What does the future hold for Qantas first class?

Qantas won't be flying first class for at least the next three years...

By David Flynn, January 14 2021
What does the future hold for Qantas first class?

Although Qantas is now plotting a July restart for its international network, something will be missing from the picture: the option to fly first class.

For almost as long as Qantas has been carrying passengers – which means the better part of its 100-year history – the airline has soared the lofty heights of luxury.

The peak of that was perhaps in 1971, when Qantas' first Boeing 747 jumbo jet introduced the exclusive Captain Cook lounge in the jumbo's upper deck 'hump' where first class travellers could mingle, dine, relax, drink, and even smoke.

A haven for high flyers: Qantas' Boeing 747 Captain Cook lounge.
A haven for high flyers: Qantas' Boeing 747 Captain Cook lounge.

The Boeing 747 eventually made way for the Airbus A380, which in 2008 became the airline's new first class flagship, with 14 'open' suites designed by Marc Newson.

For the Airbus A380, Qantas adopted an 'open suite' design which still cocooned passengers in privacy.
For the Airbus A380, Qantas adopted an 'open suite' design which still cocooned passengers in privacy.

Qantas was in the process of upgrading its superjumbo fleet – a process which included a refresh for first class, but new seats in business and premium economy as well as two inflight lounges – when the coronavirus pandemic took hold in early 2020.

This saw all twelve A380s immediately grounded, and later moved into long-term storage on the edge of California's Mojave Desert.

Read more: How Qantas will hibernate its Airbus A380 for the next three years

That's where they remain to this day, and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says "the A380s have to remain on the ground for at least three years," until there's a sufficient number of people flying to justify the return of the superjumbo.

With its flagship Airbus A380s out of action until 2023, what's the future of Qantas' first class?
With its flagship Airbus A380s out of action until 2023, what's the future of Qantas' first class?

Speaking at the Reuters Next online forum this week, Joyce predicted international traffic won’t return to pre-COVID 2019 levels until 2023-2024. Even then, their future is not assured.

"There is a potential to bring all 12 (A380s) back (into service), but there is a potential to bring less than 12 back," Joyce told Executive Traveller in May 2020. "That will depend on what the recovery scenario looks like."

It's anticipated that the first A380s to fly again – and perhaps the only ones – will be the six that have already been refurbished, which would pick up duties from Sydney to London and Los Angeles.

Qantas' upgraded A380s: refreshed first class suites, new business class seats and new inflight lounges.
Qantas' upgraded A380s: refreshed first class suites, new business class seats and new inflight lounges.

For at least the next three years, then, all of Qantas major major international routes will flown by its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

Many of which have been mothballed alongside the Airbus A380s but can be quickly brought back into service, while others remain in Australia and have been assigned to repatriation flights from London, Europe, the USA, South American and India.

Qantas' new international flagship is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Qantas' new international flagship is the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Qantas' new international schedule from July 2021 shows the Boeing 787 taking over former A380 routes such as Sydney-London, Sydney-Los Angeles and Sydney-Dallas/Forth Worth.

However, Qantas' Boeing 787-9 doesn't have first class – only business, premium economy and economy.

The upshot is that Qantas will, for the first time in decades, be flying without first class.

Qantas' A380 first class suites offered companion dining.
Qantas' A380 first class suites offered companion dining.

As Alan Joyce has admitted, there's a scenario in which no Airbus A380s will return – perhaps foreshadowed by the airline's decision in August 2020 to write down the value of the A380s and other aircraft by $1.4 billion.

Fortunately, this won't mean an end to Qantas first class – but it could mean a longer wait until it returns.

Qantas was set to place an order for up to 12 long-range Airbus A350-1000 jets.
Qantas was set to place an order for up to 12 long-range Airbus A350-1000 jets.

Qantas was within weeks of placing an order for up to 12 Airbus A350-1000s  to begin non-stop Project Sunrise flights from Sydney and Melbourne to the likes of London, Paris and New York, when COVID-19 struck.

The A350-1000s were due to begin those 18-20 hour flights in mid-2023, and would be crowned by what Joyce has previously described to Executive Traveller as "super first class" suites.

"Given the nature of the routes there is definitely a market for first class," he said, adding that "it will be the best product we’ve ever put on an aircraft."

Executive Traveller understands Qantas has planned for six extra-large first class suites in the same 1-1-1 layout as its A380, but closer to the design of Emirates' latest Boeing 777 first class suites.

The new standard: Emirates' latest Boeing 777 firsts class suites.
The new standard: Emirates' latest Boeing 777 firsts class suites.

It's not known if those suites had sliding doors for privacy – one would certainly hope so – but Joyce wouldn't be drawn on this issue, while a Qantas spokesperson would say only that passengers would experience "a leading first class of any airline in the world." 

Not just for the ultra-long haul

The original plan was that the Project Sunrise jets would also bring relatively shorter and more conventional routes to Los Angeles and Asia under their wing, with speculation Qantas would order a second tranche of A350s as replacements for the Airbus A380s.

“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 in early 2019.

Qantas' initial set of likely Airbus A350 Project Sunrise routes; Frankfurt was later added to the list.
Qantas' initial set of likely Airbus A350 Project Sunrise routes; Frankfurt was later added to the list.

For now, however, even that first round of A350s will have to wait their turn.

While Qantas plans to "revisit" Project Sunrise at the end of 2021 "and look at what's the appropriate time" to set things back in motion, Joyce remains steadfast that his first focus must be to "repair the balance sheet" which has been shredded by the impact of COVID-19, and bring the Red Roo back into the black.

But he remains "very optimistic" on the appeal of Project Sunrise, saying it may be even stronger in the post-pandemic era.

