17 Ways Qantas Is Going to Make a 17-hour Flight Comfortable for Passengers
Last fall, Qantas received the first of eight 787-9 Dreamliners it ordered from Boeing (with the possibility of ordering more in the future). Though this plane was the 615th Boeing Dreamliner to roll off the production line, it made news nonetheless because of the special route upon which the Australian airline intends to fly it.
Qantas will will launch the first-ever nonstop commercial route between Australia and Europe when it begins flying the Dreamliner from Perth to London March 24, 2018.
The new route will be one of the longest flights in the world, clocking in at 17 hours and 20 minutes from Perth to London, and 16 hours 45 minutes on the way back.
Not only is that a lot of time in the air, but it also means passengers and crew will face new challenges when it comes to dealing with time changes, jet lag, and just plain staying sane over the course of the journey. As Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce joked, Qantas's old tagline of, “A sleep, a meal, a movie and you're there,” just won't cut it anymore.
Due to the timing and duration of the flights, Qantas has entirely rethought the passenger experience. The airline enlisted the help not only of in-house industrial designer David Caon and the airline's chef partner, Neil Perry of the Rockpool Dining Group, but also of Professor Steve Simpson and his interdisciplinary team of experts at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney, which is dedicated to studying chronic disease and metabolism.
“Our research project with Qantas includes strategies to counteract jet lag, including on-board exercise and movement, menu design and service timing, pre- and post-flight preparation, transit lounge wellness concepts and the cabin environment, including lighting and temperature,” said Simpson.
Here are some of the innovations both on the ground and in the air that passengers can expect once the new plane takes flight. And pay attention, because as part of Qantas's “Project Sunrise” initiative, we might soon see even longer flights such as from Sydney to Cape Town, London, New York City and Rio, some of which would be as long as 20 hours.
Before their flight, travelers will receive an email with advice on how to prepare for the long-haul journey in the days leading up to it as well as suggestions of things they can do onboard and on the ground afterward in order to minimize jet lag. Tips include staying hydrated, making sure to get in physical activity, and being outside during sunlight hours to readjust their circadian rhythm.
As part of the ramp up to launching the Perth-London route, Qantas is building new international airport lounges both in Perth and London to accommodate its fliers. The Perth lounge will include the first outdoor patio at an airline lounge in Australia, complete with a barbecue to offer passengers some fresh air, sunshine, and Aussie cooking before or after their long flights. The lounge's shower suites will be illuminated in a blue-white light frequency designed to promote wakefulness and help bathers adjust to their new time zone.
Lowering the risk of catching your neighbor's cold, the plane has a high-efficiency HEPA filtration system. Boeing claims it can snare particulates down to the size of viruses, so passengers stand more of a fighting chance of walking off the plane healthy, even with a seatmate who's hacking the whole time.
Clean Air Act
The Dreamliner's windows are 18 inches tall and 11 inches wide, between 30-60-percent larger than the windows on conventional aircraft. In addition to offering better views, passengers can adjust the brightness or dimness…within limits. The crew has total control, though, and can prevent that one obnoxious passenger who always manages to open their shade and drown the cabin in glaring sunlight in the middle of the flight from rudely awakening other fliers.
Passengers are going to have a lot of media choices to occupy their time. The touchscreen in-flight entertainment systems in business class are 16 inches wide, while the ones in premium economy and economy are 13.3 inches and 12 inches respectively. All are stocked with over 1500 entertainment options including movies, television episodes, music options and games.
Business class passengers aboard Qantas's 787-9 flights between Melbourne and Los Angeles this December-March can look forward to new amenity kits from Aussie accessories brand Oroton and artistic collaborators Craig Redman and Karl Maier. The sleek black pouches have embossed prints featuring iconic landmarks and landscapes from Australia, and contain a range of ASPAR spa products. While these kits are for the first 787-9 route, chances are Qantas will release another limited-edition kit for its Perth-London route next year.
Qantas put not one, but two, self-service bars on the plane so passengers can help themselves over the long stretches of flights where there is no meal service. One is up front in the business class galley, while the other is at the aft of the aircraft. "Look for healthy snacks like kale chips, crudité and guacamole in the self-serve bars," said Perry, "as well as infused teas and waters to encourage people to stay hydrated."
The composites Boeing uses to construct the Dreamliner are less susceptible to corrosion and fatigue, which means the passenger areas can be kept at a lower altitude of pressurization and the air can have (slightly) more humidity. Most jets are pressurized to an altitude of about 8,000 feet, the equivalent of Aspen, Colorado. By contrast, the Dreamliner can be pressurized to 6,000 feet. While the difference is only 2,000 feet, Boeing and researchers at Oklahoma State University found that the modification had a profoundly positive impact on the passenger experience, aiding in oxygen absorption and reducing in-flight light-headedness and fatigue. Higher humidity reduces symptoms such as dry mouth, eye and throat irritation, dry skin and susceptibility to pathogens due to the parching of sinuses, all of which contribute to a less stressful experience in the sky.
