Qantas will go big on business class for Project Sunrise flights

Qantas CEO says the Project Sunrise jets will have at least 30% of their space assigned to premium cabins.

By David Flynn, November 14 2019
Qantas will go big on business class for Project Sunrise flights

If you're setting out on The World's Longest Flight™ with 18-20 hours aloft, you'd want to be in some of the most spacious and comfortable seats on the plane.

Qantas expects there will be plenty of those seats on its Project Sunrise jets, which should begin non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to the likes of London and New York in 2023, with at least a third of the aircraft being given over the premium cabins.

This will be dominated by a 'big' business class section, says Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, bookended by all-new design first class suites – the first since the A380's debut in 2008 – plus a sizeable number of premium economy seats.

Speaking in London ahead of the second of three Project Sunrise 'research flights', which will see a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner carrying only 49 passengers and crew fly 19½ hours straight through to Sydney, Joyce reflected that the airline's current Boeing 787-9 configuration is almost 30% premium, and that the Project Sunrise jets would be "at least that".

But those premium seats will come at a premium price: think of it as a 'non-stop tax' for flying direct. Joyce predicted prices of "20 to 30 per cent" higher compared to fares on the same route with a stopover, such as London via Singapore or New York via Los Angeles.

Expect plenty of business class seating in the Project Sunrise jets.
Expect plenty of business class seating in the Project Sunrise jets.

As Executive Traveller has previously reported, the Project Sunrise jets – which are likely to be either an Airbus A350-1000 or Boeing 777X – will lead with what Joyce has described as "a super first class, something that is a lot better than any product we’ve ever put in the air."

Behind those will be also-new business class and premium economy seats designed with these potentially bum-numbing journeys in mind. 

Qantas' Boeing 787-9s already sport a premium-heavy configuration, with 70 seats across business and premium economy out of 236 seats in total – a much higher ratio that three-class Dreamliners flown by other airlines.

The red-tailed Boeing 787-9s currently tackle the non-stop Perth-London route (around 17 hours in the air) and are also earmarked for future routes from Perth to Paris and Frankfurt, as well as Sydney to Santiago (14 hours) from June 2020 on top of the flagship trans-Pacific corridors from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles.

Non-stop decisions

Pumping up the pointy end makes particular sense when it's business travellers who value the time-saving abilities of a direct flight, as well as being able to make the most of their travel time as a single contiguous block rather than have it broken into two segments with a stop-over in between.

"I’ve had business travellers tell me they’d rather stay on board and watch an extra episode of their favourite show before arriving at their final destination, rather than spending 90 minutes on the ground waiting for a connecting flight," Joyce says.

But it's not just be about road warriors. "I’ve also had a few parents tell me they would rather not disturb their kids if they are settled in and avoid having to bundle them and all their carry-on luggage off and back on a flight during a stopover. So, there is definitely support for the non-stop flights”.

Qantas has an ambitious non-stop network in mind for its new globe-striding jets.
Qantas has an ambitious non-stop network in mind for its new globe-striding jets.

However, unlike Singapore Airlines' long-legged Airbus A350 jets which are fitted with only business class and premium economy, the Project Sunrise fleet will also include an economy cabin.

“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."

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 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, and is consulting with seatmakers on their very latest models including yet-to-be-released concepts, as candidates for the prestigious Project Sunrise contract.

Executive Traveller review: Surviving the 20-hour non-stop flight from New York to Sydney


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

Executive Traveller values reader comments which are considered, informed and add value to the conversation. We appreciate that Project Sunrise and especially these research flights are contentious topics, but we ask that readers refrain from launching into a CommentRant and instead focus on the topic of this article, and we reserve the right to edit or delete comments accordingly.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1021

A premium heavy configuration is not really surprising. As well as the routes being targetted towards the corporate market, a premium heavy configuration reduces weight with less pax and luggage meaning range is increased via reduced overall weight or allowing maximum fuel capacity to be carried.

Qantas plan to announce decision by Christmas assuming they can come to a compromise with crew. Both A350 and 778 have their advantages but I am probably leaning towards the A350 being successful given it can definitely arrive in the planned timeline and the slightly reduced capacity is not an issue if Y class is being minimised.

This makes good sense for the sort of routes these jets will be flying, especially once they take over from the Airbus A380s towards the end of the 2020s. I do feel that even though economy is needed due to those more 'normal' routes it doesn't need to be too large a cabin, the Qantas Boeing 787-9s are a good starting point for this 'mix' but I would rather see more business class and premium economy seats.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 366

I know the thinking is that this will be a pretty small F cabin of maybe just four suites but I hope we can see more like eight, and that they'll be fully private suites with sliding doors. It would also be nice to see doors in business class like BA's new Club Suites but I suppose this will add weight and decrease the differentiation between business and first.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Apr 2011

Total posts 44

I just came home on Tuesday in one of the new Qatar Qsuites, and to be honest, I am not a fan of the doors in business class. Personally I found it a tad claustrophobic and preferred the door open. Granted a business class seat is way more roomier than cattle class, but in the bed config, there's not a lot of room to manouvre.

