Why this Australian isn’t so excited about Qantas’ Project Sunrise announcement

May 4, 2022

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The Qantas PR machine was out in full force earlier this week with a big splashy media event to announce more details of their long-awaited Project Sunrise. The Australian-based airline has now committed to ordering specially modified and configured Airbus A350-1000 aircraft which will allow the Flying Kangaroo to fly passengers nonstop from Melbourne (MEL) and Sydney (SYD) to virtually any airport in the world, including London (LHR), Paris (CDG) and New York (JFK).

Related: Project Sunrise: Qantas officially announces plane purchase for London-Australia direct flights

If launched today, these would be the longest flights in the world.

As an Australian who has flown Qantas their entire life and has travelled between London and Australia numerous times, I excitedly poured through the press release but was left pretty underwhelmed and I doubt I will ever take one of these flights.

Here’s why I’m not so excited about Project Sunrise.

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In This Post

Flights won’t launch for 3.5 years

As part of the fanfare earlier this week, a special Airbus A350-1000 aircraft touched down nonstop from Airbus HQ in Toulouse, France (TLS). Was this the first specially fitted Qantas aircraft with new cabin interiors ready to take passengers on the world’s longest flights?

Not quite.

The aircraft was the same aircraft type that will eventually operate the special flights but there wasn’t a first-class cabin in sight. This was an Airbus-owned frame, and they had just slapped a temporary Qantas sticker on the side.

The actual Project Sunrise flights will not commence until late 2025 — more than three years from now — according to local media outlet Executive Traveller.

Have they even decided on their business class offering yet? There weren’t any details of the brand new business-class seat beyond a simple seat map.

Screenshot from Qantas

Qantas are touting the amazing range and technological advancements of the A350 and though it’s undoubtedly an incredible aircraft, it was also incredible four years ago when other airlines like Qatar Airways started flying it. Even the concept of a specially fitted -1000 variant with a low seat count that can fly the world’s longest route is not new — Singapore Airlines launched this back in October 2018 with their marathon journey from Singapore (SIN) to New York (EWR).

Related: World’s longest flight: A review of Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULR in business class from Newark to Singapore

Qantas are very good at promoting its aircraft choices as game-changing innovations despite being years behind other airlines in taking delivery of new aircraft types. They did the same thing in 2017 when they received their first Boeing 787 Dreamliner, some six years after the Japanese airline ANA received their first.

If the last two years have taught me anything, the world could be an entirely different place in 3.5 years — a lot can happen on both a global and technological front — will this really feel special in 2025?

If the press conference saw the delivery of the first actual Project Sunrise aircraft, with nonstop services to New York launching a week later, I’d be very excited, but my interest may wane over the next three-plus years.

Qantas A380 Premium Economy
Qantas A380 Premium Economy. Image by Qantas.

I actually prefer a stopover

Without stops, Qantas should be able to operate between London and Melbourne and Sydney in about 20 hours. This will shave two to three hours off the fastest one-stop options — Qatar manages a 22 hour, 10-minute journey with a two-hour stop in Doha (DOH).

Having done this marathon journey several times, as recently as a few months ago, I like having the opportunity to briefly stop somewhere along the way, stretch my legs, shower, change my clothes and then board the next flight to my destination. It doesn’t make much difference to me whether the journey takes 20 or 22 hours, but I sure do like arriving at my destination feeling fresher for breaking up my journey.

Related: Which airports are the best to connect in when flying to Australia?

I’m not sure why anyone would choose this flight in economy to save such a small amount of hours. Qantas is promising 33 inches of legroom, while this will be generous for a standard economy seat, I would not personally want to be in it for 20 hours.

The current holder of the world’s longest flight, Singapore Airlines did not install an economy cabin on their Airbus A350-1000 aircraft (only business and premium economy). This may have been to keep the weight down to make the economics work and may have also been because they thought there wasn’t a huge demand for economy flights of this length.

The point is, just because you can fly this long without stopping, would you actually want to?

Related: ‘Closest I’ve ever been to business class’: Singapore Airlines in premium economy on the A350-900ULR from Singapore to LAX

This first-class seat design has been tried before

The crowning glory of the launch event this week was exciting mockups of a brand new first-class suite that will feature both a seat and a separate bed for each passenger. The finishes look lovely and sleek.

