Maps are deceptive—especially flat ones. Although educators have made some headway in resolving the dissonance between the world that maps perceive and the real one, you needn't wait for that to happen to have your mind blown. Indeed, all you need to do is consider these 9 shocking facts about distance, including the distance from Japan to California, to shatter any illusions you have about travel.
Miami Is Closer to Brazil Than It Is to Washington State
It's no secret that Miami—both the city and its airport—is the hub of Latin America. What some people don't realize is that this is not only a result of culture, but geography. For example, did you know that the flight from Miami to Manaus, Brazil (hub of the Amazon Rainforest) is 300 miles shorter than the flight from Miami to Seattle, where Amazon (the hub of online retail) is headquartered? Unfortunately, Prime service is not available in Brazil as of this writing.
Boston Is Approximately Equidistant From the West Coasts of Europe and the U.S.
Officially, the flight between Boston and Shannon, Ireland is a bit longer than the one between Logan Airport and Lindbergh Field, in San Diego. Due to wind patterns, however, it takes about 20 minutes longer in the air to reach San Diego from Bean Town than it does to reach Ireland. Still greater is the discrepancy when you consider Ponta Delgada Airport in Portugal's Azores islands: It's about the same distance from Boston as Las Vegas, which presents an interesting dilemma the next time a wild weekend away is on your horizon.
The World's Current Longest Flight Isn't Really That Long
As of July 2019, Singapore Airlines operates the longest flight in the world, with its nonstop service between Singapore and Newark,one of the major airports serving New York. From a passenger perspective (particularly one seated in economy class), this flight is very long—its 9,535 miles take between 18-20 hours, depending on which direction you fly.
On the other hand, consider this. Hypothetical nonstop flights between the world's largest unserved city-pair—Tokyo, Japan and São Paulo, Brazil—would require planes capable of traversing 24% more distance than SIN-EWR, a feat that may prove insurmountable even to in-development aircraft such as the Boeing 777X or the ultra-long range variants of Airbus' new A350.
There's Almost Nowhere You Can't Fly Nonstop From Dubai
The good news, if you don't mind a stop that is, is that there are plenty of places you can connect en route from Tokyo to São Paulo, from dozens of cities in the U.S. and Europe, as well as via Middle Eastern mega-hubs such as Emirates' operation in Dubai.
This last point is important, because it helps explain why an airline whose local market is so small (the U.A.E. has a population smaller than the New York metro area) has built up one of the largest passenger-flight operations on the planet: Dubai is literally at the center of the world, which means that almost every significant population center is reachable nonstop from its airport.
Currently, the only major city Emirates doesn't serve from its hub is Santiago, Chile. But Santiago is only about 100 miles further from Dubai than the distance of the world's current longest flight, which means it's really only a matter of time.
Hawaii Is Closer to Japan Than It Is to New York—Way Closer
If you've ever been to Hawaii, you know the islands are a popular vacation spot for Japanese tourists, to the extent that you often see more Japanese vacationers there than you do any other nationality, by a long shot. This is not just due to the historical ties between the two Pacific archipelagos, it turns out (although it still seems to contradict the existence of a less-busy island paradise within Japan's territory).
To be sure, geography plays a part in this as well: While getting to Hawaii from, say, New York requires an 11-hour flight that covers almost 5,000 miles, the popular Tokyo to Honolulu route traverses less than 4,000 miles and requires only seven hours (and some change) at 35,000 feet. On the other hand, while it takes five hours to fly from Honolulu to San Francisco (which would suggest that flying from Tokyo to San Francisco would take about 12 hours), most TYO-SFO flights take just nine hours, which suggests that the Japan to California distance is less than it is.
El Paso Is Halfway From Texas to California
Nobody knows better than Texans (particularly road-bound Texans) how big the Lone Star State is. One adage in particular—that El Paso is halfway to California—exemplifies this, although many outsiders believe it to be hyperbolic. In fact, the math backs it up: The flight distance from Beaumont, the furthest-east airport in Texas, to El Paso is greater than the distance from El Paso to Los Angeles.
(To say nothing of the perpetual gridlock that is I-10 westbound.)
The North Pole Is Between the West Coast and the Middle East
When you look at a map, or even at a globe, you think of most destinations east or west of one another as requiring a trip over either the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans. When it comes to flying between, say, San Francisco and Abu Dhabi, this is inaccurate: The most direct path requires take-off due north, which will see you fly over the North Pole.
In fact, polar routes are far from uncommon, although they are somewhat controversial: Scientists agree they help the environment, but some speculate they might be bad for human health.
The World's Longest Domestic Flight Isn't in Russia or the U.S.
It might be tempting, looking at the map, to assume that the world's longest domestic flight would exist within the territory of one of the world's largest countries, namely Russia (the largest) or the U.S., the one with the greatest abundance of spread-out population centers. In fact, the world's longest domestic flight is in France—at least in French territory.
Specifically, the route between Paris' Charles De Gaulle Airport and St. Denis, an airport located on the island of Reunion (a French territory) is the world's longest domestic flight, with a length of nearly 6,000 miles. This dwarfs the length of long domestic flights in the U.S. (the aforementioned New York to Honolulu route is under 5,000 miles), Russia (Moscow to Vladivostok is 3,991 miles) and Australia (Sydney to Perth is just 2,041 miles).
Future Flight Technologies Could Distort Perception of Distance Even More
Qantas recently reaffirmed its intention to begin flying London to Sydney nonstop as soon as possible, starting (for now) with a flight from London to Perth (which has been very popular), but some travelers aren't thrilled, give the 19+ length that would be required for such a flight. Enter Richard Branson, who proposed (long ago, actually) to fly the route with hybrid air-space craft, which would exit the Earth's atmosphere and travel in orbit around the planet in order to substantially reduce travel time.
We're a long way off from mass use of this technology, of course, but needless to say it would make this entire article irrelevant.