What it’s like to sit in economy class on 20-hour Qantas flights

Editor’s note – Monthly ticket is a CNN Travel series that highlights some of the most exciting topics in the world of travel. In June, we’ll take to the skies to see the latest developments in aircraft interiors, including the people working to change the way we fly.

(CNN) — World’s longest flight: 20 hours non-stop while you lean back in your wide seat and decide whether you want to relax with the finest champagne, dine on chef-prepared meals with a fellow passenger seated across from you, or let the crew prepare your luxuriously soft bed with fresh linens.

This is what six first-class passengers are offered aboard the Qantas Project Sunrise direct flights to Sydney from London and New York starting in three years, and they can expect to pay the bulk of the five-figure sum for it.

And what about the 140 economy class passengers who will sit in the back of 12 Airbus A350-1000s ordered by the airline to work on the service?

In 2019, Qantas conducted experimental research flights on the London-Sydney section. Richard Quest of CNN reports from the cockpit of one such ultra-long flight.

Qantas says nothing. “We don’t have any updates at the moment, but we’re committed to keeping you updated and will share more when we have them,” a rep told us.

However, we do know that Qantas is already planning a Wellbeing Zone, which looks like an area around one of the galley kitchens where you can stretch, maybe do a few yoga poses, and maybe just stand for a while.

And, of course, Qantas will work hard to provide you with a great selection of movies and TV shows to watch on the new large in-flight entertainment screens, as well as food and beverages designed specifically for your well-being during long flights.

But this is most likely.

Jan Petenick, host of aviation podcast AvTalk, told CNN that “while there was a lot of focus on first class Qantas for Project Sunrise, I think the real difference for passengers in the back of the plane will be softness.” product.

“You can only upgrade nine economy seats in a row, so finding ways to make a 20-hour flight at one of those seats affordable will come down to what else Qantas has to offer these passengers.”

I’m a dedicated aviation journalist, working for over a decade with all the people in airlines, aircraft manufacturers, designers and seat makers to find out how every inch of an aircraft is used. And since Qantas is silent, here are my professional conclusions about what can be offered on board.

First, it is unlikely that anything truly revolutionary will happen. Three years to 2025 is not that long for aviation, especially when it comes to seats. Unless Qantas is planning some kind of big bunk opening, which would require a huge job of safety certification, it seems likely that economy class passengers will just be in regular seats.

Knees and shins

A350 is one of the most comfortable economy class options.


Going back to the basics, economy seat comfort levels are mostly based on seat style, seat pitch and width.

In terms of seating style, you can expect Qantas to source the very best economy seats on the market from top design and engineering firms like Recaro or Collins Aerospace.

These are so-called full-featured seats with comfortable engineered foam covered in specialty fabrics, with a significant degree of reclining back, a sturdy headrest, an under-seat footrest and, in the case of Qantas, a small foot hammock.

In recent years, designers and engineers have been hard at work on the backs and seat bases of aircraft so that they leave enough space for the person sitting in the back, especially for their knees and lower legs.

They figured out how to make the soft underside of the chair, known as the seat bowl, articulate when reclining, changing the pressure points on the passenger’s body as they recline.

The Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft launched in 2016 used a modified version of the German manufacturer Recaro’s CL3710 seat.

The CL3710 dates back to 2013 and Recaro releases updates every year, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they were working on a special version for Qantas.

There might even be a brand new seat – from Recaro or someone else – with even more comfort. This could very well be set for Qantas to start flying in late 2025.

Extra legroom

The second comfort factor is the pitch, which measures a point on one seat to a point on the same seat directly in front of it, so it’s not exactly full legroom because it includes an inch or two of seatback design.

Qantas has promised that the economy seats on board will have 33 inches (84 centimeters) of pitch.

That’s one inch more than the 2016 Dreamliner seats, and I expect engineers to narrow the seat design by an inch by 2025 to allow for more knee room.

It won’t be a surprise if Qantas also offers extra legroom sections that can stretch up to 35 or 36 inches, along the lines of United Economy Plus or Delta Comfort Plus – not premium economy seats, but regular economy seats with more legroom. .

And the width?

Passengers are in for either good or bad news, depending on how many seats Qantas fits in each row of the A350.

The large twin-body aircraft can accommodate either nine seats abreast, which was the standard offered by full-service airlines such as Qantas, Delta and Singapore Airlines, or 10 seats abreast, which was mostly ultra-low cost on board. and entertainment carriers such as French Air Caraïbes and French Bee.

Width-wise, the A350 is one of the most comfortable economy options in the air, with nine seats and a width of over 18 inches. At 10 wide, this is one of the least comfortable cabins, with seats barely reaching 17 inches and aisles very narrow.

You can imagine – and the cutaway released by Qantas certainly shows – that a full-service airline like Australia’s flag carrier would naturally opt for a nine-row configuration.

But Airbus is hatching a quiet plan to carve out an inch or two of extra space by shrinking the side walls of the cabin. This has prompted some full-service airlines, including Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, to plan to install 10 seats on some future A350s.

Without transfers and with an intermediate stop

more exercise

On a pilot flight from London to Sydney in 2019, passengers attended in-flight PE classes.

James D. Morgan/Qantas

Qantas says it plans to install 140 economy class seats on its A350. This will be 14 rows out of 10, but this number is not exactly divisible by nine, even if you try to add a few extra places on the sides or in the middle.

It would be amazing if Qantas did this, especially for these ultra long haul flights. But the airline has set the seats almost as narrow on their Dreamliner seats, which fly non-stop from London to Perth for almost as long, so see this space for details.

After all, when it comes to economy class comfort, every inch counts. Many passengers, myself included, shudder at the thought of a 20+ hour flight, even in business class.

I did something almost as long in business class on a Singapore Airlines non-stop flight from Newark to Singapore about 10 years ago, but it wasn’t much fun, even with the ability to switch from movie to sleep and back again.

Whenever we end up talking about this, people always suggest another option: flying halfway from New York to Sydney to Los Angeles or San Francisco, or any of Asia’s dozen top-notch airports between Sydney and London.

But people have always flinched when spending more time in a chair: first at the thought of flying the Kangaroo route with one hop, and then at the thought of flying 12, 14 or 16 hours.

Before the pandemic, there were dozens of longer flights with the usual economy seats in the back, and people seemed willing to take them.

The question is how much this additional three to four hours of a Qantas 787 Dreamliner flight from London to Perth will affect passengers and, most importantly, their perception.

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