05 Dec 2018

Total posts 153

I harp on this very post. Please decent foot hole room in business cabins for all seats.

Also might just be me but the current gen seats in the 787 business I find hard to get an optimum lounging position and feels too low.

Excited to see what the new product will look like. I for one don't mind the open planned seats in the current 787 business config. I find it's provides enough privacy.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jan 2017

Total posts 18

Completely agree about the foot hole. I'm unable to rollover without taking my legs out of the cubbyhole first, and then have to go through a re-wrap of the blanket. First world problem of course, but it does influence my decision on which route, and even which airline to fly.

I've flown LHR/PER once, and prefer to catch the flights via Singapore - although my true preference was the old MEL/HKG/LHR routing. The longer MEL/HKG sector gave a better length of sleeping time and also meant a shorter HKG/LHR sector.

14 Oct 2016

Total posts 101

The term super first class is probably a bit of spin as I very much doubt Qantas can improve on the offerings from other airlines like Singapore, Etihad or Emirates.

The only way they can be super is if they can offer something not current available like a sky spa (ie foot massage, facial, etc), but I very much see this being like the "Revolutionary" Premium economy which turned out to not be any improvement on what is already on the market.

12 Apr 2011

Total posts 75

If I have a look at the current 787 seat map, it looks like almost 50% of the floor space is dedicated to premium cabins. So is this actually a reduction in premium to economy ratios?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

It's actually just shy of 30% on the Boeing 787-9s.

12 Apr 2011

Total posts 75

30% by seat count, around 50% by floor space. Title says "30% of space" so I assumed we were talking about floor space.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Sep 2018

Total posts 155

I don't see many economy passengers going on this flight. People on this flight are likely travelling for business or high-end leisure travellers and the prices will reflect that. It makes sense to increase the premium cabin seat count. I would argue 30% is still too little.

11 Dec 2015

Total posts 88

"I don't see many economy passengers going on this flight"

Mind you - people said that about Perth-London too, and those flights are now almost always near-full, including in economy. I think there's more than enough people willing to slog it out in economy, especially if Joyce comes good on his promise to increase legroom.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jan 2012

Total posts 177

Should Project Sunrise proceed.....I wonder if they will also retain the 1 stop flight options for these destinations?


Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 49

Sorry to put a dampener on the discussion but I just don't see the economics stacking up. The existing fleet can already reach all major hubs in the world, with the exception of London and New York. So there are only three reasons to purchase the plane: flying to London, flying to New York and to provide additional capacity on the routes already being serviced.

Most passengers flying to London in economy will want a stopover, unless it is significantly cheaper to fly direct. It is difficult to see economy being cheaper as the cost of the fuel for a direct flight is more expensive than with a stopover. Assuming the flight leaves from Sydney, if I live in Melbourne or Brisbane there is no reason to trek to Sydney for a London flight. New York is slightly different as there is no convenient stopover locations so backtracking to Sydney will not be a major issue. So it is suitable for New York, but not London.

With regards to additional capacity I see this working on some routes but on most routes passengers prefer more frequent service than a larger plan. An example of this is that there are no A380's on the London to New York route even though this has the highest amount of sales of any route in the world. I can see the aircraft working on routes such as Tokyo and LA where it would be a replacement for the 747/A380's and a more frequent service can be provided. If Qantas still has options on the 787 at decent prices, this may be more preferably for adding additional capacity. So opinion is divided on it being suitable for additional capacity.

My conclusion is that Project Sunrise is only meeting 50% of its goals. I would not take such a significant risk if it is only achieving 50% of my goals.

But with all destinations that have been touted for this aircraft these are are major business hubs requiring a larger premium cabin As economy will be light on passengers it makes sense to have a bigger premium area, but I believe this should be over 40% of the plane.

It will be a tough call for Qantas as they have created such hype that it will be difficult to let down their customers by not purchasing the aircraft.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 366

"Assuming the flight leaves from Sydney, if I live in Melbourne or Brisbane there is no reason to trek to Sydney for a London flight." Qantas intends to fly to London and New York from Melbourne and Brisbane, as shown on the route map in this article.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 366

Yes, that's a very high 'premium', I think 10-15% they could get away with and maybe 20% but not a third as much again as a stopover flight. Well, Qantas will have done its modelling so they may well prove me wrong.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Oct 2016

Total posts 74

Im sorry but no matter how much I'd happily spend that much time on a flight and go direct rather than stopover, it's just not worth 20-30% extra. I'd happily stop in Singapore any day for that price difference. Hence I've stopped using PER-LHR...

