Qantas promises new premium economy ‘cradle seats’ with extra legroom

The Project Sunrise A350 jets will see more legroom in premium economy and economy class.

By David Flynn, September 8 2022
Qantas promises new premium economy ‘cradle seats’ with extra legroom

Qantas says its next-generation premium economy seat will retain a ‘cradle’ design to help passengers relax and sleep on those 18-20+ hour Project Sunrise flights to London, New York, Paris and potentially Chicago and Miami.

They’ll also have more legroom than the current Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 premium economy pews, with an extra two inches of pitch – 40” as opposed to 38” – with Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce describing the fresh premium economy offering to London’s The Times as “a step up” from what Qantas currently offers.

Inadequate legroom due to insufficient pitch is arguably the biggest drawback of Qantas’ current premium economy, and one that Executive Traveller has repeatedly highlighted as a shortcoming for what’s otherwise a largely excellent seat designed by David Caon.

As stated in our world-first review of the Qantas Boeing 787 premium economy seat in October 2017, “it’s hard to escape the conclusion that 38 inches simply isn't enough, and that at least 40 inches would be more appropriate – as this would deliver upwards of an extra two inches at the knees.”

Qantas' current premium economy seat definitely deserves more legroom.
Qantas' current premium economy seat definitely deserves more legroom.

“So while Qantas’ designer David Caon has delivered what is in most other respects a superb premium economy seat, the design has been short-changed by the implementation.”

Another issue – and this one is very much part of the seat – is the innovative ‘foot hammock’ (which Qantas terms “a re-engineered footrest”) comprising a supportive calf-rest, fold-down footrest and a section of netting at the very bottom of the seat in front of you.

In our experience, and that of many other travellers, this arrangement is overly-complicated to set up – especially every time they leave and return to their seat – and most passengers appear to give up on using it to the fullest.

Qantas has previously said it was going out to the market in search of an all-new premium economy seat for the Airbus A350s, although Executive Traveller would suggest that the airline’s current premium economy product has plenty going for it, with only some changes to design and layout needed to unleash its full crowd-pleasing potential.

This 'Wellbeing Zone' will sign between the premium economy and economy cabins.
This 'Wellbeing Zone' will sign between the premium economy and economy cabins.

As for the A350’s economy cabin, where up to 140 travellers will endure a non-stop marathon flight, Joyce says those seats will have 33 inches of pitch – just one inch up from the airline’s latest Boeing 787 economy class.

Qantas' A350 seat map shows five rows of premium economy in a 2-4-2 layout, ahead of the Wellbeing Zone and economy cabin.
Qantas' A350 seat map shows five rows of premium economy in a 2-4-2 layout, ahead of the Wellbeing Zone and economy cabin.

That might be all the excuse passengers need to decamp to the Wellbeing Zone between the premium economy and economy cabins, where they’ll find a self-service refreshment bar plus a small stretching area.

This 'Wellbeing Zone' will sign between the premium economy and economy cabins.
This 'Wellbeing Zone' will sign between the premium economy and economy cabins.

“We’ve taken out 12 seats so people can exercise,” Joyce says.

Still, that’s very different to the ‘below decks’ areas which Qantas and Airbus explored during their initial discussions on the A350 and its potential to reshape ultra-long range flying.

Envisioned as drop-in modules slotting into the A350’s cargo hold, these would be configured as anything from railway-style sleeping bunks to exercise zones, cafe-like social areas, meeting rooms and family rooms.

Airbus and Qantas initially looked at how the A350's cargo hold could be used for sleeping bunks and exercise areas.
Airbus and Qantas initially looked at how the A350's cargo hold could be used for sleeping bunks and exercise areas.

However, in June 2019 Joyce said Qantas had ruled out the use of below-deck space for Project Sunrise. “The package we looked at – putting things in baggage holds – didn’t work” for feasibility and overall economics.

