PR dribble

Jun 23, 2017

Calling bullsh*t on Qantas long flight Wellbeing initiative

Is it time to show Qantas some 'tough love' over its passenger Wellbeing project?

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Visit the Qantas News Room to click on this video

Opinion Qantas has announced a collaboration with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre “to help develop the airline’s new approach to long haul travel ahead of the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights this year.”

You can read all about this thoughtful and encouraging work here, in the detailed Qantas statement.

However you might also reflect on certain other matters, starting with the timing. The study has been announced long after Qantas revealed the configuration of the first tranche of 787-9s from Boeing, and the cabin features had been locked down.

This is peculiarly back-the-front. The logical order for reshaping the travel experience upon receipt of wonderful new shiny jets like the Boeing Dreamliner is to apply the learnings that arise to them before they are assembled, not after.

Qantas has already determined that it will follow the pack, rather than the few exceptions when it comes to 787s, by configuring the economy cabin nine across, giving it one of the smaller seats ever installed in a medium to larger and long haul capable jet since the start of the post Comet disasters jet age (which for the pedants, began in Russia in 1956, transporting dissidents like yours truly to Siberia.)

It has also, in its benevolent, far sighted and caring wisdom, decided to keep toilets for business class, premium economy and economy at what seems to be a level that flirts with heroic efforts at renal retention, or something as gross as people just shitting themselves in the aisles, on the 17.5 hours or so stage between Perth and London Heathrow starting next year, never mind 13.5 hours or so non-stop between Melbourne and Los Angeles, starting later this year.

This isn’t a criticism of the 787 family, but an observation about how everything Boeing promised, back in the previous decade, about how nice the Dreamliners would be, has been overruled by most buyers of the type in favour of packing passengers into them so hard that Amnesty International might be tempted to intervene.

Qantas is a terrific airline, and all Australians ought to feel entitled to claim some ownership of its brand value and great work it does in encouraging people to travel very long distances to visit ‘girt-by-sea.’

But surely it is important not to cripple them either, even for the time it takes to restore the circulation, and maybe buy some replacement items of clothing.

To be unusually blunt, the palaver in the press statement which I hope readers have studied in great detail seems to this writer to have a smokescreen function built in, to obscure the fact that Qantas is making it bloody difficult to endure a long 787 flight in the first instance in economy class and then talking about cooperating in arriving at solutions.

It reads like bullshit.

Over at Australian Business Traveller, the candid discussion that accompanies its coverage of the announcement, seems to agree.

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22 thoughts on “Calling bullsh*t on Qantas long flight Wellbeing initiative

  1. ghostwhowalksnz

    Flyers have a choice . Buy a seat upgrade or fly via Emirates.
    Theres an old adage, mostly true, which says ‘The Customers are always right’ and if they continue to click the cheapest seats , who are we to smack their hands and say -What are you thinking ?
    On a more strategic level , I blame the lie flat business class and the introduction of Economy Plus, keeping to the usual economy numbers across would drop revenue too much

    1. Dan Dair

      “The Customers are always right”
      I agree with you completely.

      However, it will be very interesting to see how much repeat business QF gets for it’s Heathrow flights.?
      I have a suspicion that there’ll be a bunch of people who book a return flight to London, who when they get there will be seriously considering whether they want to fly back via Dubai.?

      The route is supposed to be a time-saver. That’s what the customer is paying the premium for.
      Only time will tell, but if they’re getting a service which saves them 5 hours, but takes them 2 days to recover from, what’s the point of paying the premium.?
      Also, should business people end-up going into meetings directly from the airport, completely buggered-up & then doing a poor deal for their company, they (& their companies) will not want to make that mistake again.?

      1. Dan Dair

        Let me add that I want the route to be a success for QF.
        It’s the kind of ‘outside the box’ thinking that can draw back some of the passengers they lost by signing their souls away to Emirates.

        However, I don’t believe that this flight should be an endurance-test.
        Qantas should charge another $40-50 per seat & bring it back down to 8 across.
        QF might no make quite so much money, but I think that they will continue to make that money AFTER the first months customer reactions have been publicised.?

    2. J_sh

      One will have to be very carefull collecting one’s bags from the carousel when arriving London as while 17.5 hours of sitting in a fixed position might not cause severe back pain per se as an immediate cause the lower back muscles will be liable to be tight and cold, and lockup if any strain is put on them.

