Oct 27, 2016

Qantas has some tight news for full sized Australians in its 787s

Nothing can disguise the fact that if you fly economy in a Qantas 787-9 you will be crammed into a small space

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Is this really going to cut it on ultra long range flights like Melbourne-Dallas?
Is this really going to cut it on ultra long range flights like Melbourne-Dallas?

Qantas has understandably underlined the very good things about the cabins you will find in its 787-9 Dreamliners when they begin joining its fleet late next year.

But nothing changes the reality that most people will fly in it in an economy class seat. In the Qantas 787 it will come in a tight nine across configuration like that in Jetstar’s 787-8s, and with the same 81.28 cms (32 inches) seat pitch that you will find in most, but not all seats in economy class in its 737s, 747s and A380s (with the latter offering a notably wider seat).

This is a jet Boeing designed for a civilised eight across economy class cabin, which is also used by some of the Japan flag carrier Dreamliner flights that Qantas 787s might compete against in the future.

It was never intended to put large children and adults into such small economy class seats  when the Dreamliner family was designed, but times have changed, and as the Qantas 787 cabin announcement today showed, the airline has decided to follow not lead when it comes to the current craze by airline managements to physically hurt the numerical majority of their customers by confiscating once ‘overly generous’ space in the interests of dividing operating costs by a larger number of seats for any given flight.

This is a real pity. Telling people that if they want what they previously paid for in long haul economy space in those more generous times they should pay for a premium economy or business class fare isn’t smart if they can find a classic layout 777 (like those flown by Virgin Australia) or an Airbus A380 or A350 as a roomier alternative on a particular long haul route.

What looks like an improved metric in an analyst presentation might also harm the competitive offering, and brand value, of an airline that wants to ‘jam them in’.

The Dreamliner is a superb aircraft, and as Qantas has outlined in its statement today, it will undoubtedly do a superb job in looking after the premium paying passenger, a type of customer that may be in decline as companies look to savings in their managed travel budgets.

But most Australians fly in economy class. Qantas ought to be more mindful of what most of the market buys when it chooses a class of travel, and what its competitors are doing in their A380s and A350s in particular.


(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)


Leave a comment

29 thoughts on “Qantas has some tight news for full sized Australians in its 787s

  1. J.W.

    so effectivelly bringing the jetstar experience to qantas, in summary for economy:
    -the loss of elbow and ‘lean’ room at the window
    -the loss of sufficient stretch area into the aisle
    -the cancelling out of the extra inch of legroom with the deeper recline and larger video screens

    all looks pretty grim for the red roo, more fleet planning mismatches with the wrong aircraft for what could be their most profitable routes

    1. anonflightattendant

      Just like they have on the Tasman except at least Jetstar has all leather economy seating and Star Class instead of Tasman “Business”.

      And as for the two tray tables … I actually laughed out loud. They justified taking away the preset tray because it would give passengers “more room to move” and “a faster meal service”. As everyone knows the trayless meal service takes twice as a long, creates twice as much unrecylable rubbish, and you can’t go anywhere until the rubbish mountain is taken away. So now instead of bringing back the tray, they’ve installed a second one into the seat in front!!!

      1. comet

        Qantas = Jetstar seat @ premium price

        Beware booking on a 787. These are the horrid conditions you are signing up to.

        Before you book, it’s worth doing your homework to make sure you are not booking yourself onto a Dreamliner nightmare flight. If it’s too hard to check, then book yourself onto a different airline.

  2. Dan Dair

    The race-to-the-bottom has been running for a long time now.
    Qantas, like many other ‘flag-carriers’ was set against it initially & then sought to ’embrace’ it by creating its own in-house low-cost brand.
    It has now decided to install JetStars low-cast values in its own aircraft.
    That’s a business-decision which will either work or will bite them in the a55.?
    If they’re going to fully embrace the ‘squeeze-them-in-&-pack-’em-tight’ concept of self-loading freight, why do they even need to bother with the JetStar brand anymore.
    It remains to be seen whether Qantas will sell-out its economy sections in this format, especially considering what other flying options might be available to passengers, including a perhaps lower fare for the same product with JetStar.?

  3. Giant Bird

    As far as I am concerned shoulder width and the ability to have some sideways movement is far more important than a tiny bit of extra pitch, no matter what Qantas says. and I am a smaller than average person. I find being jammed shoulder to shoulder to the person next to me very uncomfortable. I will be avoiding the Qantas 787. I am getting too old to be crammed in like a caged cook. I will pay a bit extra to fly something where I feel less like in a straight jacket. I have resolved to do more stop overs on long haul, and avoid overnight sectors but unfortunately across the Pacific there are few choices. I believe daylight flights and paying for overnight stopover accommodation much better value and sleep than business class. It did not worry me once but too old now.

