As COVID-19 continues its malicious march across the globe, airlines are struggling to remain afloat while wanderlust takes a backseat. But for one under-capacity plane, the current coronavirus-related travel restrictions were the key to setting a new world record: for the longest scheduled flight in terms of direct distance. 

A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner of Air Tahiti Nui performs during the 53rd International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget Airport near Paris, France on June 18, 2019.
Air Tahiti Nui's flight TN64 recently set the record for the longest scheduled flight in the world © Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

This week, Air Tahiti Nui’s flight TN64 departed from Pape'ete, in French Polynesia, and flew straight to Paris’s Charles de Gaulle – minus the usual stopover in Los Angeles for refueling and passenger pickup – for a total of 9,775 miles at one go, per reports from the Points Guy and CNN Travel. The record was previously held by Singapore Airlines for its 9,534-mile route from Singapore to Newark. 

A number of factors contributed to the record-breaking run, and the major ones were due to service adjustments necessitated by COVID-19. That stopover at LAX, for example, normally requires passengers to deplane and go through customs before continuing on, but when the US government’s current travel restrictions put the kibosh on that, the carrier changed routes and sent the plane straight to Paris

Beautiful white sandy beach in French Polynesia, surrounded with palm trees, lounge chairs in front of turquoise lagoon under a blue summer sky.
The Air Tahiti Nui flight departed from Pape'ete and landed in Paris less than 16 hours later © Mlenny Photography/Getty Images

That plane, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, was reportedly only half-full, which allowed it to cover more ground without running out of gas. "This flight was operated on an exceptional basis and within the constraints imposed by the American authorities in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic," an Air Tahiti Nui spokesperson told CNN Travel in a statement. 

Though this was the longest flight in terms of distance covered, others have spent more time in the air. Qantas’s Project Sunrise test flights between London and Sydney spent more than 19 hours in the air, but since they weren’t operating on the schedule or at full capacity, they don’t make the cut record-wise.

Man with a backpack standing in front of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Because the plane took off from French Polynesia and landed in Paris, the record-setting flight is technically considered a domestic one © Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Also, as the Points Guy notes, flight TN64 may have been the world’s longest by direct distance, but Singapore’s aforementioned route covers more distance in actual miles, up to 10,324 of them on one particular flight. But Air Tahiti Nui does retain bragging rights for the longest nonstop domestic flight. “French Polynesia is a so-called ‘overseas collectivity’ of the French state,” the site’s Alberto Riva explains. “Formally, it’s as much France as anywhere on the mainland, although it is not in the European Union. So, TN64 to Paris was a domestic flight, just like a 45-minute hop from Marseille.”

But the airline won’t be going to extreme lengths to retain its record anytime soon. Though Air Tahiti Nui’s spokesperson told CNN Travel that this was an "exceptional flight, operated in a special context", they also said that it’s “not destined to be perpetuated." 

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