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1265

@JTG - I'm not sure why these subjects always seem to descend into people claiming to know what "most people" want to do. I do know, some people said the Qantas's flights from PER to SYD wouldn't work. I do know, that some people will choose to fly via 1 stop, some will choose to fly non-stop, others choose to fly due to loyalty schemes, others due to their work contracts and many on price... Qantas only needs some of these people, not everyone.

The example of JFK to LHR is a poor comparison. The markets are not the same, due to geography, populations, time and sheer distance. There is a reason why daytime flights from USA to Australia haven't taken off...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jun 2017

Total posts 19

With prices of "20 to 30 per cent" higher compared to fares on the same route with a stopover! Qantas are already expensive so for the sake of a couple of extra hours I think that I would probably take a lower cost carrier as I do most of the time now and put up with the stopover.

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1265

@APACPete - have you considered that you're probably not Qantas target market for this flight?

05 Dec 2018

Total posts 153

Would love Qatar Airways todo Doha-Melbourne-NewYork/London haha.

Probably not a legal flight route..

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 322

I wonder how the “non stop tax” works out on reward bookings because aren't they are calculated by distance, not how many flights it takes to get that distance, wouldn't reward bookings be the same price as a stopover flight.

10 Jul 2018

Total posts 118

Yes, that's right - there would be no difference in points needed for non-stop and one-stop flights, assuming they fall within the same 'zone' or 'distance bracket'.

But carrier charges could be increased for non-stop reward bookings, or they could simply limit availability on non-stop routes, especially in the premium cabins (this is already seen on the Perth-London direct flights).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1393

@JTG but that's precisely why they are looking at it.

At the moment they compete with close to 20 airlines and airports with a variety of single stops on SYD/MEL-LHR, many based in countries with far lower cost bases than Qantas.

Only Australian or British airlines can ever fly direct. All they need is a small percentage of passengers willing to pay a premium for a shorter flight and one without a 3-4hr disruption in the middle and it will be a success.

Everyone else will have a choice of Garuda to Air China to likely soon Turkish, and everything in between.

There's a lot of of doubt about the viability for these ultra-long haul routes but they are being added consistently by airlines every year. PER-LHR has proven to be an overwhelming success. Lot's of people will continue to opt for a stop because it's cheaper or they prefer the break but Qantas has a clearly defined market who would opt for the time-saving non-stop routes.

If it all plays out, Qantas will be in a remarkable position with flights that literally bypass the competition (ME3, SIA etc).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jun 2014

Total posts 20

As a 100% economy flyer 193cm tall, the extra legroom in the current 789 configuration compared to the 380 is well appretiated. Also throw in the superior AV system with the great storage area and nightlight and I will be looking at QF9/10 next time I need to get to the UK. Or an Emirates codeshare.... Looking forward to seeing if the AV is better with the refurb 380s too..

01 Jan 2015

Total posts 4

I can confirm that thew refurb A380s have the same AV systems in economy as before. They didn't even change the screens. Only the graphic interface has been updated to the newest version.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jun 2014

Total posts 20

That's a shame...

A whisker more pitch, a whisker less width ... whatever suits your shape.

16 Jan 2018

Total posts 8

Well, I hope that 30% price increase will also reflect in status points, otherwise why fly direct when you can fly indirect?

You know what Qantas are trying to do here, simply promote Boeing's new Dreamliner, really good marketing for both Qantas and Boeing. Wow we've invested this aeroplane see how far it can fly. Don't get me wrong I'm sure it's a great aeroplane, mind you how does it compare to the Airbus A350

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 366

Sorry but that's nonsense. What Qantas is trying to do here is promote itself, which it's very good at doing, and Project Sunrise. The flights came about only because they were taking delivery of three new 787-9s from Boeing. Look at the restrictions on these flights, less than 50 pax and minimal checked luggage, there is NO way a 787 of any sort could do Sunrise. If it could, Boeing would have proposed it instead of the 777X. The Sunrise contest is between the A350 and the B777X. But I won't start on which is better and which I could rather see chosen because I know that's not what this article and therefore comments should be about (hint: A350!).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 May 2011

Total posts 20

As a sometimes Roadie and more often self funded / points J flyer, I am thinking how would this work for a 20-30% premium.

The seat J, space, food, service, entertainment and general experience is the same, the extras are WiFi (required) and saving 4 hours. My road worrier self will look for the value provided. A flight that allows me to complete a working day, so leaving around 8-9pm SYD or MEL arriving LHR 5-6am, clear customs, arrivals lounge, catching up on emails/work and in the city by 8am - it works. Depart LHR lunchtime arrive SYD MEL 7-8pm, home, sleep and back in the office in the morning. All this for a $10k ticket ($8000 +25%).