      More so than that is the risk of DVT which narrowing the seats from 18.3″ on the A380 (inner arm rest to inner arm rest) to what is likely to be 17.3″. Qantas will present their safety on board video usually including some DVT avoidance isometric exercises, or they will be in the inflight magazine etc. Sitting with thighs hard pressed to your neighbor and shoulders and arms likewise Qantas have enhanced the risk of economy passengers exiting the flight with DVT. On sites such as this and on minority comments on AustBT and similar sites which present Qantas PR, there is no enough comment in the public domain to prevent Qantas claiming it could not have forseen such a risk when it narrowed seats at the same time as increasing the length of the flight. This ‘Wellbeing’ project involving those all knowing ‘boffins’ at Sydney Universty mentioned in the BT article is, I suspect, an exercise in risk management by Qantas so that they have a new defence against suits for DVT, i.e. well they did all that was reasonable because Sydney University gave its imprimatur to the configuration. I wonder Sydney University realises that Qantas is transferring their risk to the University. I doubt it.

      1. J_sh

        I should have added/clarified that Qantas will have advice to do DVT exercises but the thigh pressed conditons, packed in like chicken legs in the supermarket packs, will mean passengers will be unable to do those stretches because there will be no wriggle room. Unless one enjoys a thigh rub from one’s neighbouring thigh.

    3. J_sh

      @The Phantom “On a more strategic level , I blame the lie flat business class and the introduction of Economy Plus, keeping to the usual economy numbers across would drop revenue too much.” That hits the nail on the head. Not sure about lie flat business but certainly it is PE on a small aircraft which has compromised all three classes.

      JAL is having two configurations on the B787: A two class configuration with 2-4-2 economy for western bums on its relatively long flights, and a 3-3-3 economy like ANA for shorter Asian routes with Asian backsides. But they are a large airline and can run two configurations whereas Qantas cannot, so it has to run its Asian configured B787s on the ultra long haul.

      What it should do is be honest about how the 3-3-3 B787 configuration is not really suitable for passengers not up to 17.5 hours in cramped conditions and suggest more suitable alternatives. Any respectable business will do that and people will appreciate the honesty and return again and again rather than feeling they were conned into something which wasn’t what it was sold to be. The current configuration, allowing for cheap (and nasty seats) will attract new customers but generate lots of “never again” resolutions. Qantas will not care as they will be replaced by new suckers.

      Such advice could be along the lines suggested: Buy a seat upgrade or if one wishes via Emirates (avoiding their 3-4-3 B777s). My favourite is a daytime SQ flight to Singapore or CX to Hong Kong (and collect QF points) in economy, stretch your legs and back in real bed, then another daytime flight to London the next morning arriving late afternoon or early evening in time for dinner and bed to wake dialled in to the local time. And it doesn’t break the bank.

  2. patrick kilby

    While agree with the sentiment on creamed seats. I Just spent 15 hours on united to Melbourne. The toilet argument is less convincing. The A380 has toilets shared between PE and Business at much the same ratio as the 789.

    1. Ben Sandilands

      And the common element in that is a decision by Qantas as to how little relief would be offered to those premium passengers but this time in an A380. Check out the A330s with the new QF business class and the same uncaring standards are applied even to the highest yielding passengers.

      1. ghostwhowalksnz

        Is there any detailed information on how often toilets are used on very long haul ? Especially night time flights ?
        My golden rule was : use the toilet not long after takeoff whether I really wanted to go or not. Short haul use it in the passenger lounge.
        But having to wait – is this such a crime, its a plane flight ‘everything involves waiting’, ands its not like there is anything else to do.

  3. comet

    It’s time passengers started suing Qantas.

    17.5 hours locked into an uncomfortable position that causes severe back pain that persists long after the flight.

    Sue the pants off them.

    1. ghostwhowalksnz

      Trust Comet to latch on every harebrained thing going. I wondered at the american term ‘snowflake’ spreading so much, now I know why>

  4. J_sh

    Comments have been locked over at BT. The thing is not so much the cramped conditions but the misleading advertising put out by Qantas PR and its camp followers such as David, presenting a sow’s ear as a silk purse. Eastern block people would grumble about the paucity of their substandard material conditions of life but laugh it off. What they hated was the propaganda put out by the authorities about how it was superior to western capitalism. The B787 had been tagged ‘Dreamliner’ when Boeing envisaged 2-4-2 as creating a superior sense of space and was designed as a small aircraft to fit the point-to-point network configuration which Boeing was banking on, rather then the hub-and-spoke network which its contemporary, the A380, was built for. There was nothing ultra-long-haul *specific* to it except insofar as avoiding hubs implies longer ranges.

