Nine wide – life at the back of the bus on QF9

Qantas flight QF9 arrives at London Heathrow Airport after its 17-hour journey from Perth. (Qantas)
Qantas flight QF9 arrives at London Heathrow Airport after its 17-hour journey from Perth. (Qantas)

So what is it like spending 17 hours in an aircraft while flying some 8,000nm?

Australian Aviation was among the 140-odd passengers in the economy cabin of Qantas’s inaugural QF9 service between Perth and London Heathrow, operated by Boeing 787-9 VH-ZND.

Seventeen hours in seat 41C.
Seventeen hours in seat 41C.

The passenger offering on the 787-9 was, in the words of chief executive Alan Joyce, the best service that the airline has ever put in the air.

While those watching the bottom line smile in appreciation at the efficiency of the aircraft, with its carbon composite wings and fuselage helping reduce weight and new generation engines sipping fuel rather than downing the stuff in large gulps, it is the verdict of passengers that ultimately determine whether a route is successful.

And on that front the scorecard for the 787-9 is mixed.

First, the positives.

The technologies embedded in the Dreamliner includes having more fresh air pumped into the cabin. Further, the composite materials allow for higher cabin humidity. While dry eyes at the end of a long-haul or ultra-long haul flight have not been totally eliminated, it can be said eyes felt less dry.

Further, the use of carbon composite materials mean the cabin pressure altitude is lower, helping reduce jetlag.

In the minus column, Qantas’s 787-9s feature nine abreast seating in economy. To put this in perspective, only Japan Airlines has configured its 787s in anything but a 3-3-3 configuration in the main cabin.

Nonetheless, 3-3-3 means seats are less than 18in wide (exact figures vary depending on how it is measured) and aisles feel narrow. There were a few accidental knee knocks and inadvertent shoulder bumps throughout the night as passengers made their way to the restrooms or self service snack bar.

The takeoff roll lasted about 50 seconds.
The takeoff roll lasted about 50 seconds.

Rob Williamson is a very frequent flyer who normally travels in business class on his work trips to Asia or Europe. However, the Perth-based businessman was seated in 41A for the inaugural flight, with business and premium economy completely booked out.

He said he came away from the experience pleasantly surprised.

“It was above my expectations,” Williamson told Australian Aviation moments after the flight touched down.

“My personal feeling and well-being is better after this flight than after a 12-hour flight from Sydney to Beijing on a Qantas Airbus A330.

“I think the configuration of these economy class seats is very smart and the food I have eaten has been very good.”

Dinner was chicken with red rice and vegetables, a garlic butter-infused bread roll and panna cotta followed by tea or coffee and a chocolate.
Australian Aviation’s choice for dinner was chicken with red rice and vegetables, a garlic butter-infused bread roll and panna cotta followed by tea or coffee and a chocolate.

Further back in the economy cabin in seat 56D – the fourth last row – was JT Genter, points and miles writer for travel website The Points Guy.

He said the 17-hour flight “flew by” as he busied himself with the inflight entertainment offering, the meals and the general excitement that an inaugural service often brings.

“I actually didn’t sleep the entire time but it still flew by,” Genter told Australian Aviation in the arrivals hall of Heathrow’s Terminal 3. “There was tons of entertainment.”

While praising Qantas’s meal service concept – in contrast to the traditional airline meal tray, the airline offers passengers in economy a larger main course, bread roll and packaged dessert while doing away with an appetiser – Genter said the seat itself was “as comfortable as possible while still being nine wide”.

“Those nine wide seats are tough,” Genter said. “At least they gave us an extra inch of pitch at 32in.”

“The seat was pretty well designed with the unique storage areas and mood lighting and all that sort of stuff.”

Eggs, beans, bacon, sausage and potatoes for breakfast, alongside yoghurt and a bakery item.
Eggs, beans, bacon, sausage and potatoes for breakfast – the cold option was a seasonal fruit plate – alongside yoghurt and a bakery item.

Qantas’s economy cabin comprises a small section of five rows immediately behind premium economy, and a second section of 14 rows that stretches from Doors 3 to Doors 4.

Getner said having only 166 economy seats – it is one of the smaller economy cabins among all 787-9 operators – meant the galleys were not as crowded with passengers when compared with some flights operated by larger aircraft such as the Airbus A380.

“Even with an inaugural flight like this one where a ton of people are excited and standing up and talking, the galleys didn’t get that crazy,” Gender said.

“The flight attendants might disagree but I think for a normal flight that might really play well.”

