Longest, shortest, most northerly and southerly flights in the world...
posted by Richard Green on 22/08/2019

You may be surprised to learn that the world's shortest scheduled flight is over in less time than it takes to boil an egg; that the most southerly flight serves a town in Tierra del Fuego named after a Bristolean; that the longest nonstop slog is 4 1/2 times longer than Gone with the Wind; or that if you head north past the Arctic Circle on the most northerly flight you'll quite likely be sitting next to a coalminer.

Here is a look at the longest, shortest, most northerly and most southerly flights on the planet.

Most northerly scheduled flight

Route: Tromso to Longyearbyen

Flight time: 90-minutes

Cost: from £110 return

Tromso is a handsome town in the far north of Norway, a two hour flight north of Oslo and 350 kilometres above the Arctic Circle. Yet despite it being perched on the north Norwegian coast, its actually at southern end of the world's most northlerly flight.

Point a plane due north from Tromso and after ninety minutes flying bewtween the Norwegian and Barents Seas, you'll get to Longyear Airport on Norway's Svalbard Island, which sitting at 78°14′46″N 015°27′56″E is the northernmost airport handling scheduled flights.

The dramatic setting of Longyearbyen, Svlabard. Photo Visit Svalbard

There is something other-wordly about arriving on Svalbard, thanks to its remoteness, bleak landscapes, and knowing that a place the size or Ireland is home to just 2,600 people. There are more polar bears here than there are people, and tourists head here to see them on organised safaris, to try dog sledding and to see walrusses and wales.

I arrived on a staff travel ticket as I used to work for an airline. I was on a tight budget and with only enough time to explore the main settlement. There were snow flurries, even in mid August, and I remember an ominous message from the governor hanging over the baggage area, informing arriving passengers that if they should stray beyond the little capital of Longyearbyen, they need to take a rented firearm with which to repel polar bears. 

Aerial view of Longyear Airport on Svalbard.

I flew in with SAS from Tromso, but there are also flights from Oslo with SAS and Norwegian Air Shuttle. My flight was full I sat next to a burley young Norwegian student who was flying up to Svalbard to work in the coal mines. He told me that the work is hard, but that he earns good money ready for his next term at university. Although it was once the main reason for countries to jostle in and around Svalbard, the industry is now being wound down by Norway.

The departure lounge at Longyear Airport. Photo alvaroprieto/Flickr

To do the archepelago justice, you'll need time and money, but for an intrepid weekend break Longyearbyen makes for a thrilling travel experience. Head for the excellent Svalbard Museum, the North Pole Expedition Museum, and the bijou Svalbard Brewery runs tours. For more information , see Visit Svalbard

Most southerly scheduled flight

Route: Purto Williams to Punta Arenas

Flight time: 40 minutes

Cost: from £197 return

For the most southerly flight in the world you need to head to Tierra del Fuego; the fabled 'land of fire' that's split between Argentina and Chile. Despite its remote location, the Argentinaian city of Ushuaia is well known these days as an adrenaline sport hotsopt and cruise port, but twinkling away some 53 kilometres southeast across the Beagle Channel are the weak streetlights of the decidedly ramshackle Chilean town of Puerto Williams.

Photo My Bathroom Wall

The settlement lies at 54°56′S 67°37′W and is the southernmost city in the world. It was founded in 1953 and soon afeter became known as Puerto Williams - after the British-Chilean sailor and politician - and is now the capital of the Chilean Antactic Province with a polulation of 2,900. 

I was there at the end of a local cruise through the arcepelago, and rather warmed to the frontier feel of the place.

Street scene in Puerto Williams. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Relatively few tourists make it to Puerto Williams, though there is fine hiking nearby and it makes a great base for exploring Chilean Tierra del Fuego and learning of its unique landscapes and former inhabitants. Known as the Yaghan people, the indigenous race have lived in the area for over 10,00 years, reportedly swimming and fishing naken smeared in seal fat.

Their tragic story is told at the Martin Gusinde Anthropological Museum. Cristina Calderon is the last living full-blooded Yaghan. She was born in 1928 and lives in a small bungalow just outside of Puerto Williams, and when she dies her race, language and culture die with her.

