The 20-hour flight is coming (and it may have a gym and bunk beds)

By Angus Whitley, August 30 2018
The 20-hour flight is coming (and it may have a gym and bunk beds)

The goal of a nonstop flight from Sydney to London – half the way around the planet – took a leap forward as the world’s top planemakers convinced Qantas they can make the 20-hour route a reality.

A year after Qantas CEO Alan Joyce publicly challenged Airbus and Boeing to design a plane capable of making a viable direct flight from Sydney to London or New York, he says the manufacturers have succeeded.

“We’re now comfortable that we think we have vehicles that could do it,” Joyce said in an interview in Qantas’s central Sydney offices.

Project Sunrise, as Qantas calls it, involves configuring an aircraft so that it can fly about 300 passengers and their luggage farther than any regular service to date, with fuel in hand for unexpected headwinds and emergencies.

If the first routes prove viable in 2022, direct connections from major cities in the Americas, Europe and Africa to Australia could follow.

Qantas and the manufacturers are dreaming up cabin interiors geared toward surviving such marathon flights. There’s scope to incorporate bunks, child-care facilities and even somewhere to work out, Joyce said.

“We’re challenging ourselves to think outside the box,” he said. “Would you have the space used for other activities – exercise, bar, creche, sleeping areas and berths? Boeing and Airbus have been actually quite creative in coming up with ideas.”

Photos: Here's how Airbus plans to put passengers in the cargo hold

Qantas is sizing up the long-range Airbus A350 against Boeing’s 777X and executives from both manufacturers flew to Sydney to make presentations. Joyce plans to place an order next year and says neither supplier has its nose in front. Competition for the contract could help Qantas get the design and price it wants.

Also read: Boeing pitches 777X to Qantas for non-stop London, NY flights

“We are looking at all the options to meet the Project Sunrise requirements but can’t comment on the details of our discussions with Qantas,” Airbus said in an email. Boeing said: “We are confident that we can meet the customer’s requirements in terms of range and capability.”

Also read: Qantas nixes Airbus A350-900ULR for non-stop flights to UK, New York

Airbus in April gave a glimpse of the future when it unveiled at a Hamburg exhibition sleeping modules that could slot into an aircraft’s cargo compartments. The berths will initially be available on the A330 from 2020, and potentially on the A350, the company said.

Joyce’s ambitious plan follows a three-year turnaround that resurrected a national airline almost on its knees. He’s attempting to build an unprecedented network of super-long routes just as the industry’s notorious boom-and-bust cycle may be heading downhill.

Qantas, after reporting record annual profit last week, said its fuel bill will jump 21 percent to about A$3.92 billion in the year through June 2019.

That’s an advantage for more fuel-efficient aircraft such as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, which help the economics of long-range services.

In 1935, flying from Australia to London took 12½ days and even the luxury flying boats that plied the route later in the decade required as many as 30 stops.

Qantas in March started flights between Perth and London, the first direct link between Australia and Europe. “London is back in profits,” Joyce told analysts last week.

Other airlines are also eyeing ultra-long flights. Singapore Airlines will restart its non-stop service to New York on October 11 with Airbus’s ultra long-range A350-900. The 19-hour service will overtake Qatar Airways’ Doha-Auckland route as the world’s longest flight.

Project Sunrise goes further. The routes are so long that Qantas needs sign-off from regulators and a new agreement with pilots. Joyce isn’t deterred.

“I’m actually confident that it will get there and we will have aircraft in 2022,” he said

Angus Whitley

Angus Whitely is a Sydney-based business reporter with Bloomberg

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Nov 2011

Total posts 245

Gym is a bad idea if there are no shower facilities after the workout in the plane.

14 Oct 2016

Total posts 105

I think when they say gym, they mean a place to stretch out and get some light exercise. I doubt it will be used for a punishing workout as I think the the main point would be to prevent things like DVT.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jun 2011

Total posts 88

I can't imagine free weights being available. Bit of turbulence would create quite a mess

08 Aug 2017

Total posts 43

The majority of my travel is shuttling between Australia and the US East Coast. SYD - JFK (or even EWR notwithstanding it is a United hub) will be a game changer for me. I am really excited. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of a Qantas marketing focus group for Project Sunrise. I think Qantas is doing a good job of listening to their FF customers. I hope they will end up with a great product ... and if it is l will be a regular passenger.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

30 Jul 2015

Total posts 15

Disgusting rather have a few hours to stretch legs on a stopover then 20 hours in a tube even in business or first .