The Project Sunrise A350s will skew towards premium travellers paying a higher fare, with six first class suites and 52 business class suites fitted with sliding privacy doors, followed by 180 seats across premium economy and economy.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Aug 2022

Total posts 11

Nice. Maybe this will make it worth the substantially higher price along with the wellness zones.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 593

Still not that "revolutionary" considering that JAL and others give 42inch pitch on flights that are typically half the length of the proposed project sunrise flights.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 142

The likes of QF and BA dropped out of being leading edge (in terms of innovation) decades ago. Today, we must look to the ME and Asian carriers for truly "revolutionary" developments (especially Qatar and Singapore). What QF largely does now is simply 'follow-the-leaders'. Hardly, a "revolutionary" approach as you correctly point out. Oh well, better a follower than to become stagnant like North American carriers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Jan 2018

Total posts 35

Agree. I am generalising here, but overall, I find that we (Australians) are a bunch of rather risk-averse population who often wait and see 'how other countries are doing' first when it comes to any innovations.  Hardly a trail blazer.

However, the good thing is, once we 'buy in' into a particular new-ish technology, we lap it up with 'mucho gusto'. Exhibit A: COVID vaccine. Enough said.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Mar 2015

Total posts 12

Hi flew on JAL premium economy a350 from Tokyo to Sapporo and I was very impressed with the pitch, size and comfort of the seat. It was not even that expensive.  

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1173

QF needs a PE seat that doesn't encroach into the space behind when reclined.  That is the main issue with the current seat; the recline was increased but it just took space from the person behind and this was made worse with inadequate legroom.  Interestingly, it seems EK have made exactly the same error with their new PE on its A380s.

Aegean Airlines - Miles & Bonus

16 Jul 2019

Total posts 15

The challenge with shell seats like Air France has in their first gen PE seat and Air NZ had in their old product is that they don't recline but instead you slide down placing huge pressure on the lower back. Cathay has a similar issue with an economy seat years ago and it was scrapped about year after launch. 

As you say, where recline is increased - unless you're at a bulkhead - you feel the encroachment from the seat in front. The only solution is to increase pitch but that takes up space and costs more $$$. 

I wonder how much of a 'surcharge' QF will add to these Sunrise flights for Premium Economy and Economy? If Y on QF is not much less than PE on, say, JAL or Cathay - it would tempt me to forego non-stop and trade up. Similarly, if PE is not much less than Business on Malaysian, I'd be tempted. Is there really a market of leisure travellers willing to pay a significant premium to fly non-stop and how loyal will they be if there's a recession in Oz and Europe/US? 

I'd be tempted to avoid these direct flights anyway in favour of a stopover - I've flown QF1/2 directly DRW-LHR return (plus the MEL-SYD-DRW segments), I was in J both ways and, even as someone who loves flying, that 17.5h segment was getting on for too much.

And interesting to hear about the W seats on AF/NZ, I never flew NZ's old Premium Economy seats but thought they looked really good, however as someone which chronic back pain anything which does as you've said would be incredibly uncomfortable.

"Normal" premium eco is just about bearable, though I've only flown it a handful of times (on BA, JL and CX), most recently with BA and must admit that with a bulkhead seat and using my small backpack to elevate my feet so my legs were almost flat, it was actually fairly comfortable (and seeing how pax were rammed in back in Y when I got up to use the toilets, I was very grateful to not be back there).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 17

Cathay's economy seat that slid rather than reclined was diabolical. After one flight I swore I'd never fly again with a carrier that had those seats, so was unsurprised when CX ditched them not long after! 

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 655

With such a sparsely configured aircraft I'm also wondering about the lav situation; will first class be sharing with economy? (Current A380 F lavs are no different in finish or size to economy lavs save for the off-cut hand towel shaped into a distorted flower)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jan 2015

Total posts 31

I have actually flown in the current Premium Economy seat on the 787 from PER to LHR and found it to be extremely comfortable and honestly as good as it gets if you're not lying flat in Business Class. I slept for hours and really noticed how my body didn't ache after being in a seat for such a long time. It takes the pressure off your back and lifts (cradles) your legs so there is no pressure on your calves or feet. 