The departure lounge at Puerto Williams Airport. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The Guardia Marina Zañartu Airport is run by the Chilean Navy is on Chile's Navarino Island. The only flights from the airport are operated by Aerovías DAP to the regional capital of Punta Arenas., xxx kilometres to the northwest. But it's a facinatingly frontier town that really does feel a very long way from normal Chilean or city life.

Aerovías DAP ARJ on the ground at Puerto Williams. Photo My Bathroom Wall

For more information on the region see Visit Chile

Shortest flight in the world

Route: Papa Westray to Westray

Flight time: around a minute

Cost: from £15 return

There are a few contenders bandied about for this spot - perhaps a domestic mountain hop in Papua, or maybe an island hop in Micronesia? But officially the shortest flight in the world is closer to home that I'd thought - as Loganair fly from Westray to Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands, which is a distance of just 2.8 kilometres. Looking at that another way, the flight distance is shorter than one of Heathrow Airport's runways - the shortest one of which is 3.6 kilometres.

The 'terminal building' at Westray. Photo Treesiepopsicles/Flickr

There is an Orkney Ferries service that crosses the Papa Sound from the south of both islands, but that takes 40 minutes. For anyone in a greater hurry, the usual flight times across the sound are around a minute, with the shortest flight time recorded so far at just 53 seconds.

Incidentally, Westray has one of the shortest runways in the world too, at only 234m, and a picturesque 'terminal building'.

A Logainair Britten Norman Islander, as used for the Westray flights. Photo Loganair

For more information on Loganair's Orkney inter-island flights, see - https://www.loganair.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/OrkneyFares2.pdf, and for general tourist info there's Visit Orkney.

Longest flight in the world

Route: Doha to Auckland

Flight time: up to 18hrs 20mins

Cost: from £1,760 return

It wasn't so long ago that flights from London to Japan would have to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska, and flights to Los Angeles in Bangor, Maine. Then advances in technology allowed for longer range airliners and enabled planes to schlepp from Heathrow to the west coast of the US or east to Hong Kong in one bound, which at the time felt about as long as it was sensible to fly without a break.

The Qantas 787 that consertina'd the Kangarooo route to a single bound. Photo Qantas 

Since then aircraft ranges have kept improving, and Qantas have just used Boeing's new 787-9 Dreamliner to begin a totemic scheduled service from Perth to London, nonstop. The flights take around 17 hours and over-fly the brightly lit airports of the Gulf, where the majority of passengers between the two countries currently break their journeys.

The lengthiest scheduled flight in the world changes with each new season's timetables. Up there as contenders have been Air India's flights from Delhi to San Francisco, and Cathay Pacific's from Hong Kong to New York . 

The inaugural Qatar Airways flight from Doha arriving at Auckland. Photo Qatar Airways

So the current longest is Qatar Airways and its flights QR921 and QR920 that operate between Doha, Qatar, and Auckland, New Zealand. It's a distance of 14,535 kilometres, or more than a third of the equator's circumference. The flights use a Boeing 777-200LR, with the Auckland to Doha leg as the longest of the two - thanks to more of the flight facing into the prevailing winds. It comes in at a whopping 18 hours and 20 minutes.

The Qatar Airways Boeing 777-200LR taxiing at Auckland Airport. Photo Qatar Airways

Bill Clinton, Bob Hope and George Best have airports named after them. Here are the world's other surprising choices...
posted by Richard Green on 31/07/2019

Most pub quizzers could conjure up half a dozen or so airports that are named after famous people, but in fact there are hundreds of them. Some are grand and patriotic gestures, others seem rather trivial, but all reveal something of the countries and cultures they are located in.

So Mexico has a thing about naming its airports after generals, while Malaysia plumps for former ruling Sultans, but both represent a strong global theme in naming airports after former statesmen and leaders.

So take a deep breath, as there is Charles de Gaulle in Paris, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and Indira Gandhi International in Delhi. Then there's the Franjo Tuđman Airport in Zagreb (Croatia); Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad (Pakistan); Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi (Kenya); Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport in Poland; and Rajiv Gandhi International Airport serving Hyderabad (India).