  4. Rufus

    I’m not sure when this golden era of generous seating ever was.
    Seat width seems to be the main concern (which I find far more important than pitch, to be honest) – and that hasn’t changed much since the 707 – which we still see reflected in today’s 737s. Perhaps the glossy marketing for the 787 promised wider seats, but was this ever realistic?
    One thing that continues to change is that airfares have become far, far more affordable than ever before. A fair, fare comparison would probably show that today’s business class passenger, in an A380 Skybed or similar, is getting a whole lot more space and amenity, for the same price as a passenger sitting down the back paid to travel in an early 707 service.
    And that passenger down the back was getting a seat of generally similar proportions as today (with any reduced pitch at least partly compensated by much slimmer seating and more efficient seat designs), no IFE and the added aural bonus of 4 JT3s screaming on the wings and a fug of cigarette smoke hanging over the cabin.

    1. comet

      Rufus… Love your description of the 707.

      But Qantas’ current 747s offer a seat width of 17.7 inches. The 9-across 787 Dreamliner has a maximum seat width of only 17 inches, and usually it is less.

      So the 747 economy is not that crash hot, but it still offers nearly an extra inch than the 787.

  5. chris turnbull

    So many questions but I’ll start with two : (1) how could this aircraft in this configuration possibly take over 747 routes ? (2) what new routes could they possibly fly it on? Is Sydney-Perth-London realistic ? Ok that’s three questions.

    1. Creeper

      LAX first up from what I got.
      SYD-LAX-JFK rumoured first up…

      1. chris turnbull

        So that means an additional daily Sydney Los Angeles?

        1. patrick kilby

          Chris the two 744s from Melbourne (QF95) could be replaced by 787s five days a week (a small increase in overall capacity). Otherwise the Brisbane – LA – NY could go to 787 10 times a week.

    2. Ben Sandilands

      I think I can answer the third question correctly. No.
      What will do it, if it ever justifies the cost of making a variant of a jet to do SYD-LHR non-stop? It could be a special model of any new tech Airbus or Boeing. The A380 would be included because the rules for safe departures of maximum take off weight airlines are far less onerous for quad jets than twins.

  6. Tango

    While I think its an awful decision to go 9 across, it always was a feature of the 787.

    Boeing said on many occasions they expected most to go with 8, a few with 9.

    Flip that, but it was designed and intended to be 9 if the operator elected to do so.

    1. Ben Sandilands

      When Boeing presented the 787 mockups to the media in Renton in 2005 it described the nine across version as being of the same limited appeal as 8 across in a 767. It was a case of, we offer it because we can, but few would want it. This proved true of the 767, but not for the 787.

      1. Tango

        Agreed, but it was designed in to make it possible. I know you are a word-smith and I like that. But your statement was wrong, it was not an after thing, it was a deliberate design decision. What Boeing really believed as to how it would be used or not we will never know.

        I don’t applaud it, but I also keep in mind that Boeing is in the business to sell aircraft, not protect us from ourselves.

        We can do legislation for that if we get organized.

        I also know we can vote with our money or refuse to travel.

        I don’t travel much, when I do its as low cost as I can get as it impacts the house budget. At some point there would be a limit, but I have been in the back of a Squad Car (as a witness not a perp!) and I can tell you it can be a lot worse.

  7. ggm

    Everyone else is bringing their hobby horse out from the toy cupboard and riding it around the table, so I will do the same.

    There is nothing stopping competent regulators from placing requirements on carriers in this space. Nothing. It is called regulation for a reason, and its neutral: everyone has to do it. We get to pay more, because the competitive element in that dimension in the market is removed, but we get less DVT.

    So people actually do have two choices? Yes. they do. You can put up with this, and use your money to buy seats in aircraft which don’t squeeze you, or vote for governments who will empower regulators to do their job. The cost, broadly speaking, is about the same actually.

    1. Sue B

      This. Regulation is what this industry requires. Given the cost of treating someone with a DVT in the public health system, it surprises me that the govt hasn’t considered it worth doing, if only to save them money on healthcare. (not to mention the lost productivity from sprained backs/necks/knees from being crammed in unable to move)

      1. Tango

        I agree, but there is also a third choice, do not go.

        Sometimes you have to, but the cattle class is mostly leisure travel (well that’s what they call it, I would call it something else)

        I can’t afford to travel so I stay at home. Others can stay at home and live fine lives as well.

