Chaitanya's Random Pages

January 24, 2011

Long flights and fun with near-antipodes

Filed under: geography — ckrao @ 11:49 pm

I recently heard about the existence of a flight between Los Angeles and Dubai, so it prompted me to look up the longest flights in terms of distance.

The Los Angeles-Dubai route is the fourth longest (13420km in 16.5 hrs). In number one comes the 18 hour, 50 minute beast from Newark (New Jersey) to Singapore, at 15345km (9535 mi), or 38% across the globe! You might be wondering whether this flies via Europe or the Pacific Ocean and the answer is… neither! As seen below (ref) it goes north of Greenland, across the Arctic, within 150km of the north pole, then south through Russia, Mongolia, China and South East Asia.

Shortest path between Newark and Singapore

It should be pointed out that the flight is not always so polar, since it often takes advantage of favourable winds in the Atlantic. This unexpected path (being used to seeing flat 2-D maps all the time) made me check out a few more counter-intuitive paths around the globe, courtesy of Wolfram Alpha.

Los Angeles to Dubai is another one that flies north of Greenland and then over the boundary between Europe and Asia.

Los Angeles to Dubai

From Melbourne to Dakar, Senegal, the shortest path is to go way south first (to more than 60 degrees south latitude) and the path is almost entirely oceanic.

Melbourne to Dakar

To go from Melbourne to Recife in northeastern Brazil, you would pretty much traverse the south pole.

Melbourne to Recife

Finally, let us look at a few near-antipodal paths. Antipodes are points on the globe that are diametrically opposite. It is intriguing that less than 4% of the earth’s land is antipodal to land, with Australia antipodal to the Atlantic, North America antipodal to the Indian Ocean, and Africa and most of Eurasia antipodal to the Pacific (see this image). There are infinitely many shortest paths between antipodes (I am assuming the world is spherical now), and slightly perturbing one or both of these endpoints can change the shortest path drastically.

As an example, we take the paths between Buenos Aires and near-antipodal points of east Asia: Shanghai, Seoul and Beijing (distances from Buenos Aires between 19250 and 19650km). The true antipode is somewhere in the ocean within the triangle formed by this trio of big cities.

Buenos Aires to ShanghaiBuenos Aires to SeoulBuenos Aires to Beijing

As you can see, three very different directions!


  1. What a fun post! I’ve always been intrigued by these paths that are so counter-intuitive to us 2-D map readers. LA to Tokyo was perhaps my most counter-intuitive flight path.

    Comment by Radhika — January 29, 2011 @ 7:15 pm | Reply

  2. […] counterintuitive distances on the globe April 19, 2011 — ckrao Further to my post on long flights, here are some more counter-intuitive facts about distances on the globe, that I hope to add to […]

    Pingback by Some counterintuitive distances on the globe « Chaitanya's Random Pages — April 19, 2011 @ 11:09 am | Reply

  3. Buenos Aires to Shanghai is a particularly good example. If you actually fly between them, you’ll go the other way and cross the International Date Line. Reason? Buenos Aires’ main airport (EZE) is west of the city, whereas Shanghai’s main airport (PVG) is east of Shanghai.

    Interestingly, Shanghai and Buenos Aires are the two largest (most populated) cities in the world, so it’s quite a coincidence that they are also nearly antipodes.

    Comment by Barry Carter — May 20, 2013 @ 9:49 pm | Reply

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