The infamously overdue airport in Berlin, its all new Brandenburg Willy Brandt Airport, is named after the former Mayor of Berlin, German Chancellor and instigator of 'Ostpolitik'. Unfortunately the new facility is already eight years behing schedule, with a likely opening date now sometime in 2020.  

The ruins of Yasser Arafat International (1998-2000) in Gaza. Photo Gisha.org

Even Yasser Arafat (former chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and President of the Palestinian National Authority) has an airport named after him, but it was abandoned after an Israeli attack knocked out the radar station and control tower during the Second Intifada in 2000. And the airport in Macedonia's capital Skopje was called Alexander the Great Airport until 2018, when to mollify neighbouring Greece in preparation for an accomodation over the country's name change to North Macedonia, it was quietly renamed planeold Skopje International Airport

The brilliant Simon Bolivar even gets two airports to his name - the Simon Bolivar International Airport, Santa Marta (Columbia), and the Simon Bolivar International Airport, Bolívar International Airport, Maiquetia (Venezuela).

And there's an airport named after political power couple extraordinaire - the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas. And incidentally there is one other shared name that I've come across - the Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla, Nepal, commemorating Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, who together where the first climbers to reach the summit of Mt Everest, on the 29th of May 1953.

Naturally enough, aviators feature heavily too - with people like test pilot Chuck Yaeger commemorated at Yaeger Airport, Charleston, West Virginia (USA); pioneer aviator Traian Vuia Airport, at Timisoara (Romania); the Sikorsky Memorial Airport at Stratford, Connecticut (USA); and the Turkish female aviator at Sabiha Gökçen International Airport in Istanbul.

Many airport names become so familiar that they no longer even sound eponymous. Take Chicago's mighty O'Hare for example, which is actually named after a wartime naval pilot - namely Edward Henry O'Hare who was awarded the Medal of Honour in 1942 for shooting down five Japanese bombers and thereby preventing a successful attack on the aircraft carrier the USS Lexington.  

Unsurprisingly, travellers get a look in too, with the Ibn Battouta Airport serving Tangier (Morocco); and the Venice Marco Polo Airport, plus mathematician and astronomer Copernicus is venerated at the Wrocław Nicolaus Copernicus Airport (Poland).

The writer roll call incudes the Ian Fleming International Airport, Boscobel (Jamaica), and the Václav Havel Airport Prague (Czech Republic); and the Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport, France (though he was a pioneer aviator as well as author of the Little Prince).

There's an actor, at the Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City (USA), and entertainers name checked at the Burbank Bob Hope Airport (USA) and the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma.

Plus the world's most famous cosmonaut is remembered at the Yuri Gagarin Orenburg Tsentralny Airport, Orenburg (Russia), the world's most famous cerail innovator at the W. K. Kellogg Airport, Battle Creek, Michigan (USA), and sadly underrated scientist and inventor Tesla is honoured at the Nikola Tesla Belgrade Airport in Serbia.

Tesla appropriately in neon-looking lights. Photo Flickr/Leo Sauermann

Musicians and composers feature, with the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport in Hungary; the W.A. Mozart Airport (Salzburg, Austria); the Warsaw Chopin Airport (Poland); the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (USA); the Liverpool John Lennon Airport in the UK. Actor John Wayne gets a swaggering statue at the John Wayne Airport, Orange County (USA), and one director even makes the cut - at the Frederico Fellini Airport in Rimini (Italy).

There are at least two footballers too. Cristiano Ronaldo's home island has renamed its international airport in his honour as the Madeira Cristiano Ronaldo Airport, complete with famously bad bust, and since 2006 Belfast's City Airport has been known as George Best Belfast City Airport after the local hero dubbed the greatest dribbler in history.


I suppose the names lend opportunities to honour someone important, to put up a statue outside and sell some souvenirs, but if left to their own town name devices some unlucky airports just sound silly in someone else's language. There's a Batman Airport in Turkey Batman Airport for example, a Mafia airport in Tanzania, a Moron airport in Mongolia, an Ogle airport in Guyana, and a Deadhorse Airport in Alaska (USA).

Most airports are just named after the city they serve, like Manchester, Miami, and Mangalore. Or they use a less defined geographical name like the UK's East Midlands Airport or Marseilles-Provence. East Midlands Airport sounds awfully dull, but it does tell you something about where it might be.