    Rather than Qantas PR painting the picture of this being a revolutionary ultra long haul design philosophy the more appropriate PR should have been something to the effect that the economic environment no longer allowed the B787 to be configured as a Dreamliner but had to be configured for medium haul flights to turn a profit but out of their generosity had engaged David Caon to work out how to narrow the seat backs so as to get a bit more room in which to fit a bottle of water so as to partly alleviate the discomfort of using the aircraft on ultra long haul routes.

    1. ghostwhowalksnz

      yeah yeah.. You have forgotten that Qantas 747s arrived in Australia with 9 across seating before moving up to 10.

      1. J_sh

        Sure the 10 across B747 seat is narrower than the 9 across B747 seat would have been. But it is still wider than the 9 across B787 seat, and has half decent aisle space too.

        1. ghostwhowalksnz

          Have you checked ? Well Qantas still operates 10 acroos 747s and a well known website details such things as seat width . They give 17.5 in, Qantas 797s havent flown yet but the information available is 17.2 in. Can you even tell the 5mm difference between them.? An iphone 6 is 6.9mm

          1. Ben Sandilands

            Maybe you need to do some flying in them. It doesn’t matter what the difference is, but once your hip bone is jammed hard against one or two belonging to adjacent passengers, and your neck is ‘assisted’ in some carriers, with a sort of half brace to stop your melon crushing my lug hole and vice versa as we attempt to pass into a coma with another 12 hours to go, it might occur to you that this is like nothing a physically smaller generation experienced back in the early days of the jet age. No more space means no more space. I don’t take any comfort from knowing the dimensions of an iPhone either. It has nothing to do with a great airplane stuffed over really badly by the same people that don’t understand how arse-wiping works. I know this sounds crass, but it has come to this, and it needs to stop.

          2. Dan Dair

            There really isn’t much point in overly-defending seat-size reductions.!
            Once the seats have been pared-down to the current status,
            ANY change, no matter how tiny, is too much.
            I’ve experienced the ‘comedy-sketch’ staple of being in the middle seat with large people on either side. It’s cozy, to say the least.!
            It’s also, not necessarily dreadful on a very short-haul commuter flight.? However, the prospect of a noticeably longer flight in such circumstances wouldn’t enthuse me & the idea of such confinement for 17 hours seems totally unendurable.?
            Sure, you can say ‘well trade-up on your seat’, but that still means someone has to endure such a situation, in the seat I vacated.?

            If you were assembling an aircraft, you’d almost certainly reject a component or sub-assembly which was 6.9mm out of tolerance.?
            But when erecting the steel for a skyscraper, you can beat the girder with a big hammer to overcome such a mis-match.!
            It would appear that You would find the latter approach, to be the most acceptable solution for passengers…… I mean for ‘cattle-class’, self-loading freight.?
            (do you have a part-time job as advisor to the CEO of Qantas.???)

          3. Dan Dair

            Just to re-iterate something I mentioned earlier;
            I would find it to be very sad,
            if what I regard as the innovative marketing strategy of being the first airline to offer non-stop flights to Western Europe,
            was curtailed simply because no-one wanted to do it twice.???
            (& of course, made their feelings abundantly clear on social-media.!)

          4. J_sh

            @The Phantom
            The pain thing about this whole Qantas B787 so-called ‘Dreamliner’ PR spin is that they, and AJ in person, plus people who just regurgitate the Qantas PR material, went out of their way to assert that Qantas was differentiating itself from its competitors by especially configuring it for ultra long haul flights and the writers who accepted Qantas hospitality at the time of the announcement never called them to task on this mis-representation. For Qantas have configured the aircraft along the so called ‘standard’ Y seating of 3-3-3, which I would term ‘(sub)standard’ which was not Boeing’s intention when they applied the ‘Dreamliner’ tag. AJ is also quoted as saying the B787 was designed for ultra long haul in which case he should stick with 2-4-2 which ws the design configuration. But actually that was only a by-product. The B787 was designed as a small aircraft to operate point-to-point networks as opposed to the A380 which was designed for the traditional hub-and-spoke. Well at least that is what I was told by a friend who was an interior design engineer with Boeing at the Everett plant when he worked on the B787 project (and he added that the Dreamliner tag was applied to reflect the design objectives of creating a sense of space aimed to take the stress out of flying, and at that time 2-4-2 was the conception as per on the mockup at Everett when he took us through it).

