As aircraft efficiency and performance improve and fuel prices remain low, we are seeing an increase in extremely long flights. While direct flights between distant cities are attractive, do passengers really want to spend that long in economy class? Some things can help, but it will still be an endurance exercise.
With aircraft like the A350, we are experiencing longer flights than ever. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Easy flying.
Ultra long flights
The latest aircraft like the A350, Boeing 787 and the upcoming 777X offer many advantages. They are more efficient and cost-effective to operate and increase the range. Combined with low fuel prices, this has resulted in longer flights than ever before in recent years.
Singapore Airlines currently flies the longest ultra-long route from Singapore to New York – 15,358 kilometers. There are many others, however – including the longest route from Qantas, which is 14,500 kilometers from Perth to London. Qantas has also operated direct flights from Sydney to London and New York. These were test flights as part of the Sunrise project, but the company plans to launch them commercially with new A350-1000 aircraft possibly as early as 2024.
Qantas has used the 787 for flights from London to Perth, but will use the A350 on longer routes. Photo: Getty Images
At just over 17,000 kilometers, Sydney to London would be a flight of up to 20 hours. Qantas obviously sees the business case for these flights as being willing to pay for the convenience of direct flights rather than making stopovers or transfers. Post COVID-19, this could be compounded by changed travel and entry restrictions for connecting countries and passengers who want to minimize contact and exposure.
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Everything about the cabin
As with any flight, comfort and enjoyment depend on the seat and personal space. It’s much easier to tackle a suite or just a bunk and table area than a row of three standard economy seats.
20 hours of business or first class is much easier – what about the economy? Photo: Qantas
Singapore Airlines is raising the bar with its ultra long haul flight to New York. It uses a specially modified A350ULR aircraft and only equips it with the business and premium economy classes. Qantas is not planning this for its London or New York and wants to equip the A350-1000 with four cabins and a capacity of around 300 passengers. In reality, this is what most airlines are likely to do. The economy of a business-heavy airplane may work for some routes, but economy class is needed for most.
Qantas 787 Economy – there’s only so much that can be done with the cab. Photo: Qantas
Qantas has announced that it will develop a new cabin for these flights on the A350, but nothing has been announced yet. For the journey from London to Perth with the 787, the standard economy class was used. Nevertheless, the route was popular and achieved an impressive 94% load factor. This would of course also mean a busy economy cabin.
Changes in the economy
Qantas’ early ideas for Project Sunrise included bunk beds, gyms, work, cafes, and even a daycare center. But when reality hit, the airline dropped this. Hopefully there will be some more comfortable seats, however, and maybe a bit more space. Although, as we have seen many times, this is not the direction many airlines are headed. However, there are a few ideas that might help, such as: B. staggered seating.
Rebel.Aero has proposals for a new seat, more spacious and staggered. Photo: Rebel.Aero
Simpler additions, such as better noise-canceling headsets and virtual reality headsets, could help. This can make a surprising difference to a flight, as can passengers in the early days of reduced in-flight entertainment. Better (and affordable or free) internet access and charging will also be very helpful.
BA tested VR headsets on board. Photo: British Airways
The cabin space will also be crucial. In order to survive 20-hour flights, passengers will want to move, which must be recognized by airlines. Larger bathrooms and having your own space away from the seat will definitely help.
Looking ahead, we could see more significant advances in economy class that will help ultra-long haul. Cabin style seating is possible after COVID, and this would also be for privacy. Double-decker seating was also discussed and could realistically offer reclining seats in economy class. A proposal from Zephry for this hit 700% of its funding target in early 2021 – something airlines certainly cannot ignore.
Zephyr has proposed double-decker economy seating that could dramatically transform the ultra-long-haul experience Photo: Zephyr Aerospace
Help passengers to cope
Seating isn’t the only way to improve flights for passengers. Qantas Project Sunrise flights involved extensive testing and experimentation with passengers (and crew). This includes exercises, stretches, and even yoga on board. A great idea, but that’s up to each passenger. And will there really be space for something useful in a fully-fledged economy cabin?
Exercising is a great way to get through a long flight, but airlines have to think about space. Photo: Qantas
Eating and drinking are another consideration. If you do this correctly, passengers might feel more comfortable. Here, too, Qantas has experimented as part of Project Sunrise. Airlines can offer meal, eating and drinking guidelines to help passengers.
Eating the right food can make a huge difference in passenger wellbeing. Photo: Qantas
Long haul even on a narrowbody
It is not only ultra-long-haul flights that will offer passengers new experiences on board. An even more pronounced shift on the part of many airlines is the use of narrowbody aircraft for longer routes. The A321LR has already started doing this, but the upcoming A321XLR will take it a lot further – hopefully it will enter service in 2023.
The A321XLR has received over 450 orders from 20 airlines to date. Photo: Airbus
It will offer a range of up to 4,700 NM (8,700 kilometers). This opens up many current long-distance widebody routes for narrowbodies. Transatlantic of course, but also transpacific routes from Asia and many options from the Middle East.
Just a few of the routes the A321XLR could serve. Image: Airbus
This poses different challenges for the passengers than the lengths of the ultra-long routes. Narrowbody planes have much less space, and even eight-hour flights could be inconvenient in standard economy (for crew and passengers). Here, too, there are more innovations in business class, but limited options in economy.
Are you excited about the possibilities of longer routes? What would your strategy be for making such a long flight in economy class? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.