It's run jointly by the councils of Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester and I worked there for a time. The coaches taking disembarking passenger from the aircraft to arrivals were emblazoned with 'Serving Derby, Nottingham and Leicester'. I thus overheard one family, purse at the ready, ask the driver for "two adults and two children to Leicester please", entirely forgetting they had yet to clear immigration, collect there bags and pass through customs, before leaving the airport.

Happy Concorde passengers en route to Derby, Nottingham or Leicester. Photo East Midlands Airport

The hot topic while I was there in the mid 80's was how to find a better name for the airport. It was thought dreary and ill-defined, and research showed that few people in the UK knew quite where it was, and even fewer people abroad. So an expensive several-month-long study was commissioned in order to find a better, sexier, more memorable name. I seem to remember that the fee was £80,000. Excitement mounted until the report was published and recommended - wait for it - keeping the name as....'East Midlands Airport'.


At least East Midlands means something. Consider Heathrow and Gatwick; the largest international airport in the world and the busiest single runway airport in the world. You might think they would merit something special from the moniker drawer, but not at all. Supplanting small villages that were there before the runway was laid down, Heathrow just means a row or hedge on a heath - which in the UK means open land left wild rather than a formal park. And a 'wick' in old English is a pen for livestock, and 'gat' is a term for a goat, giving us 'goat pen'. They are as far away from naming after some famous figure as it is possible to get.

All airports have three letter IATA (International Air Transport Association) codes used to designate airports and apart from being somewhat confusing to the layman, these can can raise an smile too. Sure LHR, SIN and SYD are fine, but how about LOL (Derby Field airport in Nevada, USA), OMG (Omega Airport, Namibia), and SUX (Sioux City, Iowa, USA).

Incidentally if you want to know how your local airport got its name take a look at Airport Codes, which lists all of the IATA three letter codes and gives a brief explanation of where its full name came from.

In an age of irreverence for politicians, and indeed the elite in general, it's hard to imagine new airports being named after famous people. That said, with nationalism on the rise it isn't entirely beyond the imagination to envisage populist people rallying for a change. Heathrow to become the Sir Winston Churchill International perhaps?

Braniff International and the end of the plain plane...
posted by Richard Green on 20/07/2019

Braniff's 'End of the plain plane' campaign began in the early 60s and led to its 'Jelly Bean' livery

Even via grainy old photos, Braniff's 'end of the plain plane' livery remains eye-catching half a century after its launch. It was part of a bold turnaround plan put in place by the airline's then boss, flambouyant Texan Harding Lawrence, and saw the airline adopt a cutting edge approach to its design, uniforms and cabins. And all this at a time when airline colour schemes - such as they were - left the fuselage as silver metal, or painted a stripe or two (called cheatlines) along the row of windows, complimented by drab interiors and dowdy uniforms.

The innovative Braniff branding introduced seven vivid colours to the airline's fleet - including Lemon Yellow, Chocolate Brown and Metallic Purple, and there were flambouyant cabins to match, imported Latin American furniture for its lounges, and avant-garde guard crew uniforms created by Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci.

Emilio Pucci designed Braniff uniforms. Note the 'raindomes' being sported by two of the women

These days hardly a week goes by without an airline announces a new celebtrity designed uniform or a designer endorsed 'look' - think Virgin Atlantic and Vivienne Westwood designed crew uniforms, Finnair and Marimekko designed tablewear, or Air France and it's tie up for its Paris Charles De Gaulle lounges and Alain Ducasse. But Braniff's approach was truly groundbreaking in its day.

Pucci created six complete uniform collections for Braniff between 1965 and 1974 and even designed a bizarre plastic helmet dubbed a 'rain dome'. It was in the days of very few jetties, and so the idea was for hostesses to sport the space-age helmet on the walk between the terminal and the aircraft to avoid wind and rain messing up their big 60s hairdos. But the helmets cracked, were surely impractical, and were quietly dropped. There were even a range of Barbie dolls sporting Braniff uniforms - rain domes included - and Ken was kitted out as a Braniff pilot.

