Qantas recently has been touting itself as a true Ultra-haul carrier. Cutting down it’s kangaroo route from four days and seven stops to a 17 hour direct flight on the 787-9. It has some of the longest routes in the world, and it’s long haul operation reflects the fairly isolated continent from the northern hemisphere and the need for quick, comfortable journeys.
In the past decade a new wave of ultra-long haul aircraft have hit the market, improving connections and introducing new direct city pairs, previously never considered. It’s an exciting era, but with these ultra-long haul flights comes with increased times in a confined space. Manageable in business class, but not so much in the economy cabin.
So Qantas’ latest challenge to aircraft manufacturers to make New York and London a direct flight from the East Coast of Australia will certainly raise some eyebrows. This isn’t just one-upmanship, but a chance for the carrier to compete with the ME3 that offer pretty seamless connections from Europe to Australia.
The challenge comes with new issues though, 20 hour+ flights in a single hop sat in an economy seat will probably make most enter a cold sweat, and those in business would still have increased requirements such as walk-up bars and areas to stretch legs. Many passengers welcome one-stop flights on 14hour+ flights, as it offers an ability to stretch legs and get some fresh air. In fact, most travelling between the Europe or East Coast America to Australia are unlikely to opt for a direct flight in order to save a few hours.
This leaves Qantas with a bigger issue. Completely reshaping the inflight experience, more-so for economy passengers. Expect them to consider elements like walk-up bars and lounges, rental beds in economy, family pods, increased premium economy seats (or even the removal of economy in entirety) business-class only aircraft and enhanced washroom facilities. Even the food service is going to have to be rethought completely, with most flights at 20 hours plus looking at 3-4 full meal services.
But Project Sunrises’ future of 2022, isn’t as far away as we thought. The airline recently announced a refresh of its A380 fleet which puts an emphasis on the premium cabins and enhanced space. This multi-million dollar upgrade will see a change in the seat mix on the super jumbos to meet increased customer demand for premium cabins on flights to the US, Europe and Asia.
Structural changes are focused on the upper deck where 30 Economy seats will be removed and some partitions and a crew workstation rearranged to use space more effectively. This allows for an additional six Business Class and 25 Premium Economy seats, increasing the overall seat count on the aircraft by one and increasing premium seating by 27 per cent.
The capacity of Qantas A380s after the upgrade will be: 14 First Suites (unchanged), 70 Business Suites (up by six), 60 Premium Economy (up by 25) and 341 Economy (down by 30) for a total of 485 passengers (up by one). Other key elements of the A380 refurbishment program include:
- Replacing Business Class Skybeds with the latest version of Qantas’ Business Suites, dubbed ‘mini First Class’ by frequent flyers. Every seat gives direct aisle access and allows better use of cabin space compared with the Skybed.
- Installing the airline’s all new Premium Economy seat in a 2-3-2 configuration. This seat is almost 10 per cent wider than the model it replaces and will debut on the Dreamliner later this year.
- Reconfiguring the front of the A380’s upper deck to redesign the passenger lounge to provide more room for First and Business Class customers to dine and relax.
- Enhancing First Class, which remains in its current configuration on the lower deck. Each suite will be fully refurbished, including contoured cushioning and a larger, higher resolution entertainment screen.
- Updating Economy with new seat cushions and improved inflight entertainment.
Work on the first A380 is expected to begin in the second quarter of calendar year 2019. All 12 aircraft will be upgraded by the end of 2020. The design integration will be managed by Airbus and a new, larger onboard lounge designed by David Caon.
“Customers love the A380. This upgrade is a major investment in putting the next generation of seats on the aircraft as well as more creature comforts to maintain its status as one of the best ways to fly,” said Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.
“We’re seeing increased demand for Premium Economy and Business Class on the long haul routes that the A380 operates, including from people using their Qantas points to upgrade. When more travellers experience these new seats, we expect that demand will keep rising.”