Changes are coming to the ‘kangaroo route’ between Australia and Europe. In fact, it will soon cease to be a kangaroo at all and be, erm, a kookaburra route instead?
This is because Qantas is on the cusp of launching non-stop flights between Sydney and Melbourne to Europe under its ‘Project Sunrise’ strategy.
Since 2017 Qantas has offered a direct flight from London to Perth, which is substantially shorter. It is able to fly this route with its existing Boeing 787-9s. By all accounts the flights have been a huge success with Qantas able to charge a premium over its one-stop flights via Singapore. Last year it also launched a non-stop Perth to Rome flight.
In the long term, Qantas hopes that Project Sunrise will play a key role in increasing its profit margins to 10-12%, up from 4% in 2019 and a predicted 8% in 2024.
Unfortunately, launching non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London is a little more complicated. Qantas can’t just repurpose its existing fleet without taking a large penalty on capacity to reduce weight, which would make the flights uneconomical.
Instead, it launched a competition between Airbus and Boeing to launch an ultra-longhaul capable A350 or 777X designed specifically for these routes.
After a multi-year negotiation Qantas confirmed it would acquire 12 specially modified Airbus A350-1000ULR aircraft. These are designed with an additional fuel tank which will allow them to fly with a full complement of passengers from London to Sydney.
The first of these A350s will arrive in 2025 with a view to launching non-stop flights to London and New York later that year. A new First Class lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 will open at the same time.
What is interesting is that, despite the extra fuel tank, Qantas has chosen to fit these aircraft with substantially less dense cabins than other A350-1000 operators. In fact, it is installing 93 fewer seats on the aircraft than British Airways and 97 fewer than Virgin Atlantic:
- Qantas: 238 seats
- British Airways: 331 seats
- Virgin Atlantic: 335 seats
Partly the lower density is down to aircraft range – it’s unlikely the aircraft could make the 10,753 mile journey with 300+ passengers and their bags and still have enough fuel reserves in case of emergency.
It is also down to the length of the journey, with Qantas saying flights will be between 18 and 22 hours long depending on the direction.
That’s a l-o-n-g time to be stuck in a carbon-fibre tube, particularly if you’re in Economy. This is why this week’s announcement is particularly impressive, with Qantas saying its A350s will have the best seat pitch (leg room) in Economy of its entire fleet.
The Qantas A350-1000ULR layout
In total, Qantas is planning to fit the fleet with 238 seats. This comprises:
- six seats in First Class in a 1-1-1 layout
- 52 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 layout
- 40 Premium Economy seats in a 2-4-2 layout
- 140 Economy seats in a 3-3-3 layout
Now that Qantas has revealed renders of the entire aircraft we can go through the aircraft cabin by cabin.
First Class on Qantas’ A350-1000ULR
Qantas will continue to offer First Class and is installing six suites in what will be a very exclusive, private cabin.
Qantas will offer a seat-with-bed model rather than a seat that reclines into a bed. This is an interesting choice, as it means that the width of both the seat and bed are limited.
Qantas gives the seat width as 55cm, and looking at the renderings the bed can’t be much wider. That doesn’t compare favourably with ANA’s 95cm-wide ‘THE Suite’ or Lufthansa’s new Allegris First Suite which is also just under 100cm wide.
The benefit of having separate seats and beds is largely an operational one: they tend to save on weight (important on a ultra longhaul flights, of course) as well as complexity, which helps with design, certification and maintenance.
Each suite also features 142cm high walls and a fully closing door. Whilst 142cm isn’t the full height of the cabin, it should be very private with the walls extending significantly above the eyeline of the seat.
When it comes to design, which has been styled by David Caon, the First Class seat shines. The combination of wood effect, olive green and beige soft furnishings makes this look really cosy and inviting.
Behind First Class are two cabins with a combined 52 Business Class seats in a 1-2-1 layout. This is a staggered layout with forward-facing seats from Safran, with Qantas selecting the new Unity model.
This is a doored mini-suite with 117cm-high walls. Qantas is installing it with an impressive bed-length of 203cm, making it one of the longest business class beds available. A typical bed length is between 195cm and 200cm.
Each seat features a large console table and storage unit, as well as what it is calling a ‘glove box’ for storing smaller items such as a passport and glasses.
When it comes to entertainment, Qantas is opting for a (presumably 4K) 18″ screen. I would also expect to see Bluetooth connectivity options as well as USB-C and wireless charging which are becoming increasingly common.
Business Class passengers will also have access to a self-serve snack bar and galley kitchen.
Surprisingly, Qantas is choosing to install ‘just’ 40 seats in its Premium Economy cabin on the A350. I’m surprised it isn’t more – both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have 56 – and I would expect a lot of passengers to want to upgrade from Economy on the ultra-long routes this aircraft will be serving.
Qantas has gone for a standard 2-4-2 configuration here, which means that everyone is, at most, 1 person away from an aisle.
The seats have a 102cm pitch, which is 5cm more than on Qantas’ 787s and the largest across its fleet. This is better than both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic which offer 95cm, although not as much as Norse Atlantic has on its 787s at 115cm. Each seat has a leg rest and foot rest.
The Premium Economy seats come with 20cm headrest wings for extra privacy and additional support, which should come in handy when sleeping.
These seats will have 13″ screens with Bluetooth connectivity, as well as two USB-C ports.
The remaining seats – 140 of them – will be in Economy in a typical 3-3-3 layout. The good news is that, thanks to its optimised fuselage shape, the A350 generally offers some of the widest Economy class seats in this configuration (unlike the Boeing 787, which is a squeeze in 3-3-3).
Each seat features 82.5cm of pitch, which is 5cm more than the industry standard.
As in Premium Economy, these seats will feature 13″ screens with Bluetooth connectivity, as well as USB-C ports. They also feature footrests that fold down from the seat in front.
Qantas’ Wellbeing Zone
The fun doesn’t end there. Qantas is installing what it calls a ‘Wellbeing Zone’ for all Economy and Premium Economy passengers – although I’m sure Business and First Class guests can use it too.
The Wellness Zone is an area around the galley and emergency exits between the Premium Economy and Economy cabins. Qantas is marketing it as an area to stand up and stretch, with handles and upholstered walls for comfort. A large screen will also display a recommended series of exercises.
In addition to offering some open space, you’ll also be able to grab snacks and drinks from here, similar to Virgin’s Wander Wall.
Overall this seems more of a way to keep the weight of the aircraft down than a real attempt at passenger wellness, although the creation of an exercise space is a big bonus for Economy passengers.
Overall, it looks like Qantas’ fleet of 12 A350-1000s will be a genuine comfort upgrade over the rest of its long haul fleet, although I’m still not envious of anyone doing the 20-hour flight in Economy or Premium.
It will be interesting to see if this is just the start of a trend for airlines to offer more and more ultra-long haul flights. Turkish Airlines has already said it is interested in acquiring ultra-long-range aircraft such as these to open up direct flights from Istanbul to Melbourne – will other European airlines follow?
Unfortunately we still have to wait two years until we see these flights launch. When they do, it will be the first time that regular commercial services operate non-stop between Eastern Australia and Western Europe.