A smaller economy section also avoids that cavernous, almost steerage, feeling sometimes experienced when travelling in economy on aircraft with a low proportion of premium seats.


VIDEO: Travel Daily speaks to passengers, chef Neil Perry and Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce after the arrival of the inaugural Qantas flight QF9 in London in a video on its YouTube channel.

The rear galley features a self-service station that included drinks and snacks such as whole fruit, carrot sticks and hummus, and cheese and crackers. For those with a sweet tooth, Tim Tams, chocolate chip cookies and muesli bars were also on offer.

Fresh fruit and vegetables proved a refreshing change to the usual assortment of pre-packaged snacks, while a hot chocolate with marshmallows, poured out of a purple jug featuring Cadbury and Qantas branding proved a comforting, and popular, warm pre-bedtime drink.

An Aussie favourite in the self-serve snack bar.
An Aussie favourite in the self-serve snack bar . . .
Alongside some healthier choices.
Alongside some healthier choices.

Credit too goes to Qantas for providing a decent-sized pillow for its economy passengers, instead of going for these tiny things that don’t offer anywhere near the needed support for those without the luxury of a lie-flat surface in business or extended recline in premium economy.

And as Genter mentioned, Qantas’s inflight entertainment system, which does away with a handset in favour of a touchscreen, has something to cater for just about everybody’s taste including a heavy selection of box sets.

Staring at the moving map did not help the time pass any quicker.
Pre-flight fears of having no other option but to stare at the moving map to pass the time proved unfounded.

The flight had two main meal services, while those awake in the middle stages of the flight were offered a warm bacon sandwich or vegetarian alternative not described in the menu seen below.

The economy menu for QF9 Perth-London Heathrow on Saturday March 24, looking slightly worse for wear after 17 odd hours stuffed in a seat pocket.
The economy menu for QF9 Perth-London Heathrow on Saturday March 24, looking slightly worse for wear after 17 odd hours stuffed in a seat pocket.

Previously, Qantas has spoken of the ideal flight profile for jetlag as having passengers awake for at least the first third of the flight before going to sleep. That way, they will wake up for breakfast before landing in London refreshed and better able to get on with their day.

And it certainly appeared the cabin crew was keen to achieve this objective, notwithstanding the disruption of having camera crews and other media, as well as airline executives, moving through the aisles to capture all the colour and movement of the inaugural flight.

It also should be noted the flight attendants were delayed in beginning the dinner service due to the seatbelt sign staying on for about an hour after takeoff due to turbulence caused by the flight being at the edge of Tropical Cyclone Marcus.

The cabin lighting, which has been designed in partnership with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and experts at Boeing, also played a role. The cabin lights stayed on well after the dinner service had concluded, gradually turning dark over the course of what seemed an hour. The cabin temperature also seemed cooler as the lights went down.

No transit in Dubai on this occasion.
No transit in Dubai on this occasion.

The cabin stayed dark until about 90 minutes prior to landing, when, again, the lighting gradually transitioned to “dawn”.

It would be an exaggeration to say sleep came easily. However, it was possible to get a decent five or six hours, or more, of sleep over the course of the 17-hour journey.

A further note regarding the economy seat. Perhaps the adjustable headrest, now pretty much de-rigueur on most modern airliners for the support it gives the head and neck, needs to be tweaked as it was Australian Aviation’s experience that the headrest struggled to stay in place, regularly sliding back down the seat after being adjusted.

Almost there!
Almost there!

NOTE: Williamson, Genter and Australian Aviation‘s Jordan Chong flew on paid revenue tickets on the inaugural flight.

Comments

  1. ian says

    so Rob Williamson might fly economy rather than business or PE, which is probably not what Qantas wants to hear,

  2. James says

    Intrigued to know the heights and (rough) weights of the reviewed pax. As a 6ft 3 man, I’m not sure I could have my legs squashed up for 17.5-18 hours. I think I rather the stop to get off and stretch. But interested to know nonetheless

  3. Paule says

    Now I would be very interested to read about the return flight. Flying west, I imagine is easier to organise than the other way. Leaving LHR in the early afternoon means there are two sets of daylight and a short night. Arriving in Melbourne in the late evening at the end of the journey is ideal, however!

  4. Ian Tickle says

    Try being 6 foot 5 and sitting in 18 inch seats. I’m not fat, just a big person and Qantas offer mediocre leg room at best. We flew Korean Air to Japan recently and the leg room was certainly better than Qantas offerings.

