Sorry, but United 895, the Nation’s Longest Scheduled Flight, Won’t Land for 16 hours.
It is noon at the United Airlines Operations and Planning Center in the bowels of Chicago O’Hare Airport - operationally, the critical moment for Flight 895, the longest scheduled flight by any U.S. Airline.
To make it the full 7.788 miles from Chicago to Hong Kong, the specially configured Boeing 747 is already crammed with 386.000 pounds of jet fuel, including several thousand pounds stuffed in extra tanks above the passenger cabin and the tail. And even with that, United’s computers are saying it is going to be tight.
The heat this summer day means it will take extra thrust to get the jumbo jet up to its cruising altitude of 37.000 feet. And even using the most direct route - which had been specially negotiated to pass through Russian and Chinese air space - United’s computers are calculating that with the expected 15 to 20 mph headwinds, there simply may not be enough fuel for the plane to make the entire trip with the expected load of passengers, baggage and freight. Not only will it have to leave behind the mail bags and two Chevrolet Corvettes that have been awaiting shipment to Hong Kong, but six passengers may be required to take another flight if all 328 holding reservations show up.
On the tarmac, a crew of 22 has been brought aboard to clean the plane, outfit every seat with magazines, blanket pillow and headsets and lay out toiletry kits and the latest newspapers for business and firs-class passengers. A catering service loads on more than three-dozen meal carts in the plane’s three galeys. Two giant tankers need 90 minutes to fill the plane’s tanks with fuel.
Meanwhile, at one end of the operations center, chief purser Maguerite Elkins is winding up her meeting in which UAL 895's 18 flight attendants have introduced themselves to each other, chosen assignments and break times by seniority and gone over details of the 16-hour flight: the expected passenger break down (14 in first class, 53 in business, 261 in oach, including one passenger in a wheelchair); the timing and menu for the three meals (including special children and vegetarian menus); and the three movies to be shown (“Blues Brothers 2000" “The Man in the Iron Mask” and “Sliding Doors”
. Elkins issues a warning about “creepers,” passengers who try to sneak up from steerage into business class, and puts in a request for extra “kiddie litter” - packets of games, crayons and coloring books for the dozen kids expected on board. And she says that safety instructions this day will have to be given in both Mandarin and Cantonese in addition to English. The scrum ends with a protracted negotiation over who will handle sales from the duty-free catalogue - with so many Chinese passengers on board, Flight 895 can be expected to generate substantial commissions for the flight attendants who draw the assignment. As the attendants’ meeting is breaking up, down the hall the captain and his tree copilots are going over their route, which is expected to involve 15 hours and 11 minutes of flying time and take them so far north it actually goes off the map. As part of the deal with Russia, the cockpit crew will have to check in every 15 minutes with local controllers while in Russian airspace, even though the plane’s link to global position satellites make it unnecessary. The Russians, apparently, collect a fee for each conctact. Forecasters have warned of thunderstorms during the descent into Hong Kong. Upstairs in the terminal building, six gate agents have begun to check in passengers. As each passenger is issued a boarding card, the computer signals handlers below to release baggage from holding area - part of the new heightened security arrangements on international flights. The noon count also show that there are still 28 business and first-class passengers who have not checked in to either 895 or th a connecting flight into O’Hare - enough to solve the weight problem and free up seats for the 15 people waiting standby. Boarding begins on time, at 12:20 p.m., one hour before scheduled departure.