03 Sep 2018

Total posts 2

And you'll still have that option. How fantastic is that?

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 382

If QF is so successful on the London route why doesn't it have 2 x daily B789s (in time, when sufficient fleet numbers) MEL - PER - LHR and return to 'replace' the previous higher seating capacity of the former A380 MEL - DXB - LHR?

It's carrying fewer passengers to London than a year ago.

'Profitable' depends on what costs are allocated against a particular flight.

05 May 2016

Total posts 632

Indeed. As a MEL based passenger who likes to fly to LHR I find the drop in capacity very disappointing. Hopefully Project Sunrise will go some way to addressing this.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Sep 2013

Total posts 467

Sounds great until the dummies realize they can thru in some more seats.

05 May 2016

Total posts 632

The sheer distance of how far they want to fly will limit how many seats they can squeeze in. Every seat and every passenger sitting on a seat adds weight.

09 Jan 2016

Total posts 44

Let hope. The 17” wide seats on the 17 hours PER-LON is just wrong!

15 Aug 2018

Total posts 8

Hopefully, they could lock in on their aircraft of choice soon in 2019 which satisfies the requirement of Project Sunrise and Qantas.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 594

lol economy will be least SQ have the respect for their pax by not torturing them with such mediocrity for 18+hrs

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Nov 2017

Total posts 114

I suspect this (gyms, beds etc) will turn out to be just more marketing hype from QF. Along the lines of their "revolutionary" W seat.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1254

Don't forget the "mini first class suites" in J ;)

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 66

The one thing we can all agree on is that there will be no exercise area, no bar, no creche, no sleeping areas and no berths. There will simply be as many seats as they can cram on to whatever plane they choose to buy.


30 Jul 2015

Total posts 108

Fool you once! NONE of those things are coming but more seats and room will be used for cargo. 20 hours is torture for the human body, so they have to get by offering these things to only never have them appear. Even in J 20 hours would be awful. A WHOLE DAY!! Wake up Aussie's. Gyms/bunks are never going to happen. But tighter economy seating is for sure on tap.

02 Mar 2018

Total posts 6

Agreed, it won’t happen, remember 10yrs also when the A380 came out and they said they’d have swimming pools, spas, giant lounges, instead just more seats.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Aug 2016

Total posts 25

Well it will happen if people are willing to pay more the privilege of having that kind of facilities. It all comes down to the level of comfort passengers are willing to pay extra for.

19 Jan 2017

Total posts 5

B777 means 10 across of course... where as A350 would have been 9 across, unless they can find a way to do 10...

If they get an A350, the Economy class will be 9 abreast. 10 abreast in Economy on an A350 involves something like 17" aisles and 16.2" seats.

24 Aug 2018

Total posts 5

...which is, unfortunately, why I think they will go with the 777.

16 Feb 2017

Total posts 22

Typical Sydney-centric Qantas. Cape Town and Rio are shown as potential routes ahead of connecting MEL with even London.

08 Aug 2017

Total posts 43

Well, from another recent article in here pages, it looks like Australia to Chicago and/or Seattle will be out of Brisbane, and MEL now has direct to SFO as well as LAX so I think Qantas actually are addressing the Sydney-centrism.


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 739

Instead of all those amazing facilities they might need a full medical team and onboard clinic to help us seniors actually make the trip... At least if they have those bunks down stairs the casualties will have a place to recuperate.

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 382

Lifespans are rising but so has obesity (and not just in Oz), while median ages in many nations are also increasing.

Doesn't seem to have been a problem on QF9?QF10 thus far, but logically 'medical emergencies' must rise. To what degree if the $64 million question that only a cardiologist or other specialist could answer.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Sep 2013

Total posts 467

Can't wait for the ABT reviews of the bunks and JYM.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2014

Total posts 112

Cannot think of a lot worse than being stuck on an aircraft, even up the front, for 20+ hours.

