Dept. of First-World Problems

Surviving One of the Longest Flights in the World

If you’re traveling nonstop from Dubai to Houston, you’d better be prepared.

By Michael Hardy June 30, 2014 Published in the July 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Make sure to pack one of these.

Image: Shutterstock

When Emirates Airlines launched its nonstop service from Dubai to Houston in 2007, business travelers, foreign nationals, and the odd tourist or two were excited by the chance at a straight shot from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Mexico—that is, from one hot, humid city built by oil to another hot, humid city built by oil. There was just one catch: the flight would be among the longest in the world. 

As Condé Nast Traveler, which prints lists of such things, recently proclaimed, Emirates Flight 211 is the fourth-longest flight on earth, clocking in at 16 hours and 20 minutes. One might profitably spend such time driving from Houston to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, listening to every note in Wagner’s mammoth four-opera Ring Cycle, experiencing an entire day on the planet Neptune, or flying from Dubai to Houston and thinking about all the other things one might be doing. 

Did you know?
The fastest route from Dubai to Houston passes over Iceland.

Thanks to prevailing winds, Flight 212, from Houston to Dubai, is a whole hour-and-a-half shorter. And in either direction, the time positively flies in first class, or it ought to when one is paying $25,000 for a private cabin with a pop-up minibar. Presumably, monotony is not an issue in business class either ($15,000), where seats recline into full beds. But those who sleep don’t really get to experience the moment-by-moment thrill that is 16.33 hours in the air—the same amount of time it takes to watch a barbecue pit slow-cook beef into brisket, and every bit as entertaining—and they don’t pay $1,100.  

We’re making it sound boring. It wasn’t. Our flight included passengers of every color and persuasion, in saris and skullcaps, headscarves and hair weaves, burqas and blue jeans. The crew of flight attendants alone spoke 14 languages, the PA system informed us. There were more than a thousand channels of entertainment; there were three meals and unlimited booze; there was an interesting Mexican manufacturing executive next to us on one flight, en route from Bangalore to Guadalajara.

But there was plenty of down time too, hours we whiled away compiling the following tips for Houstonians who might one day find themselves caught in a similar predicament. 

Do bring reading material. No, not newspapers, not magazines. We’re talking Middlemarch. We’re talking Finnegans Wake. Yes, Emirates graciously supplies all passengers with The Financial Times, The Times of India, and the Gulf News. And once they do, you get another 13 hours to thumb-twiddle. 

Do not wear a T-shirt and shorts to Dubai. You won’t be running afoul of any Middle Eastern custom by doing so, but you will freeze to death on the plane. Also, wandering the aisles, teeth chattering in a blanket and Emirates-supplied socks, will effectively kill off all hopes of making time with attractive pillbox hat–attired flight attendants. Anyway, ’nuff said. We know you wouldn’t make this sartorial mistake, and of course we didn’t either.  

Do not take sleeping pills. The temptation will be great, particularly when flying west, i.e., directly into the sun for hours on end. But given that other temptation—the unlimited free booze, we mean—passengers who double dip can expect to deplane in a body bag. 

Do have an adventurous palate. Skip the pizza and omelets—you’re flying to Dubai, not Denny’s. Besides, this may be your one and only opportunity to prove that delicious airline food is not an oxymoron. Expect plenty of tasty Indian and Middle Eastern dishes like peas masala, aubergine mezze, and badami paneer.

Do not bring class envy. Yes, somewhere up front there are people primping in front of private vanity tables and snoring under duvets. But that’s okay. The next time someone asks them what it’s like to sit through the longest Grand Slam final in tennis history (Djokovic over Nadal, 2012 Australian Open) and the entire third season of Game of Thrones, they’ll be completely at a loss.

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