Or do I fly F on most airlines, work, sleep and arrive at the same time but lose 4 hours of travel time but I have done 6 hours between SYD/MEL and Asia, downloaded all my emails and picked up the next lot sitting in the nice lounge in most stop off points.

If I am in the UK/Europe for 48-72 hours I think the non stop is a good option but if the travel time is not as critical the $2000 does not balance the value proposition. if its the same price (and lower cost flight for QF) then on balance maybe. I found the 16 hours 48 mins in a 787-9 very doable so 3-4 hours more, i still be asleep, even in Y....

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jan 2017

Total posts 74

It will be interesting to see if the non-stop tax actually becomes as punitive as forecast.

As only a casual observer, the PER-LHR flights appear on average to be no-where near that much dearer than the one stops.

Despite many nay-sayers about ULH flights, allegedly the PER-LHR flights are averaging 95% occupancy which is higher than any other QFi route as far as I have read, so obviously there is a ready market for the ULR flights with a proportion of the population.

While I enjoy flying per se, I despise the whole rigramole of queuing, security, loading and unloading etc associated with flying so doing in only once each way is a significant bonus and maybe worth a small premium.

I guess the price point that enables the route to be profitable and still attracts viable loads will determine its success.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2018

Total posts 17

Interesting to see the many arguments for and against a higher price proposal for little time saving and a bit of loading/unloading hassle.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Apr 2014

Total posts 45

Quite interesting they're prepared to charge such a premium. On flights with stops they have a second descent and climb to contend with (higher fuel burn than cruise), plus airport fees for landing and ground handling costs. All of these disappear, but you do need to carry more fuel.

I also share concern for the ongoing operation of the one-stops once the ULH kick off. Especially given that LHR is slot constrained, why would they for additional slots for Sunrise flights and not just cannibalise the Singapore ones?

16 Nov 2019

Total posts 1

So, let me see, Qantas CEO Joyce is suggesting I will expect to pay a premium of 20-30% on top of their Business Class fare to save around 4 hours flight time, but endure at least 20-24 hours in the air in an enlarged Business Class Cabin, with the expectation of having families around me all that time ?

It is going to save Qantas money and increase their bottom line by having non stop flight, but the traveller will pay much more.

NO THANK YOU !! Give me an hour or two in a Lounge in SIN or DBX to break up the journey, take a shower and relax in comfort quietly, please at a reasonable fare.

09 May 2017

Total posts 38

There will be enough payers who don't shop on price to go the ULH route, the numbers are small enough. But having done both flights LHR-MEL via PER and SIN in Bus and Economy I would choose SIN from a comfort and price level. Qantas already struggle on price to retain us 3 times a year and only our platinum status keeps us there. For another 30% it would be only kept for emergency flights back to family in MEL. Not by choice.

While it's great to see that Qantas have the best interests of the busy, time is valuable, business executive foremost in their plans to provide him/her (her/him?) with a full working day following a non stop flight to/from LHR/CDG (and various other 'look, me too' direct destinations), their current PER LHR PER offering, timed (return) to leave LHR at 1155 GMT ... (no, it's not 'UTC' ... UTC is a constant world standard, GMT is (now) the British winter standard and BST their summer standard) ... and arrive back in PER at 1230 AWST, wastes a day each end with absolutely no concern for 'business hours' and points to overriding ulterior motives ($$). Perhaps business executive's only travel North. And even if our hypothetical super-valuable exec' does need to be tucked up in bed for more than 8 hours this can easily be achieved via SIN, KUL, HKG, ICN, HND (and on, and on).

Then there's the consideration; after we've accommodated all the deep sleeping executives who are keen to get a full days work under their belt in a time zone that is (pretty much) directly opposite the one their body clock is tuned to ... ('how did I manage to make so many poor decisions while I was in London?'), ... of how many of the 'non power businessman' passenger load, i.e., (probably) the majority of the load, REALLY want to arrive in London/Paris with a mid' winter sunrise still 3 hours away ... eg, QF9 ETA LHR 0505, sunrise London late December to early January 0805/0806. I'm not intimately familiar with Paris congestion times but I do know that you don't really want to be dragging a suitcase around London's transport system much before 0930 or after 1530 weekdays.

Nah! Count me out. As a leisure traveller, I'll stick to (where it's available) an early afternoon arrival that provides minimum weekday congestion, cheaper (in London's case) trains into the city and the opportunity to check straight into my/our accommodation and 'flop' until the following (their) morning.

18 Oct 2019

Total posts 16

I just hope and pray Qantas opts for the A350-1000!

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