(CNN) — The longest flight in the world: non-stop, 20 hours as you settle back in your wide armchair and decide whether to relax with the very best champagne, enjoy a chef-curated meal with a travel companion opposite, or let the crew prepare you deliciously soft bed with fresh linens.
That’s what the six first-class passengers aboard Qantas’ direct Project Sunrise to Sydney flights from London and New York will be able to do in three years from now, and they can expect to pay the largest five-figure sum for it.
What about the 140 Economy Class passengers who will be seated in the back of the 12 Airbus A350-1000s that the airline has ordered for the service?
Qantas says nothing. “We don’t have any updates at the moment, but we aim to keep you informed and will share more when we have it,” a spokesman 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 some yoga poses and possibly just stand around for a while.
And of course, Qantas will work hard to offer you a wide range of films and TV shows on large new in-flight entertainment screens, as well as food and drink specially designed for your comfort on longer flights.
But it probably is.
Ian Petchenik, host of the AvTalk aviation podcast, told CNN: “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 plane will be the soft product.
“You can only improve nine-abreast economy seating so much that when you find ways to make a 20-hour flight in one of those seats palatable, it matters what else Qantas has to offer those passengers.”
I’m a dedicated aviation journalist with over a decade digging deep with all sorts of people at airlines, aircraft manufacturers, designers and seat makers to find out how every inch of the aircraft is being used. And since Qantas isn’t speaking, here are my professional conclusions on what’s likely to be on offer on board.
First of all, there is not much chance of anything truly revolutionary. The three years to 2025 is not a long time in aviation, especially when it comes to seats. Unless Qantas plans some kind of big berth unveiling – which would require an enormous amount of safety certification work – it seems pretty certain that economy passengers will only be seated in regular seats.
knees and shins
The A350 is one of the most comfortable economy class options.
WENDELL TEODORO/AFP via Getty Images
Getting back to basic principles, the level of comfort in economy class seats is based primarily on seat style, pitch and width.
In terms of seating style, Qantas can be expected to take the very best economy class seats on the market from leading 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 substantial recline, substantial headrest, an underseat footrest, and in the case of Qantas, a small foot hammock.
In recent years, designers and engineers have worked intensively on the backrests and bases of aircraft seats so that they offer the occupant enough space – especially for the knees and shins.
They figured out how to articulate the chair’s cushioned underside, known as the seat shell, when reclined and alter the pressure points on the sitter’s body when they recline.
Qantas’ Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, launched in 2016, used an adapted version of the CL3710 seat from German manufacturer Recaro.
The CL3710 dates back to 2013 and Recaro has been making 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 means that Qantas could start flying at the end of 2025.
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.
The second comfort factor is the incline, which measures the point on a seat to the point on the same seat immediately in front of it, so it’s not quite legroom as it includes an inch or two of seatback structure.
Qantas has promised its Economy Class seats on board will offer 33 inches (84 centimeters) of seat pitch.
That’s an inch more than the 2016 Dreamliner seats, and by 2025 I would expect the seat design to have narrowed the seat structure by up to an inch to allow for more knee room.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Qantas also offered extra legroom sections that could extend to 35 or 36 inches, much like United’s Economy Plus or Delta’s Comfort Plus – not premium economy, just regular economy seats with extra legroom.
What about the width?
Passengers are in for either great or terrible news, depending on how many seats Qantas adds to each row of the A350.
The large twin-aisle aircraft can accommodate either 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 is mostly aboard ultra-low -Cost was and leisure airlines such as France’s Air Caraïbes and French Bee.
In width, with a seat width of over 18 inches, the A350 is one of the most comfortable economy class options in the air. At 10-across, it’s one of the least comfortable, with seats that barely scrape 17 inches and super-narrow aisles.
One would imagine – and the cutaway released by Qantas certainly shows it – that a full-service airline like Australia’s flagship would naturally choose the nine-axle configuration.
But Airbus has hatched a quiet plan to add an inch or two of extra space by slimming down the cabin’s sidewalls. That has prompted some full-service airlines, including Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, to plan to install 10-angle seating on some future A350s.
Non-stop vs. stopover
On an experimental flight from London to Sydney in 2019, passengers received onboard exercise classes.
James D Morgan/Qantas
Qantas plans to add 140 economy class seats to its A350s. That would be 14 rows of 10, but that number doesn’t neatly break down into nine, even if you try to add some extra seats on the sides or in the middle.
It would still be surprising if Qantas did, especially on these super long flights. But the airline installed seats almost as narrow as its Dreamliner seats, which fly non-stop from London to Perth for almost as long, so watch this space for details.
At the end of the day, every inch counts 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 did something almost as long in business class on the 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 film to sleep and back again .
Whenever we talk about it, people always bring up the other option, a midway route from New York to Sydney in Los Angeles or San Francisco, or one of the dozen prime airports in Asia between Sydney and London.
But people have always flinched at sitting there longer: first at the idea of a single-hop flight on the Kangaroo Route, then at the idea of a flight that lasts 12, 14, or 16 hours.
Before the pandemic, there were dozens of flights that were longer, with regular economy class seats at the back, and people seemed ready to sit in them.
The question is how much of a difference that extra three or four hours compared to the Qantas 787 Dreamliner flight from London to Perth will make for passengers – and, crucially, for their perception.