Image by Qantas

This is unique as most airlines’ first-class seats combine both these elements into one. But it’s not entirely new. As soon as I saw the renderings I immediately thought of the old Lufthansa first-class seats from a decade ago that also had a completely separate seat and bed. The Qantas version is a much more updated design — the Lufthansa version did not feature a sliding door, but Lufthansa abandoned this seat design many years ago in favour of a first-class seat that is much wider and then converts into a wide bed.

Lufthansa old first class. Photo by Brian Kelly / The Points Guy

I can’t help but think the Qantas renderings made both the seat and bed look very narrow, and this may have been the reason Lufthansa abandoned this design.

Expect high prices

Qantas actually already operate nonstop flights from London (LHR) to Australia, just not yet to the large cities of Melbourne and Sydney. The airline was operating flights to the Western Australian city of Perth (PER) prior to the pandemic using their B787-9 aircraft, though these have been temporarily routed to Darwin (DRW) in the Northern Territory due to Western Australia’s strict entry rules during the pandemic.

Related: Western Australia rejoins the world after nearly 2 years in isolation

When these flights to Perth resume next month, it is a good indication of how expensive it is to fly Qantas on a nonstop flight compared with connecting on a foreign carrier in Asia or the Middle East. Look at the premium Qantas charge in business-class for the nonstop flight compared with world-class competitor airlines.

Screenshot from Google Flights

While no pricing has yet been announced for Project Sunrise I would expect Qantas to charge a significant premium for nonstop services to London, Paris and New York compared with the huge number of one-stop options.

Related: Consistency Is Key: Qantas (787-9) Business Class From Melbourne to Perth

Premium award availability is likely to be very limited

So, if cash fares are high, you can use points, right?

Qantas are well-known in the points and miles world for being rather stingy in releasing business and first-class award seats on long-haul flights. TPG’s Eric Rosen managed to book one recently from Melbourne (MEL) to Los Angeles (LAX) and explains why this was unusual:

Australia announced that it would reopen to international travellers just two weeks ahead of the Feb. 21, 2022, official date. That gave me minimal time to plan a trip. However, the short notice also let me pounce on airline award tickets before many other flyers were able to do so.

That’s how to find a veritable frequent-flyer unicorn for my return: a business-class award on Qantas for just 55,000 Alaska Airlines miles plus $110 in taxes and fees.

Using Eric’s Los Angeles example above, he was very lucky to snag this award seat. I cannot see a single day through to the end of the schedule where there is a business class seat available on this flight at the saver level. I would expect business and first class awards seats to be just as rare when these special Project Sunrise flights are launched.

Related: 9 things you should know about Qantas Frequent Flyer

The wellness area may get a little crowded

Qantas has promised an onboard wellness area where passengers can limber up via video-guided stretching classes. In theory, this is an excellent idea that will help circulation, muscle aches and give passengers something active to do while stuck in the same space for 20 hours.

In reality, though, all passengers will have access to this space and from the renderings, it appears to be about the size of an ensuite bathroom. Even across the course of 20 hours, I daresay this will be an extremely popular space, especially for economy passengers as it will be more enjoyable to socialise than in a row of economy seats. If the crew are serving drinks to this area it will be more Wetherspoons than wellness. I’ll be surprised if more than a dozen passengers can fit in here at once in normal standup mode, let alone making shapes during a stretching class.

Unless the crew will be constantly monitoring fair usage and sending passengers back to their seats I think this area will get very crowded and not actually be available to all passengers.

BY comparison, the Emirates A380 onboard bar, a very popular social space is limited to only first and business-class passengers. Economy passengers can’t access this area.

Image by Qantas

 

Bottom line

I really do love Qantas — I think they’re a terrific airline and I’ve flown them plenty of times. Being a regular traveller on the marathon journey between the United Kingdom and Australia I’m always interested in new transport options and operating the world’s longest flights is a really cool title for this relatively small airline to hold.

Qantas are masters at public relations and whipped up plenty of excitement with their announcements this week. If these flights were launching tonight I would probably be more excited, but 3.5 years is a lifetime in the fast-changing aviation world as the last two years have shown.

I’m happy with the huge range of one-stop options for the time being.

Featured image by Qantas

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