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.”
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.