Passengers won't need to stress out about being first to board and jostling for scarce overhead space then having to sit for the extra time it takes everyone else to get on the plane. The bins on this aircraft are each designed to accommodate four standard rollerboard carry-ons side by side, so there is room for everyone's baggage.
Once in their seats, passengers will also find all kinds of new nooks and crannies in which to stow their belongings. The premium economy seats have five stowage areas of varying sizes for everything from tablets and magazines to reading glasses, plus an innovative frame for their in-flight entertainment screens that pops out to hold a personal electronic device. Economy seats have an adjustable tray under the entertainment system for holding devices like a tablet if they want to watch their own content.
Premium economy seats feature new ergonomically designed pillows that can be attached to their headrests so they won't fall down or get scrunched up while passengers are sleeping.
Along with the other technological improvements Boeing incorporated into its design, the Dreamliner is equipped with Boeing's Smoother Ride Technology that senses turbulence and automatically adjusts wing control surfaces to counter it so passengers should not be bumped around quite as much. Not only that, but have you ever noticed the hallmark scalloped back edge of the engines on a 787? That reduces engine noise for a quieter ride.
All seats, no matter the cabin, have a few different options for keeping those personal devices charged over the course of these ultra long-haul flights. Business and economy seats each have both AC and USB ports. Passengers in premium economy will have to share those AC adapters, but each of these seats comes with two USB ports for charging smaller devices.
The Charles Perkins Centre and Qantas hope to gather data from passengers who are willing to don Fitbit-like wristbands that will monitor their vitals sleep patterns during flights. The wearable tech will then be sent back to the Charles Perkins Centre to analyze the data in an effort to better understand the effects of long-haul travel on the body and continue to improve the passenger experience.
All told, passengers aboard Qantas's upcoming 787-9 flights will have a lot to look forward to – hopefully enough to occupy them on a 17-hour flight. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce is optimistic, though: “This is truly the best aircraft that Qantas has ever put into the air.”
LED-ing the Way
Instead of conventional lighting, the Dreamliner has full-spectrum LED fixtures with dynamic programming capability, meaning their settings can be altered gradually, rather than just turned on or off, or simply switching colors. Along with Professor Simpson's team from the Charles Perkins Centre, Qantas's industrial designer David Caon and Boeing created all-new lighting sequences for the aircraft and the specific routes it will operate. “We will tune the wavelengths and intensity of light in cabins when we're trying to shift people's circadian clocks so they adjust more easily toward the destination time zone,” said Professor Simpson.
By the Numbers
Qantas made a conscious decision to configure the jet with a lower passenger capacity, due mainly to the size of its business-class section, but that still means being crammed into a confined space with far fewer people than on some other airlines.
Qantas's 787-9 has room for just 236 passengers: 42 in business class, 28 in premium economy and 166 in economy. Compare that to the 302 seats Air New Zealand has packed onto its 787-9, 298 on Air Canada's version of the jet, 285 on American Airlines, or the 252 on a United 787-9.
À La Clock Menus
On many long-haul flights, there is a meal service shortly after takeoff and then another before landing in order to maximize the in-flight time for passengers to rest. However, on a 17-hour flight, crews have more leeway. Since eating at the right time can help travelers adjust to a new time zone more quickly, chef Neil Perry has consulted with Professor Simpson's team about how to optimize meal service on these flights. “On certain flights, we might hold up meal service to encourage passengers to sleep later in the flight,” said Perry.
And it's not just about the timing:. “We have designed menus that include ingredients to help switch on melatonin production and encourage sleep at appropriate times in the flight,” said Simpson.
Lest that sounds a little too controlling, though, Perry clarifies: “We're not going to tell people that they can't eat this or have that glass of wine. We are going to give them a menu with choices to get them to their destination in the best shape, but without preaching.” Perry suggests something like beef short rib with ancient grains if you want to drift into a food coma, but spicy foods if you're not worried about staying awake.
Watch This Space
“We designed the seats to have more space since we know it's ultra long-haul,” said Joyce about the new seating options on the 787-9. "For instance, the economy seat is the most spacious we've ever provided and it's specially designed with power sockets for every passenger, and with new trays for personal devices and TV screens, so passengers can do two things at once if they want." The seats are 17.2 inches wide, have 32 inches of pitch, and recline six inches.
The jet features what designer Caon calls, "An evolution of the current business class seat," where each one in the staggered 1–2–1 configuration has direct aisle access and privacy screens, and recline to fully flat beds that are 24 inches wide and 80 inches long. One fun feature of the business class seats that should come in useful specifically for these long flights? A Do Not Disturb light that passengers can illuminate so they can rest as long as they like.
The premium economy seats aboard, meanwhile, are an entirely new version for the airline and include ergonomic innovations. They are up to 22.8 inches wide with 38 inches of pitch and recline an impressive 9.5 inches. Rather than designing an extendable leg rest, Caon created a footrest with a netted cradle that pops out of the bottom of the seat in front.
“Ergonomically, a leg rest only supports a portion of your leg and your feet not at all,” he said. “In this case, we put the rest in the seat in front, so you can deploy it and adjust it to your needs. The netting supports your feet, and the bar supports your calves. Rather than reclining, the seat rocks forward and you get almost a full extension.”