The 14-16 hour run from the Middle East to down under is at the absolute end of my limit.

I am one who is quite happy to break the journey into 8-10 hour chunks.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

14 Jan 2014

Total posts 337

Agreed.. I even like to break up the 13 hours from LHR to SIN with a break somewhere along the line. Sixteen hours plus would be hell for mr


16 May 2016

Total posts 64

I agree, even in J, the US->Syd run is loooong. Can't imagine adding 5/6+ hours on that.
I certainly wouldn't buy it.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

07 Sep 2012

Total posts 149

Couldn't agree more. My last MEL-DXB-CDG jaunt had me gagging to get out at Dubai and relax in the lounge for breakfast, before the final 7 hours to Paris. I'd go stir-crazy having the whole journey in a single sector, and that's in J. Imagine the poor swines in Y.

Sounds like Qantas are pretty serious about 3 or 4 classes on this trip, meaning economy. If we all assume there will be economy (unlike the new Singapore Airlines flights) then what extra facilities might be available for economy passengers? Might there be economy width seats and service, but a bit extra pitch?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2548

Qantas has previously said its wants the Project Sunrise jets to have four classes, with all-new premium economy and economy seating, but too early to say exactly what those might entail. Obviously one would like to see extra width and pitch in economy, but as always this will come down to economics.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 461

Extra pitch should be economically viable using the economy plus model. Not all economy passsengers need the extra legroom, but there are plenty that would pay a bit extra for 34 inch pitch, but not the higher price of QF PE.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

21 Jan 2016

Total posts 198

Ultra long haul flights is all about weight and I can't see the benefits of 4 class ultra long haul flight nor having a 'gym' and bunks which will increase weight unless cabin interior manufacturers can create and build cabin interiors and seats that are very light weight.

To me, an ultra long haul flight over 14 hours needs to be in 2 Classes - premier and economy. Premier Class is the lay flat bed in 1-2-1 configuration and Economy Class in 2-4-2 configuration with at least 18inch wide seats and increase seat pitch. This configuration will allow increase width of the Economy Class aisle to allow passengers to move about during flight. The aircraft cabin is designed for at 3 least snack bar and 'stretch' zones, that are located rear, centre and forward so not to impede cabin crew activity in the galleries. As we all know walking is the best thing for blood flow.

The current passenger numbers for a 2 Class A350-1000 is 369, so an A350-1000ULR up to 320-330 passengers in a 2 Class configuration would work for Qantas, Air NZ and other interested airlines.

10 Jul 2015

Total posts 13

At least Singapore is not putting economy in their ULR planes. Assuming these planes will include a first class cabin and looking at seating capacity of other A350-1000, it is clear that QF have no intention of giving passengers at the back of the plane any extra space.


22 Dec 2012

Total posts 35

"Joyce plans to place an order next year and says neither supplier has its nose in front."

Its a interesting comparison to make when the Boeing 777x remains a paper plane having never actually flown before. The Airbus A350 has a massive head start given it first hit the skies in 2013. I suspect that Qantas will be forced to wait until both aircraft families have their wings before reaching a decision.

Faster, rather than longer, thank you.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

19 Jan 2018

Total posts 21

I travel MEL/NCE twice a year with Emirates in business class (A380's all the way) and clearly the aircraft are cleaned when on the ground in Dubai. I for one wouldn't like to imagine what state the toilets are going to be in by the end of a long haul flight of 20+ hours! And as for the economy toilets - oh dear!!


07 Aug 2015

Total posts 15

I wonder how many crews they will need accomodate for a 20 hour flight? If only 2 I would hate to do the second half after spending the first 10 hours "resting".

The loo comment is highly relevant for 300 passengers x 20 hours...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Aug 2014

Total posts 74

Can Alan Joyce please for ONCE sit in a economy class seat to DFW or Perth to London and see what it feels like and then give us back an extra 2 inches of leg room , then he might think about the 20h+ flights.


