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Visions of turning an aircraft’s cargo bay into railway-like sleeping bunks on Qantas’ non-stop Project Sunrise flights from Australia’s east coast to London and New York won’t come to pass, with the airline now ruling out the below-deck sleeping space on these globe-striding jets.
Instead, Qantas is developing a space dedicated to exercise, health and wellbeing, which will be open to all passengers on board regardless of seat number.
“The package we looked at – putting things in baggage holds – didn’t work,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce admits to media at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Seoul.
The revised communal section is instead “going to be an area for a number of people to stand up and do exercise: there’ll be video screens with stretching exercises to work on, and an area that the scientists have thought out that’ll be more of a ‘hydration station’.”
“Of course, if you want a drink, you can still have a very expensive Australian wine, or beer at your seat,” Joyce is quick to assure, “but if you want to work off some calories, you can go to this area to stretch, so it’s the perfect combination.”
“Some airlines are going for bars, we’re going for health and wellbeing, which is a lot better for you!”
Joyce confirms that the space on board – nicknamed ‘the fourth zone’ at Qantas (the other three being the passenger cabins, galley and restrooms) – will appear on the airline’s Project Sunrise aircraft.
Airbus and Boeing are due to lodge their final proposals – for ultra-long range versions of the Airbus A350-1000 and Boeing 777-8, respectively – in August, with Qantas deciding which jets to buy before year's end and flights slated to launch in the 2022-23 financial year.
Joyce first floated the notion of transforming part of the Project Sunrise jets' cargo hold into passenger space in March 2018, following the airline's inaugural Perth-London Boeing 787 flight.
"One of the concepts that we have is maybe if we're not carrying freight you do something lower where cargo is on the aircraft, do you have an area where people can walk? Do you have berths like on a train?” Joyce posed.
“Could some of the freight areas we may not use be used as an exercise area? Could they be used for berths for people to sleep in? Is there a new class that’s needed on the aircraft?”
Airbus has estimated that 32 bunk beds could fit under the main deck, with primarily appeal to passengers in premium economy and economy who would buy the beds as an “upgrade for sleeping”.
“So far we have got a lot of interest, with a lot of the creative solutions, but in the end I think everybody is focusing on sleeping,” says Ingo Wuggetzer, Airbus Vice President for Cabin Marketing.
However, the below-deck bunks were notably missing when Qantas released its Project Sunrise passenger research summary in January this year, with the airline instead reporting that "health and wellness are the top trends coming through all research."
Chris Chamberlin is attending the IATA AGM in Seoul as a guest of IATA.