Executive Traveller exclusive
Here is the next generation of Qantas business class: it’s the Qantas A350 business class, which will take wing on those non-stop ‘Project Sunrise’ flights from Sydney and Melbourne to the likes of New York, London and Paris from the end of 2025.
Branded as the Qantas A350 Business Suite, the seat itself is based on the new Unity platform from Safran Seats – but heavily customised and thoughtfully styled by David Caon (who also helped shaped the airline’s Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 business class seats).
And it’s got the works: sliding doors, a long fully lie-flat bed, a generous 18” video screen with Bluetooth audio connectivity, USB-C and wireless device charging, free broadband WiFi plus plenty more.
The A350 Business Suite broke cover on the same day Qantas reported a pre-tax profit of $1.4 billion on its half-year financials from July-December 2022 – and just two days after a $100m investment in lounges, with everything from upgrades for the Sydney and Melbourne international business class lounges to a dedicated first class lounge at London Heathrow.
Executive Traveller attended the invitation-only launch of the Qantas A350 business class to get hands-on with mockups of the seat and talk with Caon about the design and details.
We also managed to snap some photos of the A350 business class seats, although it’s worth pointing out they’re not the finished product – there’s still some work to be done on the finish and materials plus the inevitable fine-tuning between now and late 2025.
For example, the mockup models sport an off-white door which in the finished product will be rendered in a very on-theme platinum.
And very few seats look as good out of the cabin and under bright lighting as they will inside the aircraft: airlines and designers develop the seats to live in that specific environment, where they are complemented by rest of the cabin plus LED lighting.
So the best idea of what the Qantas A350 Business Suite will actually look like is to be seen in the PR photos – our focus on the mockups is to explore the seat itself.
And while these ultra-long range A350s have been designed for Project Sunrise, they won’t only be seen on those ambitious globe-striding marathons.
Qantas has already confirmed the A350 will take over from the Boeing 787-9 on the Perth-London route in 2026, and it’s expected a second tranche of A350 orders will see these modern twinjets effectively replace the double-decker Airbus A380s when those superjumbos are retired around the end of this decade.
The A350s are also likely to inherit other flagship routes from the Boeing 787: while the A350s have almost an identical number of seats, far more of these are given over to the higher-yielding premium cabins (first, business and premium economy) than on the Dreamliner.
So what’s in store for passengers at the pointy end of the Qantas Airbus A350?
52 of these business class suites will sit behind six fully-private Qantas A350 first class suites (the A350’s premium economy and economy seats will be revealed later this year).
They’ll be split across two cabins of 28 and 24 seats, respectively, separated by a self-serve snack bar and galley kitchen.
To emphasis the sense of space in the extra-wide Airbus A350, Qantas has followed the lead of several other airlines in not installing central luggage bins – the only bins are those above the window seats, although Airbus has made them large enough to cope with the carry-on luggage of every passenger.
Qantas’ A350 business class layout follows the familiar pattern of its current Business Suites: the individual ‘window seats’ alternate between being closer to the window or next to the aisle...
... while the paired middle seats come in what’s sometimes called a ‘honeymoon & divorce’ configuration (the honeymoon seats being next to each other, while the divorce seats are furthest apart).
To better understand that, here’s a cabin photo of the Safran Unity business class seat on which the Qantas A350 Business Suite is based:
As on the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 Business Suites, there’s a motorised divider panel between the middle seats which can be raised or lowered to suit your personal preference.
The actual footprint of each Qantas A350 business class suite is 42" wide, with the seat itself measuring 25" across (an inch more than the A380 and Boeing 787 Business Suite).
The suite’s walls are lined with a soft-touch material which reduces noise while adding a tactile element which supports what Qantas describes as a ‘residential’ aesthetic in the materials and colours.
Each seat fronts a cushioned leather ottoman which becomes part of the 80” (2m) bed – that’s actually an inch longer than the beds in Qantas’ A380 first class – while the ottoman also lifts up to reveal additional storage space.
The Qantas A350 Business Suite is framed by 47” walls, with a sliding door at the same height (although the inside of the doors is bare rather being lined with that noise-dampening fabric).
While many travellers prefer doors to remain open for much of the flight, they’re undoubtedly welcome during overnight portions for not only privacy but to minimise interruption from noise and passenger or crew movement around the cabin.
Even with the doors open, the tall walls which form the seat’s ‘shell’ offer a high degree of privacy on their own.
“We worked really, really hard within the shrouding around the head,” Caon tells Executive Traveller, saying “we wanted that to feel really open.”
The first row of each Qantas A350 business class cabin will offer more legroom and an enlarged ‘foot cubby’, just as it does on the current Business Suite family.
Qantas has confirmed it won’t be turning the first row of business class into a more premium and higher-priced ‘business plus’ proposition – as is being done by Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa, among others – because there simply isn’t much floorspace left over on the A350 once you take into account the extra pitch in premium economy and economy plus the ‘wellness zones’ for stretching.
The wide benchtop next to each seat adds to your ‘personal space’ and also houses an inbuilt wireless charging pad.
This is one example of the mockups still being very much a working prototype: the silicone markings for placing your device are at an early stage and could become slightly larger as well as being raised up and textured, to help ‘guide’ passengers as to device placement while also affording a little grip to the phone or tablet doesn’t slide around too much.
At the front of the bench you’ll find what Qantas terms a ‘glovebox’, and this is one of the many unique touches developed by Caon and his team which isn’t found on the original Safran Unity seat.
It’s a natural home for small loose items like reading glasses, jewellery, a watch or a pair of noise-cancelling earbuds in their little charging case.
“We get all the data on these seats and we start to sort of interrogate that data and investigate,” Caon says of the process in transforming the Safran Unity suite into the Qantas A350 Business Suite.
As they pore over the specifications and think carefully of what passengers will need “we find a pocket here, something else there” he says.
“I’m just mindful when we design something like this, we try to give everything a place.”
As something of a car enthusiast, Caon laughs when I ask if the ‘glovebox’ name was his doing. “No, I just think that’s probably the most apt description for it, but it didn’t come from me!”
The larger compartment above the bench and next to the LED reading lamp is better suited to an amenity kit, with a vanity mirror mounted on the inside of the door.
At the very rear of the benchtop is the headphone jack, a universal AC socket and two USB charging points – one for USB-A and the other, USB-C.
But you might not need to use the supplied headphones: the Qantas A350 Business Suite sports Bluetooth audio streaming system so you can connect your own high-quality noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds via Bluetooth to the inflight entertainment system.
Qantas also promises the A350s will feature WiFi that’s both fast and free, as is the case with the airline’s domestic inflight Internet service – allowing you to stream and binge-view to your heart’s content on those 18-20 hour treks.
In front of the seat and next to the 18-inch ultra-high def video screen is another compartment which Caon cleverly split into two sections, using a coat hook as a divider, rather than have a single recess where things can effectively get ‘lost’.
The larger section is an obvious home for your laptop, tablet and magazines; the smaller part might be where you’d place a book.
“The area that I focused on a lot with my team was what you see in front of you. “ Caon explains.
“We wanted that to be very, very clean and very, very organised. So you can put your laptop there, a book, your headphones… and you also have a piece of mood lighting that will contribute to how you feel in the cabin.”
Beyond the obvious convenience of these stowage spaces, Caon says “it’s about having a clean, organised look” which enhances the suites’ overall aesthetic.
“It’s refined, not opulent, not ‘shouty’ at all – the design language that we developed is a sort of understated luxury.”