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

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

(CNN) — The world’s longest flight: 20 hours non-stop, while you recline in your large armchair and decide whether you want to relax with the best champagne, enjoy a chef-designed meal with a fellow traveler seated opposite or ask the crew to prepare your sumptuously soft bed with fresh linens.

That’s what six passengers in First Class are on offer on Qantas’ direct Project Sunrise flights to Sydney from London and New York from the age of three, and they can expect to pay the better part of five digits for that.

What about the 140 economy class passengers who will be in the back of the 12 Airbus A350-1000s the airline has ordered to work on the service?

Qantas does not say. “We don’t have any updates at this time, but we look forward to updating you and will share more when we have it,” a spokesperson told us.

We do know, however, that Qantas is already planning a Wellness Zone, which appears to be an area around one of the kitchens where you can stretch out, maybe do some yoga poses and possibly stand for a while.

And, of course, Qantas will strive to have a great selection of films and TV shows for you to enjoy on big new in-flight entertainment screens, as well as the food and drink it will design especially for your well-being on longer flights.

But that’s probably it.

Ian Petchenik, host of the AvTalk aviation podcast, told CNN that “while a lot of attention has been given to Qantas First Class for Project Sunrise, I think the real differentiator for passengers in the back of the aircraft will be the soft product.

“You can’t improve economy class seats nine abreast so much, so finding ways to make a 20 hour flight in one of those seats acceptable will depend on what else Qantas can offer those passengers. “

I’m an aviation journalist with over a decade of digging deep with all kinds of people in airlines, aircraft manufacturers, designers, and seat manufacturers to understand how every inch of the plane is used. And since Qantas won’t talk, here are my professional inferences about what’s likely to be offered on board.

First of all, there is little chance of anything truly revolutionary happening. The three years to 2025 are not long in aviation, especially when it comes to seats. Unless Qantas is planning some kind of big sleeper reveal – which would require a huge amount of safety certification work – it seems almost certain that economy class passengers will only be in normal seats.

Knees and shins

The A350 is one of the more comfortable economy class options.

The A350 is one of the more comfortable economy class options.


Going back to the basics, economy class seat comfort levels are primarily based on seat style, recline and width.

In terms of seat style, Qantas can be expected to source the best economy class seats on the market from the best design and engineering companies, such as Recaro or Collins Aerospace.

These are called fully fitted seats, with comfortable seat foams covered in special fabrics, a substantial amount of recline, a substantial headrest, a footrest under the seat and, in the case of Qantas, a small foot hammock.

In recent years, designers and engineers have worked hard on the backs and bases of airplane seats so that they leave enough room for the person sitting behind, especially for their knees and shins.

They figured out how to make the padded bottom of the chair, known as the seat pan, articulate when tilted, altering the pressure points on the occupant’s body as they bend over. backward.

Qantas’ Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, launched in 2016, used a customized version of German manufacturer Recaro’s CL3710 seat.

The CL3710 is from 2013 and Recaro makes updates every year, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they were working on a special version for Qantas.

There might even be an all-new seat – from Recaro or someone else – with even more comfort. It could well be ready for Qantas to start flying at the end of 2025.

Extra leg room

In 2019, Qantas carried out experimental research flights testing the London-Sydney section. CNN’s Richard Quest reports from the cockpit of one such ultra long-haul flight.

The second comfort factor is pitch, which measures point on a seat to point on the same seat immediately in front of it, so it’s not quite full legroom as it includes an inch or two of structure seat back.

Qantas has promised that its economy class seats on board will offer 33 inches (84 centimeters) of pitch.

That’s an inch longer than the 2016 Dreamliner seats, and by 2025 I expect Seat Engineering to have shrunk the seat structure by up to an inch to provide more room for knees.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Qantas also offered sections with more legroom, which could stretch up to 35 or 36 inches, like United’s Economy Plus or Delta’s Comfort Plus – no class premium economy, but just normal economy seats with more leg room.

What about the width?

There’s either good news or terrible news ahead for passengers, depending on how many seats Qantas puts in each row of the A350.

The large, twin-aisle plane can hold either nine seats per row, which is the standard offered by full-service airlines like Qantas, Delta and Singapore Airlines, or 10 seats per row, which was largely on board aircraft at very low cost. and leisure carriers like Air Caraïbes and French Bee in France.

In width, the A350 is one of the most comfortable economy class options in the air with seats over 18 inches wide. At 10 wide, it’s one of the least comfortable, with seats scraping a mere 17 inches and very narrow aisles too.

You can imagine – and the cut published by Qantas certainly shows this – that a full-service airline like the Australian airline would naturally opt for the nine-across configuration.

But Airbus has hatched a discreet plan to carve out an extra inch or two of space by slimming down the cabin side walls. This has led some full-service airlines, including Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, to plan to fit 10 seats on some future A350s.

Nonstop or with stopover

more qantas exercises

An experimental London-Sydney flight in 2019 allowed passengers to take in-flight exercise lessons.

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 perfectly into nine, even if you try to add extra seats to the sides or in the middle.

It would still be surprising to see Qantas do this, especially on these super long flights. But the airline has installed nearly as narrow seats on its Dreamliner seats which fly nonstop London-Perth for nearly as long, so watch this space for more details.

Ultimately, every inch counts when it comes to economy class comfort. Many passengers – myself included – cringe at the thought of a flight lasting over 20 hours, even in business class.

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

Whenever we end up talking about it, people always bring up the other option, a halfway stretch from New York to Sydney to Los Angeles or San Francisco, or one of Asia’s top twelve airports between Sydney and London.

But people have always cringed at the thought of staying longer in a seat: first at the thought of a Kangaroo Route return flight, then at the thought of a 12, 14 or 4 p.m.

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 what difference those extra three or four hours on the London-Perth Qantas 787 Dreamliner flight will make to passengers – and, more importantly, to their perceptions.

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