(CNN) — World’s longest flight: 20 hours non-stop, as you sit back in your wide armchair and decide whether to relax with the very best champagne, enjoy a chef-designed meal with a companion sitting opposite, or the crew your wonderfully soft bed with fresh linen.
That’s what’s being offered to the six first-class passengers aboard Qantas’ Project Sunrise direct flights to Sydney from London and New York, three years from now, and they can expect to pay the best part of five figures for it.
What about the 140 economy class passengers who will sit in the back of the 12 Airbus A350-1000s the airline has ordered to work on the service?
In 2019, Qantas conducted experimental research flights to test the London-Sydney route. CNN’s Richard Quest reports from the cockpit of one such ultra-long-haul flight.
Qantas won’t tell. “We don’t have any updates at this time, but we’ll be happy to keep you updated and share more when we have,” a spokesperson said.
We do know, however, that Qantas is already planning a wellness zone, which appears to be an area around one of the galley kitchens where you can stretch out, maybe do some yoga poses, and possibly just stand for a while.
And of course Qantas will make every effort to have a great selection of movies and TV shows for you to enjoy on large new inflight entertainment screens, as well as food and drinks that it will design especially for your well-being on longer flights.
But it probably is.
Ian Petchenik, host of the AvTalk aviation podcast, tells CNN that “While a lot of thought has gone into Qantas’ first class for Project Sunrise, I think the real differentiator for passengers in the back of the plane is the soft product.
“You can improve economy seats nine abreast so much, so finding ways to make a 20-hour flight in one of those seats enjoyable comes down to what else Qantas can offer those passengers.”
I am a specialist aviation journalist with over a decade going in depth with all kinds of people at airlines, aircraft manufacturers, designers and seat makers to find out how every inch of the aircraft is used. And since Qantas isn’t speaking, here are my professional conclusions about what’s likely to be offered on board.
First, there’s not much chance of anything truly revolutionary. The three years to 2025 are not long in aviation, especially when it comes to seats. Unless Qantas plans some sort of big bunk unveiling — which would require a tremendous amount of safety certification work — it seems pretty certain that economy passengers will just sit in regular seats.
Knees and shins
The A350 is one of the most comfortable economy class options.
WENDEL TEODORO/AFP via Getty Images
Returning to the first principles, comfort levels in economy class seats are usually based on seat style, pitch and width.
In terms of seat style, Qantas can be expected to acquire the very best economy class seats on the market from the best design and engineering firms, such as Recaro or Collins Aerospace.
These are called full-featured seats, with comfortable, engineered seat foams covered in special fabrics, a significant amount of recline, a substantial headrest, an under-seat footrest, and in the case of Qantas, a hammock with tiny feet.
In recent years, designers and engineers have worked hard on the backs and bases of airplane seats so that they give enough space for the person sitting behind them, especially for their knees and shins.
They’ve figured out how to make the padded underside of the seat, also known as the seat shell, articulate when reclined, changing the pressure points on the occupant’s body as they lean back.
Qantas’ Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, launched in 2016, used a modified version of German manufacturer Recaro’s CL3710 seat.
The CL3710 dates back to 2013, and Recaro makes updates every year, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it 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. That could well be ready for Qantas to start flying by the end of 2025.
The second factor in comfort is pitch, which measures the point on a seat to the point on the same seat directly in front of it, so it’s not quite total legroom because it includes a few inches of backrest structure.
Qantas has promised that the economy class seats on board will offer a pitch of 33 inches (84 centimeters).
That’s an inch more than the 2016 Dreamliner seats, and by 2025 I expect the seat engineering to have narrowed the seat structure by up to an inch to provide more knee room.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Qantas also offered extra legroom sections, which can extend to 35 or 36 inches, along the lines of United’s Economy Plus or Delta’s Comfort Plus — not premium economy, just regular economy seats with more legroom. .
What about the width?
There’s good news or bad news for passengers, depending on how many seats Qantas puts on each row of the A350.
The large, two-aisle plane can hold either nine seats per row, which has been the standard full-service airlines such as Qantas, Delta and Singapore Airlines have offered, or 10 seats per row, which are largely aboard ultra-low-cost. cost has been and leisure companies such as the French Air Caraïbes and French Bee.
Width wise, the A350 is one of the most comfortable economy class options in the air at nine inches wide with seats over 18 inches wide. At 10, it is one of the least comfortable, with seats measuring just 17 inches and also super narrow aisles.
You might imagine — and Qantas’ published overview certainly shows — that a full-service airline like Australia’s flag carrier would naturally go for the nine-over configuration.
But Airbus has hatched a quiet plan to free up a few inches of extra space by slimming the cabin sidewalls. That has led some full-service airlines, including Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, to plans to install 10-seat seats on some future A350s.
Non stop vs. stopover
During an experimental flight from London to Sydney in 2019, passengers were given exercise classes.
James D Morgan/Qantas
Qantas says it plans to install 140 economy class seats on its A350. That would be 14 rows of 10, but that number doesn’t divide neatly into nine, even if you try to add some extra seats on the sides or in the middle.
It would still be surprising to see Qantas do that, especially for these super long flights. But the airline installed seats nearly as narrow on its Dreamliner seats that fly non-stop London-Perth for nearly as long, so watch this space for details.
Ultimately, every inch matters when it comes to economy class comfort. Many passengers – myself included – shudder at the idea of a flight of more than 20 hours, even in business class.
I did something in business class for almost as long about 10 years ago on Singapore Airlines nonstop from Newark to Singapore but it wasn’t fun even with the option to go from movie to sleep and back again .
When we finally talk about this, people always bring up the other option, half way from New York to Sydney in Los Angeles or San Francisco, or at one of the dozens of prime airports in Asia between Sydney and London.
But people always shuddered at the longer sitting in a seat: first at the idea of a single-hop Kangaroo Route flight, then at the idea of a 12, 14, or 16-hour flight.
Before the pandemic, there were dozens of flights longer than that, with regular economy class seats in the back, and people seemed willing to sit in them.
The question is how much difference that extra three or four hours over the London-Perth Qantas 787 Dreamliner flight will make to passengers — and, crucially, to their perceptions.