, forgo the stopover, forgo the extra security check and the two hours of time-wasting and the getting off and getting back on again of the plane and just get to where you need to be. That sounds great.
For regular travellers, however, the loss of the stopover sounds like a shame. You don’t have to stop in six places, you don’t have to go through Darwin, Singapore, Karachi and so on – but it is nice to at least break up a long journey somewhere. I’m pretty sure I will always want to do that.
Are you happy that stopovers could be a thing of the past? Or would you prefer to take a break regardless? Where is your favourite stopover destination? Leave a comment below.
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