For reporters covering Obama abroad, a long haul home

The Boeing 777 press charter carrying members of the press from Brisbane, Australia, to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.

Christina Ruffini/CBS News

Last Updated Nov 17, 2014 2:09 AM EST

BRISBANE, Australia - President Barack Obama headed home Sunday after a weeklong tour through Asia and Australia. Air Force One departed from a military base on Australia's east coast, bound not for Washington, but for a refueling stop in Hawaii, 4,731 miles en route.

The White House says Air Force One, a modified Boeing 747, has unlimited range because it can be refueled in midair. But the president often makes fuel stops when traveling abroad. Commercial 747s can fly non-stop for about 7,000 miles.

Journalists and members of the president's staff also fly back to Washington on Sunday, but no such layover is required. The Boeing 777 charter, with a lighter-than-usual load and more than 200 empty seats, is scheduled to fly 16 hours, 21 minutes non-stop from Brisbane to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Total mileage: 9,486. (Editor's note: The plane reached its destination at about 2 a.m. EST Monday)

That distance makes it longer than any commercial passenger flight currently in operation.

"From a mileage standpoint, this is one of the longest we've done," said Warren Abrams, one of the four pilots operating the flight. All four are in the cockpit on take off and landing. When the plane is at cruising altitude, they'll rotate four hours on, four hours off.

The flight plan shows the plane heading northeast from Brisbane, over Fiji and across the South Pacific. It is scheduled to veer south of Hawaii and enter continental airspace near Southern California.

‎The west-to-east route is "a straight shot with tail wind" which saves time and fuel, said Captain Dutch Holland, a 27-year veteran of commercial aviation.

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The crew rest cabin on the Boeing 777 charter carrying the White House press corps home from Australia.
Arden Farhi/CBS News

13 flight attendants staff the aircraft, which is operated by Delta and equipped with sleeping bunks for crew members.

Qantas Airways' service from Sydney to Dallas-Fort Worth (8,578 miles over more than hours) is the longest commercial passenger flight operating today. Even so, it is roughly 1,000 miles short of the Brisbane-Andrews route.

Until late 2013, the longest non-stop commercial passenger flight belonged to Singapore Airlines. Its Newark to Singapore route covered 9,535 miles and nearly 19 hours. The route was discontinued when the airline reorganized its fleet and phased out the Airbus 340 last year.