"People in the post-COVID world will want to fly direct" rather than make stopovers, "which I think makes the Project Sunrise business case even better than it was pre-COVID."

David

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.

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 194

David do you know what this means for the First Class lounges? Would be disappointing if these disappear too. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Oct 2019

Total posts 11

If I'm correct in saying there are 11 787s plus 3 more being built, that is surely not enough to operate all the LAX, LHR, JNB, SCL, DFW, JFK (part of LA I know) flights as well as some Tokyo, Singapore and Hong Kong flights. 

Hopefully, by mid to late 2022 we will see a need for the A380s to return to cope with demand and a nearly full route network. I hope this isn't wishful thinking. 

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 158

Almost correct, Qantas has taken delivery of all 14 but the last few flew straight from Boeing's factory to the Mojave Dessert storage area.

You are correct in saying that's not enough to cover all those destinations you mentioned but most Asian destinations would be covered by the A330, although SYD-SIN will have a 787 to continue onto SIN-LHR. SCL isn't restarting just yet, it's not on the new July 2021 schedule, and I think we will more likely see JNB served as SYD-PER-JNB with an A330.

All the same Qantas can't just plug 787s in place of A380s but I think as the flights get closer Qantas will look at demand and bookings and drop some routes which simply don't have enough patronage and others will go to three or four flights a week if there is not enough demand for daily flights.

Qantas

22 Oct 2012

Total posts 284

The date for the return of the QF A380's will entirely depend on passenger demand for flights to London, LAX & DFW.  Then it will be a matter of costs for passenger to use A380s or B787s for those destinations.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 106

100% right, Phil. Qantas will not give up on the A380s for London and LAX as long as there's enough passengers on those routes, it will all come down to the market. But I remember Alan Joyce saying something like that Perth-London was the first time the Kangaroo Route had ever been profitable for them due to it being non-stop and the Boeing 787 being the right size and highly efficient, so you have to wonder at what point the market does make sense to bring back the A380. As for DFW, I suspect that once we see non-stop flights to New York, Dallas will drop off the Qantas route map but be replaced by an American Airlines Boeing 787-9.

QF

04 Apr 2014

Total posts 176

Qantas won’t want to be unable to respond should their major international routes like LA bounce back quickly, which they will as more people get vaccinated and governments loosen the rules.  Those 380’s could be back in service sooner than we think and full.

American Airlines - AAdvantage

02 Jun 2019

Total posts 14

Qantas has a great Business Class and all these worries about First Class are silly, Qantas doesn't need to keep up with Emirates.     If the A350-1000 have it it going to be very limited to two rows which are 6 to 8 suites.   The Project Sunrise fleet with have a large J class plus a large Y + cabin and regular economy.    Frankly, given the weight of First Class seats and all the galley stuff Qantas would be better following the seat plan they have on the 787-9.   If some one wants First Class let them take the A380 or the one stop flight over Singapore. 

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 106

Well as this article indicates the Qantas A350s will have six first class suites, two rows of 1-1-1. I imagine it will also have a large business class and relatively large premium economy cabin too. But don't discount the importance of the first class market to this route, non-stop to New York or London or Paris will appeal to a lot of people and some of them will be the type who want to fly first class.

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Aug 2018

Total posts 82

Whilst speculation abounds about all flights into and out of Australia, I would suggest that unless Qantas believes it needs a ‘glamour’ product on its future flights, it might make more sense to retain a larger J section on its future A 350 ( which I am certain it can fill with paying and or point upgrade travellers) People who need to fly first class for whatever reason can always fly on another One World company such as Qatar with its unrivalled first class product. But then it would be a shame to close the lovely first class lounges.... a step undoubtedly to be considered if the company wants to return to the ‘black’

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 106

I can't see Qantas giving up on first class and especially not giving away those first class passengers to any other airline, even if it's a OneWorld partner like Qatar. There'd have to be a decent-sized market wanting to fly from AU to those Sunrise cities non-stop and that would have to include some of the same people who fly first class on the A380s, either spending their own money or, and this is more likely, spending the company's money because they have a contract which says they fly first class. Those are the sorts of passengers an airline won't want to give up!

MDI
MDI

17 Dec 2020

Total posts 3

I believe Qatar moving forward will not offer that much First Class product (save for the very few that they intend to have on their future 779s and may only be servicing some high yield European routes like London and Paris) since they claim their Qsuites are already like First Class. First in Business as they say.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 106

Yes, as reported here earlier this week Qatar will bring back only five of its ten A380s if any of them come back at all. Those would dominate the 'high traffic, high premium' routes which might be London and New York, not sure if Sydney would get a look-in.

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 337

Either First makes money or it doesn’t and if it’s the former then is it still really worth it? I think Qantas has a reasonable case given the (ultra) long haul nature of the flagship routes, but it’s got to be up there at a Park Hyatt or Four Seasons standard in product, F&B and service and I think Qantas First right now is probably more at a decent Sheraton or Hilton standard which I would peg at business class , btw Qantas Business Class is very good. 

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 560

Qantas hasn't had a proper first class for many years. It's a deluxe J product-at very best!  This is relative to other premium carriers who are charging the same fares as Qantas. When you compare QF F to the likes of LH, SQ, EK, Qantas' offering is abysmal. Now if they lowered their fares to BA levels that would be a different story and it would probably prove better value and reflect the true value of the hard and soft product-something like MH's downgrading of its First to a Business plus model. That said the SYD and MEL F lounges are up to F standards. LAX is way too busy to be an F sanctuary; it's more a J lounge.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Aug 2018

Total posts 6

I have never seen the point of First class.Just a sheer waste of money(yes I have done it) Business is so good these days,you simply do not need it.Sure it is a massive money spinner for any carrier.I just could not be bothered!


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