  8. chris turnbull

    Thanks everyone for your considered answers to my questions. I think I see Melbourne to Dallas as more likely, then an increase in frequency for both Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles (10 a week as opposed to daily for Brisbane works in my head). I’m still wondering about a possible second configuration that has less business suites and takes the seat count closer to 280-290 . Actually I’m going to put my $1 down on Melbourne to DFW as the opener . If I’m wrong just add it to my long list of erroneous predictions expressed on this site before 🙂

    1. patrick kilby


      AJ has already said it will replace existing 747s and there are two that have not been updated so they will be the two to go. They won’t switch Tokyo as that requires the plane to sit on the ground all day. HK would require an increase in frequenty in a slot constrained airport, so I am still going with LA and removing the 747s from that route. THEN Dallas, and then Perth-London and Perth-Paris (thus keeping all 8 planes busy). It seems they are close to agreeing to having a couple of international gates (a la Canberra) at Perth QF’s domestic terminal.

  9. Chris Randal

    Might one suggest that comments should be left until the airplane is actually here?

    1. Sue B

      How will its arrival change the fact that average-sized Australians are not going to fit comfortably in the seat, and it will be a nightmare if there’s someone of size next to you. (and please, this is not a discussion about people’s size, so this is not an invite to start one)

  10. Sue B

    So Qantas effectively makes sure I will never again choose them for long-haul travel. If they wish to remain relevant for Australian passengers, they might try to maintain a product that is actually acceptable to the vast majority of us who have to sit in the rear.

    1. Rufus

      Perhaps a trifle melodramatic, Sue? There’s a small and ever diminishing number of carriers operating with 8 abreast. Will you limit your flying to JAL or ANA? And what if, God forbid, you should chance upon a 777 with 10 abreast?
      If it’s that problematic, buy a seat at the pointy end. And if that’s not an option, just appreciate the fact that long-haul travel is more accessible, on quieter, better equipped aircraft, and with a wider range of destinations and frequencies than it has ever been.

      1. Tango

        Hmmm, I think Sue B is spot on and what you choose vs what she does is not the issue.

        Market will decide if enough Sue Bs decide that (or not travel at all)

        I think it needs legislation, at some point most of us need to travel some.

      2. Giant Bird

        I think you have missed the point. We can choose a flight that is not a 787. We can choose a A380 or a A350. I do not think it is really true that most people only take the cheapest fare. There are too many premium products and models of cars above the base model sold for that to be true. I think that many people do not check before they book which aircraft and seat configuration it will be. But eventually they wake up. I think the proof is the popularity of the A380 and the fact that Emirates can get a premium for A380 flights over 777.

        1. Dan Dair

          I agree completely.

          The problem, from my point of view, is that the B787 was designed to be an 8-across aircraft,
          with a 9-across option for high-density, short-haul routes.

          The consequence is that the bean-counters decide that 9-across is a better metric overall & stuff the SLF.

          The most interesting question, IMO, is whether the high-density B787 & B777 configurations will sell better than more spacious options on the same routes.?
          Clearly, Emirates has sold most of the space on its A380 flights, which, generally-speaking, it has upgraded from B777’s.
          I wonder aloud where QF will be competing its B787’s directly with a more spacious competitor
          & what the outcome will be for that group of competitors.?

          Do you really want to fly Melbourne to Dallas or Perth to London in a 9-across B787,?
          unless it’s very, very cheap, (which is your compensation for the discomfort of 9-across & the DVT risk.??)
          which it won’t be with QF.?

          1. Giant Bird

            As an example, I have just booked flights to South America for a month in the Autumn. Fortunately Latam had a sale on when all my arrangements had been confirmed, and the fares are cheaper than they were some months ago when I was planning my trip. I could not find a practical way on the trip over the avoid the 787. However I cut my trip short by one day so I could return via Santiago on a Qantas 747 rather that a Lantam 787. It would appear that Lantam must have lower load factors than they were expecting by this time and so they have lowered prices. Because I do not want to fly for more than 14 hours in a 9 across 787 they now have to give a big chunk of the money to Qantas. I appreciate that in the medium future I will not have this choice as all the carriers across the Pacific on this route will be using the 787. That is part of my justification to go for more than a month this time to finish my bucket list for South America and avoid having to fly for 14 hours in a 787 in the future.

  11. Rais

    If that’s how Qantas is going to treat us in economy they might find us choosing another carrier. My wife and I had a holiday in Indonesia earlier this year and flew Perth – Jakarta return and Jogjakarta – Jakarta with Garuda. We were sufficiently impressed that we decided to use Garuda again if we went further afield. Garuda goes to Europe and the more comfortable flight might be worth the change of plane in Jakarta.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details