            Over on that other site the author responded that well the Qantas B787 was going to be used on short/medium routes to Asia and non-ultra long haul routes to Nth America (although I expect it will be used for MEL-DFW eventually). Thus plainly it was not especially configured for ultra long haul routes at all but to match the lowest common denominator on short/medium routes and to Nth America. Yes to Asia but Asian airlines are carrying small passengers on short/medium sectors, not western people on ultra long-haul. And yes Nth America United is running 3-3-3 on their B787s with western sized backsides. But UA always undercut Qantas fares with its lesser quality service (e.g. no seat back IFE, and nil on the ground service in Australia meaning incidents like forcing passengers to sweat it out for 7 or 8 hours in the cabin out on the tarmac in Brisbane – in February – when diverted from Sydney and Melbourne) and its fares reflected that quality and people purchased the fares knowing the drawbacks, yet Qantas did not feel they had to adopt the same approach then.

            In short in these days of full service carriers turning Y into enhanced versions of their LCC (Air Canada and Rouge, Qantas and Jetstar) accurate information should be provided to customers to allow them to make an informed decision amongst the various options concerning significant personal expenditure, which is the main theme you present. As it is Qantas is providing very misleading information about what it is offering.

            As to the quibble about seat widths that well known web site is a little confusing. In Feb/Mar I took my metal tape measure with me on the Qantas A380 and measured the economy seat squab at 20″ and the inside arm rest to inside arm rest distance to be 18.3″. The well known web site lists the width at 17.5″ (not clarifying whether that is the seat squab or inner arm rest to inner arm rest). So possibly the B747 seat squab might be closer to 18″ than 17.5″. Referring to what difference does 5mm make is spurious for at least two reasons: (a) it may well be more than a 1/4 inch and (b) seat comfort as a function of width is not a continuous linear response curve. Expanding on the latter there is a discontinuity in slope between where it is just comfortable and uncomfortable. It is like Mr Micawber’s recipe for happiness in David Copperfield, to paraphrase: “Annual income £20, annual expenditure £19:19s:6d results in happiness but annual expenditure £20:0s:6d results in misery.” OTOH the seats on the 3-4-3 B777s operated by Air Canada on its ultra long haul YVR-SYD flight if you have tried them are torture racks over 15 hours where your upper thighs are pressed hard up against those of your seat neighbour and your shoulders bent forward and in (to not have your arm from shoulder to elbow and wrist bone on bone with your neighbour’s). And that is for normal sized people, let alone for when one’s neighbour might wear large sizes. Now that site you mentioned lists the 3-4-3 B777 seat as 17″ wide and if, as you say, the 3-3-3 B787 is to be 17.2″ that one fifth of an inch equates to your 5mm so you must conclude by your argument that there is no discernable difference between the 3-4-3 B777 and the 3-3-3 B787. Can you see that? Ok then take that over not 15 hours but 17.5 hours and the 3-3-3 B787 PER-LHR flight (or down the track MEL-DFW) will be just as bad as I described, if not worse.
            The fact that people even on this site jump to support Qantas in its misleading material and that people on those other sites which regurgitate that material are over the moon about the Qantas configuration shows just how successful the Qantas PR material has been in convincing (presumably knowledgeable) people that the emporer is dressed in the finest of robes.

  5. Zipper

    We already do flights to DFW where you can be Y class for over 16hrs and nobody has turned into a cripple yet, PER-LHR is only an extra hour or so, yes it’s a long flight to be down the back, but it’s your choice if you want to do it, plenty of other options around if it ain’t your cuppa tea, if you do choose this way then suck it up and don’t moan when you get to the other end because your fully aware it’s a bloody long flight, Ben your obsession with size is becoming a worry..

    1. Dan Dair

      You are a complete buffoon.!
      Remind me again what aircraft and configuration thereof we have been talking about, on this 17 hour flight to LHR,?
      & then remind yourself of what Qantas fly on their DFW route.?

      Perhaps that ‘useless, dead dodo’ of an aircraft is the very reason why “nobody has turned into a cripple yet”, on the Dallas flights.?

  6. reeves35

    You have to applaud Qantas’ method for avoiding passengers suffering DVT on long 787 flights. They will be forced to stand for extended periods queuing to get to a toilet!!

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