LONDON — When 2022 arrives, Alan Joyce wants Qantas to be offering the first direct flight from Australia’s east coast to London but how passengers get there could look very different to the four travel classes known today.
Dubbed “Project Sunrise”, Qantas’ ambition is to fly non-stop from Sydney and Melbourne to London and also directly to New York within four years.
The Qantas CEO has revealed to a private audience of Australian and British professionals in London that the airline is exploring an entirely new class which would be situated in the cargo hold.
The giant space could involve train-like berths and allow a space for cooped-up passengers to stretch and walk around in an exercise area.
Mr Joyce made the comments to the the Australia-United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce in London on Tuesday morning. The event was held under Chatham House rules. Fairfax Media did not attend the event but was later leaked an audio recording of Mr Joyce’s comments.
The airline boss also hinted that Qantas’ low-cost arm Jetstar could one day stretch its legs beyond the Asia Pacific and start flying to European holiday destinations.
Mr Joyce said that in the 1970s, Qantas had created business class and could be on the brink of devising another for “super long haul” flights like an east coast direct route to London.
“One of the concepts that we have is maybe if we’re not carrying freight you do something lower where cargo is on the aircraft, do you have an area where people can walk? Do you have berths like on a train?
“There’s a lot of ‘out there’ thinking that’s going on,” he told the audience.
“I don’t know if in 2022 if there’s another going to be another class but if there is Qantas is likely to be the airline that creates it.”
Speaking later at a lunch attended by Fairfax Media, Mr Joyce elaborated on the concept, saying “nothing is off the table” when it comes to reimaging a potential new class of travel.
“Could some of the freight areas that we may not use, be used as an exercise area?” he asked.
Qantas said it had put the idea to both Airbus and Boeing.
The airline and its engineering team are in talks with Boeing about its 777-8X and with Airbus about its A350-900, each of which will need to be modified slightly to fly the distances Qantas needs.
“The challenge for Airbus and Boeing is to do it with full passenger load and full freight load,” Mr Joyce said in London on Tuesday. But in the event it is not possible to fly non-stop with both, Qantas would look to radically overhaul the cargo hold for passenger use.
Mr Joyce also said aviation regulators would have to change rules restricting how long pilots can fly for the long-haul routes to work.
First class no money spinner
The Qantas CEO revealed that no major airline made money from first class which he said was typically patronised by “chairmans and CEOs”. Most first customers have used their points for the upgrade rather than paid a full fare which can cost as much as $21,000 for a flight between Sydney and London.
In 2010, Mr Joyce slashed the number of first seats to combat sagging profits but the CEO said in London, “you do need to a have a premium first class product so we’ll never get rid of it.”
He said the financial crisis had contributed to a boom in the number of passengers taking up premium economy, because businesses had cut back on their staff flying business. And he said there were an increasing number of private more affluent customers willing to pay for premium economy which was about three times more than an economy fare, compared to the seven times more charged for a business seat.
Asked if Qantas would reopen direct flights to other European destinations including Frankfurt and Paris, Mr Joyce said “absolutely” but stressed only for destinations with a big business market rather than the less profitable leisure.
“I’ll be honest with you, our priority is London,” he said.
Qantas stopped flying into Frankfurst in 2013 and Paris in 2015 but says if the Perth to London route proves a success, more direct European routes could be ressurected.
“We’ve always believed a destination in Germany would work – Berlin or Frankfurt – and we still have that view,” he said. “But the rest – southern Europe, maybe Jetstar one day but it is not business it’s very leisure and it’s very hard for us to make money,” he said.
Mr Joyce is in London spruiking the first non-stop flight between Australia and the United Kingdom. QF9 left Perth on Saturday evening and arrived at Heathrow on Sunday morning, 17 hours later.
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