I'm pretty tall and usually struggle with legroom on domestic flights for example but once you are settled in and reclined  (and yes with the person in front of you fully reclined) to me it was really comfortable. Admittedly more legroom is always welcome so it seems that that issue will be resolved on the new A350 - bring it on !

I find it very frustrating when I read reports of people who couldn't work out how to use the calf rest correctly or "just gave up"........what ? You have all the time in the world to figure out how it works, there are easy to use instructions and also the cabin crew to ask if you really can't manage it - and for me it was a winner and worth every penny.

Aegean Airlines - Miles & Bonus

16 Jul 2019

Total posts 15

Interesting feedback. I've never flown the product but it looks good. I guess the best scenario is for the seat next door to be empty so you can cradle but still have ease of movement to the aisle undisturbed. If you're in the window with the person next to you also reclined with the seat in front impeding, I doubt it would be easy to exit. That sadly applies to most PE and economy seats and is a key difference with business class. Perhaps airlines would prefer that difference to remain to dissuade people from trading down.  

JKH
JKH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Sep 2017

Total posts 156

Great to hear a complimentary report, especially re: having all the time in the world to figure out the mechanics!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

27 Aug 2014

Total posts 42

have also done PER-LHR, and couple of Pacific flights, in QF 787 PE and found the seat pretty good.
Initially I felt it was not as good as the older A380 seat, and the pitch did seem pretty close. 
We travelled as a couple so not having direct aisle access (especially when all seats reclined) was less of an issue as we were not disturbing anyone else.  Once all seats recline and some experiments with the leg support & foot net it worked pretty well.  Mind you I am only 172cm, but the extra 2" will be appreciated ... if and when    

08 Jul 2021

Total posts 2

@ptcruiser I agree. Flew Perth to Rome in Premium Economy and found the seat fantastic. Slept well and arrived rested. The legroom wasn't an issue at all while seated. Maybe only when you try to get out of your seat with the person in front reclined does it become slightly difficult. But that's only a minor gripe. On top of this I had fantastic service, much better than the J experience on another airline on the way home. 

12 Feb 2014

Total posts 229

I flew QF1 five weeks ago and will return the same in three more.  PE was terrific.  No complaints at all.  Great service and food.  Slept very well and have told others why pay for business? This does me fine.  

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 63

I would be disappointed with PE if I find I can’t use a laptop (likely to want to do this for parts of a 20 hour flight) due to the seat in front being reclined. Maybe the extended pitch is enough. It might also be helped by enforced “day” and “night” periods as part of the jetlag minimisation routine.

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 150

Qantas's niceties such as well being zones just don't add up to comfort in my eyes. If they wish to impress and demand a premium price on 20+ hr flights, then seating could be Y 2x4x2, PE 2x2x2 and J 1x2x1 (which they already have). Plus of course an increased seat pitch suitable for such marathon legs. 

If Qantas wishes to make Project Sunrise flights attractive and fill them, then give the passenger something in return. If a premium is being charged, then give the passenger value for their money. Currently planing for an extra inch of pitch in Y, a middle seat in PE -nothing more than a slap in the face I am afraid.

The competition will eat them alive!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 37

I wonder if the "wellbeing zone" will be as generous in size and appointment as the front business class "lounge" on the upper deck of the A380. These rubbish Qantas "innovations" are a joke. The only thing that sets Qantas apart in my opinion are the people who staff their aircraft. Invariably friendly, witty, competent and knowledgeable, they are wonderful. A pity they are so undervalued and poorly treated by the ideologues in Qantas management.

08 May 2020

Total posts 46

Am i right in thinking the new Premium Economy seats will also be 2 inches less wide than the a380 seats?  Based on 6.07m wide for 8 seats on A380 but A350 is only 5.61m wide?


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