Braniff BAC 1-11s and a Boeing 707 in its 'Jelly Bean' livery

Getting back to the livery, I'd always understood that it was the idea of Braniff's CEO's wife. The story always repeated to me as though she'd made a casual comment during a BBQ, but the real story isn't quite as folksy as it sounds. You see, the airline's CEO Harding Lawrence married Mary Wells, chairman of the Wells, Rich, Greene advertising agency in New York. At the time she was at the top of her game as an advertising guru and one of the best paid women in the US.

Incidentally, Braniff started life as Braniff Airways Inc. It was founded in 1930 by airline entrepreneur Paul Revere Braniff, who later sold it to his brother Tom. Tom died in a flying boat crash in 1954, and his brother of cancer six months later. Lawrence Harding was vice president of Continental Airlines before being appointed as the Braniff CEO. By this time Braniff International Airways was already flying across the US Midwest, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Harding set about growing it from America's 11th largest airline, to its would-be market leader.

A brace of Braniff Boeing 727s

The Braniff makeover that Harding initiated had real substance, and leading architect Alexander Girard was taken on to zhoosh up its materials. Eventually, Girard created some 17,000 Braniff-specific items), and the lounge and ticket office furniture was so desirable that some of the range went on sale in 1967.

Braniff also invested hugely in its 'Terminal of the Future' in its home base airport of Dallas Love Field. The space age terminal was connected to the parking areas by a futuristic 'Jetrail' monorail. The 10 gondolas were slung under rails and ran from the new Braniff terminal to the 'Braniff Remote Parking Terminal'. The system was shut down in 1974, some time after Braniff had relocated to Dallas Fort Worth Airport, and had a last lease of life as a disco, until it was dismantled in 1978.

A mock up of what a Braniff liveried Concorde might have looked like

Braniff even operated Concordes for a time in the late 70s, though the fact that the airline never actually owned a Concorde and that the plane couldn't fly supersonically over US air space, meant that the route from Washington to Dallas was more a gimmick than anything. However, the airline did order three Concorde's in 1966, though the order was cancelled a few years later.

The Big Orange, Braniff 747 takes to the skies, perhaps to the Big Apple

Braniff flew Jumbo Jets to and from London's Gatwick Airport. The route was generally operated by one of the company's orange 747's, and I think I recall adversing along the lines of 'Fly the Big Orange to the Big Apple'.

Crazily vivid interior of a Braniff 'Big Orange'

In case the Big Orange and the other Braniff planes weren't colour overloads in themselves, the airline's cabins echoed the end of the plain plane concept. There were at least seven matching cabin colours.

Braniff approcahed the modern artist Alexander Calder to produce the world's first and largest flying artwork. In fact Calder was comissioned to create three new one-off liveries. The first was painted onto a Douglas DC-8 and called the 'Flying Colorsof South America' in 1973, and this was followed in the USA's centenerry year 1976 by a Boeing 727-200 that Calder patriotically rendered into a red, white and blue 'Flying Colors of the United States'. Somewhat remarkably all Braniff markings - including even the name on the tailplane - were removed from the plane. Calder didn't get the opportunity of finishing the third plane, called the 'Spirit of Mexico', as the artist died in 1976.

Braniff DC-8 sporting its Alexander Calder 'Flying Colors of South America' livery

Braniff had an advert strap line and jingle in 1980 that proclaimed 'We better be better, We're Braniff'. Bold livery excepted, the airline was in some trouble by this time, caused by low load factors, high oil prices, a controversial boss, and an over ambitious expansion. It may sound childish, but then again I was a child at this time - when we played with it at the school bus stop in tones to imply that they were so utterly hopeless that they had 'better be better'.

The company went under on May 12th 1982, after which the ad line was changed at the school bus stop to 'We better be better, we're bankrupt'. But in a world of ever blander livieries - witness the recent unveiling of Lufthansa's new monumentally mediochre livery - pioneering and maverick Braniff made a bold and creative attempt to position the airline at the forefront of deisgn, fashion and art.


Thanks to its revolutionary style and arty execution, Braniff has its followers, even so long after its demise. For some more detailed history on the airline, see Braniff Pages. And for Braniff branded goods - from throws to Christmas tree baubles - yes really, see Braniff Boutique.

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