Passengers at the pointy end of Qantas globe-striding Project Sunrise jets will be cocooned in what CEO Alan Joyce describes as a "super first class" suite, with a hint that the design could include sliding doors – a flourish already adopted by many airlines for not only first class but some leading-edge business class suites.
"Given the nature of the routes there is definitely a market for first class," Joyce told Executive Traveller on the sidelines of a demonstration flight of the Airbus A220, which is in the mix for Qantas' regional domestic fleet.
"We think it's going to be a super first class, something that is a lot better than any product we’ve ever put in the air," he added. Could this 'super first class' include privacy doors? "I want to save that for another announcement some day," Joyce teased.
Next-gen suites and seats
The Project Sunrise jets – which will be either an Airbus A350-1000 or Boeing 777X – are expected to have a relatively small first class cabin, following a global trend towards reducing the number of first class suites, sometimes purely to rationalise against reduced demand and in other instances to increase the physical footprint of each suite.
Tucked in behind these 'super suites' will be a next-generation of business class, again geared for 18-20 hour flights such as from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York.
Qantas has already completed "a high-level design of what our cabins would look like," Joyce has previously said, with the aim of "redefining" all four travel classes. The airline has also been consulting with seatmakers on their very latest models, including yet-to-be-released concepts, as candidates for when the first Project Sunrise flights take wing in 2022-2023.
Joyce also confirmed to Executive Traveller that Qantas will increase the amount of legroom in economy class on the Project Sunrise jets.
"There'll be more legroom, and a special area for exercise. That's all part of the proposition, this aircraft is going to be designed for 19-20 hour flights."
Qantas' intent to fit all four travel classes to its Project Sunrise fleet contrasts with Singapore Airlines' decision to kit out its long-legged Airbus A350 jets with only business class and premium economy.
But the Project Sunrise jets won't be dedicated to 20-hour non-stop journeys – they'll also take on relatively shorter and more conventional routes to Los Angeles and Asia, especially as Qantas retires its Airbus A380s toweards the end of the next decade.
Not just for the ultra-long haul
“What we have to have is an aircraft that not only can fly Sydney-London and Sydney-New York, and Melbourne-London and Melbourne-New York, but also can be rotated to do Sydney-Hong Kong and Sydney-LA," Joyce told Executive Traveller earlier this year. This is driving Qantas towards a full four-cabin configuration “so that means all of the seats have to be usable for those routes."
The Project Sunrise jets will also come with superfast WiFi capable of streaming HD video, using similar high-speed satellite technology as Qantas' domestic fleet.
In mid-November Qantas will undertake the second of three Project Sunrise 'research flights' with a Boeing 787 Dreamliner travelling non-stop from London to Sydney, and Joyce says he pulled up well after arriving into Sydney on the 19½-hour research flight from New York earlier this month.
"I felt really good – I stayed up all day and went to bed pretty late, and then I had a busy week because that was the week of our AGM so I had to be energised for that, but I felt great."
"We had some frequent flyers on board who do New York-Sydney all the time, and they were saying how much of a difference this was, so we think we’re onto a winner here," Joyce added.
"We just need to reach an agreement with the regulators and the pilots, and get the (aircraft) manufacturer there with the best deal we can get, and hopefully by the end of the year we can have a positive outcome."