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.
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.
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”.
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.