(CNN) — The longest flight in the world: non-stop, 20 hours, as you lean back in your oversized armchair and decide whether you want to relax with the finest champagne, enjoy a chef-designed meal with a fellow passenger sitting across from you, or have the crew make you a sumptuous soft bed with crisp sheets.
That’s what the six first-class passengers on Qantas’ direct flights to Sydney from London and New York will be offered in three years, and they can expect to be priced accordingly.
And what about the 140 economy-class passengers who will be in the back of the 12 Airbus A350-1000s the airline has ordered for the route?
Qantas does not say. “We don’t have any updates at this time, but we’re looking forward to keeping you informed, and we’ll share more information 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 galley galleys where you can stretch, maybe do some yoga poses, and possibly just stand for a while. weather.
And, of course, Qantas will strive to have a great selection of movies and TV shows for you to enjoy on the new in-flight entertainment screens, as well as food and drinks that will be specially designed for your well-being on longer flights.
But that’s probably all.
Ian Petchenik, host of the aviation podcast AvTalk, told CNN that “although a lot of attention has been paid to Qantas first class for Project Sunrise, I think the real differentiator for passengers in the back of the plane will be that kind of amenities”.
“There’s not much to do to improve the nine-row economy class seats, so figuring out how to make a 20-hour flight enjoyable in one of those seats is going to come down to what Qantas can offer those passengers. “.
I’m an aviation journalist with over a decade delving into all kinds of people associated with airlines, aircraft manufacturers, designers and seat makers to find out how every inch of the plane is used. And since Qantas isn’t talking, here are my professional deductions about what’s likely to be on offer on board.
In the first place, there is unlikely to be anything truly revolutionary. The three years to 2025 is not a long time in aviation, especially when it comes to seats. Unless Qantas is planning some kind of berth reveal, which would require an enormous amount of safety certification work, it seems pretty certain that economy passengers will be in regular seats.
knees and shins
Going back to first principles, comfort levels in coach seats are largely based on seat style, pitch and width.
When it comes to seating style, you’d expect Qantas to choose the best coach seats on the market from top design and engineering companies like Recaro or Collins Aerospace.
These are full-featured seats, with comfortable seat foams covered in special fabrics, a considerable degree of recline, a substantial headrest, an underseat footrest and, in the case of Qantas, a small foot hammock.
In recent years, designers and engineers have put a lot of work into airplane seat backs and seat bases so that they offer enough space for the person sitting behind, especially for their knees and shins.
They have figured out how to make the padded underside of the chair, known as the seat pan, articulate when reclining, changing the pressure points on the occupant’s body as they lean back.
Qantas’ Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which launched in 2016, used a customized version of German manufacturer Recaro’s CL3710 seat.
The CL3710 dates from 2013, and Recaro has updated it every year, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was working on a special version for Qantas.
There could even be a completely new seat, from Recaro or another company, with even more comfort. It could be ready for Qantas to start flying in late 2025.
The second comfort factor is pitch, which measures the distance between the point of a seat and the same point on the immediately preceding seat, so it is not total legroom, as it includes two to five centimeters for push back the backrest.
Qantas has promised that its economy class seats on board will offer 84 centimeters of space.
That’s an inch more than the 2016 Dreamliner seats, and by 2025 I’d expect seat engineering to have narrowed the seat frame by up to an inch to offer more knee room.
It would not be surprising if Qantas also offered sections with extra legroom, which could be 89 or 91 centimeters, in the style of United’s Economy Plus or Delta’s Comfort Plus: these are not premium economy seats, but of normal economy seats with more legroom.
And the width?
Depending on the number of seats that Qantas puts in each row of the A350, it will be good or bad news for passengers.
The large twin-aisle aircraft can have nine seats per row, which has been the standard offered by full-service airlines such as Qantas, Delta and Singapore Airlines, or 10 seats per row, which has largely been on board airlines. ultra low cost and leisure such as the French Air Caraïbes and French Bee.
In terms of width, the A350 is one of the most comfortable options in the economy class in the air, with nine transverse seats more than 45 centimeters wide. On the other hand, in the 10, it is one of the least comfortable, with seats that barely touch 43 centimeters and have very narrow aisles.
You might imagine, and the map published by Qantas proves it, that a full-service airline like Australia’s national carrier would naturally opt for the nine-seater configuration.
But Airbus has been hatching a quiet plan to gain two to five centimeters of extra space by reducing the side walls of the cabin. This has led some full-service airlines, such as Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, to plan to install 10-seater seats on some future A350s.
Nonstop vs. with scales
Qantas says it plans to fit 140 economy seats on its A350. That would be 14 rows of 10, but that number doesn’t divide cleanly into nine, even if you try to add a few extra seats on the sides or in the center.
It would still be surprising for Qantas to try that, especially for these super-long flights. But the airline has fitted nearly as narrow seats to its Dreamliners flying nonstop on the London-Perth route for nearly as long, so keep an eye on this space for details.
After all, every inch matters when it comes to economy class comfort. Many passengers, myself included, cringe at the thought of a 20+ hour flight, even in business class.
I was on a flight almost as long in business class, on the nonstop Singapore Airlines flight from Newark to Singapore about 10 years ago, but it wasn’t much fun, even with the ability to watch a movie and sleep and vice versa.
Whenever we end up talking about this, people bring up the other option, a stretch halfway between New York and Sydney in Los Angeles or San Francisco, or at any of a dozen world-class airports in Asia between Sydney and London.
But people have always cringed at the idea of spending more time in a seat: first at the idea of a one-hop Kangaroo Route (Australia to UK) flight, then at the idea of a 12, 14 or 16 hours.
Before the pandemic, there were dozens of flights longer than that, with regular coach-class seats in the back, and people seemed willing to sit in them.
The question is how much difference those extra three or four hours will make to passengers on the Qantas 787 Dreamliner’s London-Perth flight and, above all, their perception.