Here’s your first look at Qantas’ all-new premium economy seat for the Boeing 787, which will begin flying in Australian skies in October 2017 before heading to Los Angeles and London – with many more Dreamliner routes to follow.
So does it live up to the promise made by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce of being a “revolutionary” seat?
At first glance, no.
It’s a well-appointed seat, to be sure. Spacious, comfortable and stylish, shaped by thoughtful design with attention to detail…
… but even if feature-for-feature it trumps the rest of the premium economy market, it still doesn’t look like a revolutionary product, a game-changer for globe-trotters on a budget.
That’s because the most innovative parts of Qantas’ new Boeing 787-9 premium economy seat won’t be obvious until you’re sitting in it and getting ready for the long flight ahead.
Then, when you’ve pressed the right buttons and fiddled around a bit, you’ll discover the deeply-reclined seat puts you into a ‘lazy Z’ position in which pretty much every part of your body is supported, right down to a long netting ‘hammock’ for your feet.
While the seat itself has been designed from the ground up for Qantas, including extensive work by Australian industrial designer David Caon, it’s based on a prototype mechanism developed by Thompson Aero Seating – the same firm behind the Boeing 787’s business class seat (below).
Now let’s delve into the must-know details for the traveller, with the help of some time spent with the seat before its public unveilling.
These photos don't represent the seat at its truest colours, which draw on a charcoal palette with some 'burnt caramel' highlights – a combination which works exceptionally well in real life.
Qantas Boeing 787 premium economy seat specs
There are 28 seats in the Qantas Dreamliner’s premium economy cabin, arranged in four rows of 2-3-2 and sandwiched between the business class and economy sections.
The seat pitch – which approximates as an indicator of legroom – is 38 inches. That’s the same as the premium economy on Qantas’ Airbus A380, as well as most other airlines – although the 41 inches of Virgin Australia’s Boeing 777-300ER fleet is a notable standout.
But a fully-reclined seat in front of you will definitely encroach upon your space, unless you've also got your seat angled back – and it'll be a squeeze to get in and out of your seat when the person in front is in ultra-relaxed mode.
Qantas claims its Boeing 787 premium economy seat width is “up to 22.8 inches”, although it’s a bit more complicated than that.
The well-padded seat cushion is 19.5 inches wide, while the armrest-to-armrest distance – the standard way in which seat widths are measured – comes in at 20.5 inches, which is one inch more than on the Qantas A380.
Allowing for the extra space between the edge of the cushion and the inner wall of the armrests brings the total of what could be called ‘hip width’ to 22.8 inches.
Need a smidge more room? The middle seat of each premium economy row (the ‘E’ seats: 20E, 21E, 22E and 23E) is actually a bit wider again, at 23.3 inches.
(The outside armrests can also drop down, providing passengers with more useable space to spread out.)
A thick luxury pillow – more like a bolster in some ways – is fitted onto the seat’s winged headrest, so the pillow won’t slide around and slip down behind your back.
To while away the hours on those long flights there’s a 13.3 inch seatback video screen…
… but if you prefer BYO inflight entertainment, there’s a narrow frame in front of the screen into which you can slide a tablet (even one as large as a 13 inch iPad Pro).
The adjacent USB port is convenient for charging your tablet – or your smartphone, especially if you tuck the phone into the covered cubbyhole just below the screen.
This is also the place to park your reading glasses or other small bits of personal kit.
There’s a second USB port in the armrest between the seats; this is a high-powered port (2A, vs 0.5A for the screen-adjacent port) with plenty of juice to fully recharge your travel tech.
However, with one AC powerpoint for each pair of seats (or two sockets for the middle set of three seats) we suggest bringing a double-adaptor so you can share the socket with your seatmate.
The meal table has enough room to plant your laptop and get into some work (or a video binge session)…
… while a large pocket on the rear of each seat is perfect for tucking away your laptop when not in use.
Qantas counts the two small recesses chiselled into the armrest on either side of the seat as ‘storage areas’, although we’d suggest they are best suited to a notepad, travel diary or maybe a small tablet in a protective case.
There’s also a soft personal LED light in the shroud of each seat...
... and a pocket for stowing water bottles.
Oh, and for those who’ve been wondering which toilets are available to premium economy travellers: they get to use the two loos at the rear of the main business class cabin, rather than having to schlep through economy.
That's good news for the premium economy brigade but not so much for business class travellers, who'll have just one lav set aside exclusively for them – that being the WC at the very front of the cabin.
From A to B in a ‘lazy Z’
So how does the Dreamliner’s premium economy seat transform into a low-cost sleeper?
Step 1: press a button and the seat tilts back into a generous 9.5 inch recline…
… and at the same time, the base of the seat angles up and forward.
Step 2: pull the lever next to the video screen...
... and a supportive calf-rest/footrest swings down and forward. This is paired with a netting cradle into which you can tuck your feet.
Unlike the Qantas A380 premium economy, there’s no legrest built into the front of the Dreamliner seat – Caon says this is because it “has a limited range of motion” and “in the end it doesn't fully support your feet.”
“We opted for a full cradling of the body from head to toe,” Caon tells Australian Business Traveller.
The re-imagined legrest works on hydraulics and can be set into a wide range of positions, typically to support your calves while your feet slide into their own hammock.
“There’s a huge range of adjustability from an ergonomics point of view” Caon says, adding that Qantas has tested the seat with passengers of just about every size.
With the headrest extended, the seat can fully cradle a traveller of around 2.1 metres from tip to toe.
However, with so many variations on how the legrest can be positioned, finding their comfort ‘sweet spot' could prove an over-complicated process for many travellers.
This is where Qantas' Boeing 787 crew is going to have to work hard on explaining the seat to passengers and helping them find the right combination of settings.
What are your thoughts on Qantas' new Boeing 787 premium economy seat?