07 Jan 2017

Total posts 31

QF will need a body compartment for the Y passengers who die inflight, similar to the SQ body compartment on their A340-500's.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Jul 2015

Total posts 220

Usual variety of comments. Regularly on Qf7/8 and the latter is between 16-17 hours which is the same as for QF9. Especially in the US, flying SYD - JFK is superb and avoids the occasional purgatory that is LAX. Always enjoyed my Dubai stops but since that has gone I have taken to QF9 just to get to LHR as quickly as possible.

31 Aug 2018

Total posts 5

lots of people complaining about the long travel time. Many of us have limited time on holidays. Stopovers cut into that time. I for one would opt for the most direct and shortest total transit time. I usually travel J, long haul. Its pretty easy. Get some exercise before you fly. Don't go to the lounge and eat and drink. Walk the airport, stretch, do some isometrics, then have a quick shower in the lounge. Put your pressure stockings on and drink some water. Watch a movie, drink some champagne, have a meal and then take some benzos. Personal favourite is alazopram but oxazepam works well. I also use circaidian but you need at least 2-3 of the 2 mg. They are safe and over the counter in Europe. 2-3 hours in you will then fall asleep for 5-7 hours. Wake up, have a stretch. Get up go, for a walk. Go stand in the weird little cupboard with the snacks or hang out at the toilets with the other travellers and have a yarn. Repeat steps 1 and 2. Bingo you'll arrive in London ready to go having slept at least 10 hours (admittedly chemically assisted)

09 Jan 2016

Total posts 44

Agree, if you are in J, but in economy on Qantas with their ridiculous cramped space it is a nightmare. Done the 17-hours to London, never again.

04 May 2018

Total posts 43

A350-1000 ahead if they can prove it works, depends on pax load and 34" minimum seat pitch.

38" best since need to get feet off floor for 7-8hrs sleep required on such long flights.
Agree with you 32" economy is not for sleep unless medicated!

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

11 Mar 2015

Total posts 194

aircraft manufacturer should put their effort to develop the technology to make faster planes so this 20 hours nightmare scenario wouldn't even exist even as a thought-even in a first class cubicle 20 hours are way too much-they wont be able to put all passengers in a bunk bed for sure -knock them out for the trip like in the 5-th element!


04 Apr 2014

Total posts 207

All this talk of gyms, bunks, child care facilities etc. is funny. Serious, the cost accountants will get into the numbers and all available space will be converted to revenue generating items asap. Which is perfectly reasonable, Qantas is a for-profit business.

30 Oct 2017

Total posts 5

Re zaps1971...

Yes get the CEO to fly a whole flight in each class of seat...and get a BIGGER CEO.... easy to find leg room when you have very SHORT LEGS!



11 May 2015

Total posts 28

I flew on the SQ EWR-SIN direct on the A340-500 a few times when it was business class only, 1-2-1 seating with about 140 pax. The longest flight was just over 19 hours which was long enough for me. The cabin crew and reportedly flight crews were not impressed to say the least. When SQ terminated these flights a few years ago as these did not make money, I went back to flying on the A380 JFK-FRA-SIN, and really appreciated being able to make the break in FRA.

So I will not take the 20+ hours flights proposed by QF even if I flew with them again (ex QF Platinum FF here). Leave the Y class on these flights to the back packers.
SQ will soon reintroduce the EWR-SIN direct flights with the A350-1000, with J and PY only - even then I would not be tempted. 15 hours is now my limit.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 594

The flight did make money originally and they had good loads right to the end, but the cost of fuel went up (among other things). Also the all-J A345 were only 100 seats and they will be using the A359ULR for the new flights. I would be interested to try the flight at least once.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Mar 2014

Total posts 24

Love the idea of this if we're talking the A350 - the most advanced jet in the skies. Please Qantas step forward with Airbus and make these Ultra long hauls doable for all classes!

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 94

What's that man been smoking? The thought of 20 hours in a metal tube is an absolute nightmare. The 16 hours from Dallas Fort Worth to Australia was bad enough. As for a "gym and bunk beds", sounds like an absolute horror. Sweaty bodies in a dormitory. Thanks, but no thanks. Sardine class, also no thanks.

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