  5. Doug Bell says

    As I have mentioned previously QANTAS, as does many other airlines, simply does not consider passengers who simply can not afford the premium end of the aircraft. I was wanted to do 3 adults and 1 child to Beijing, but at 11K, simply out of reach. QANTAS are a BIG FAIL when it comes to economy long haul passenger comfort!

  6. hutch says

    @Doug Bell – as a business, QANTAS (and other airlines) should be charging as much as the market is willing to pay. If they are flying empty planes, then this is a concern and the need to review pricing strategy. There is no evidence of this occurring.

    Luckily, we have many options and you are able to shop around for other, cheaper airfares.

  7. Paul Brisbane says

    Very interesting to hear comments, obviously you are booking and stepping on board knowing its for 17 hours.
    I will use this service as it beats Dubai wondering around half a sleep going back thru security.

  8. David Brisbane says

    We are doing this flight in May and looking forward to it. (You can have Dubai! It’s horrible place with regular major delays.) The economy seat pitch is better than most and whilst we would obviously prefer to be seated up the front, it’s just not affordable for us.
    Great job Qantas, always my favourite airline.
    On every occasion I’ve flown with others, I have been disappointed.

  9. Nicholas says

    The recent articles in the press on this flight have been a disgrace.. With the exception of one journo who was in economy and was very unenthusiastic, the rest were in Business class care of Qantas.

    To say they sang for their supper is an understatement. The articles all read like PR fluff written by QF it was so enthusiastic it was embarrassing.

    So it was interesting to read this I suspect that once you’ve done this in economy you won’t do it again in a hurry.ll

  10. PeterL says

    I am in the same boat as James and Ian Tickle. I am a little shorter at 6ft 1 but I am nearly 600mm across the shoulders and well built….not fat. Not only do I get the knee room problem I get a bad width problem.

    I was flying to HK with my wife on a Cathay A330 in premium economy and we were upgraded by Cathay to business class for the flight. This was great but when I tried to lie down in the seat in flat bed mode I found I was wider than the space available. A very upset flight attendant kept apologising to me. The moral is that even business class may not be right for you…..

  11. Ian says

    Rumour has it that the free goodies will NOT be available for following flights, just the inaugural one!

  12. Wes says

    I flew the return LHR-PER sector in economy, and at 6ft 2”, I felt the legroom was fine, as I could easily stretch my legs under the seat in front. Like the article states, the IFE is very good and easy to operate. As for jet lag, I feel very good considering I didn’t really sleep on the flight. My eyes weren’t grainy, and I was able to go to bed at a normal time, and wake up fresh in the morning. Having flown LHR-PER many times, in both business & economy, on different carriers, I would say this is possibly the best I’ve felt.

  13. Jeff Porker says

    No warm bacon rolls on the menu, just Streaky bacon tomato relish baguette. It will have to do.
    Petty, aren’t I.

  14. Angelo says

    It’s all fine and dandy for a record flight. But still 17 hours is 17 hours in a seat. May be an alternative a free stop overnight in a hotel? .

  15. Markie Mark says

    At 17 hours PER-LHR, it’s only 2 1/2 hours more than MEL-LAX, and that doesn’t seem to be a problem for most pax. I had no problem on a recent trip to from MEL-LAX, but then again I slept for 10 hours straight in Business Class. 😉👍😭

  16. David says

    Ian, where did you hear the free goodies may not be available on future flights? On all Qantas flights to LHR I have been on, they have been.

  17. Flying Tiger says

    The ‘rumour’ about free goodies not being available was obviously started by someone who has never flown Qantas long haul. The goodies are always there. Usually with Kit-Kats added to the mix. I would be VERY surprised if Qantas suddenly decided to NOT include them on this particular flight!

  18. Desert Storm says

    Etihad are 3/3/3 and it sucks between Abu Dhabi and Perth. It sucks more that I have to pay AUD 2K to get home but people in Oz can get to the UK and Europe for almost half!

  19. Ian says

    I don’t care how much Qantas tries to push its 17 hour “nonstop ” to London….the fact is that 17 hours jammed in a cattle class seat less than 18 inches wide is pure torture. The 787 was designed to be an new standard in air travel comfort, and the fuselage width was designed for 8 abreast economy seats, not the 9 that airlines cram in their cabins. 17 hours jammed in a middle seat between two fat passengers???? EEWWWWWW.

  20. Mike says

    Just to reiterate what David and Flying Tiger have said, Qantas has for many years now offered self serve snacks and nibbles on their B747 and A380 long haul flights.
    The B787 similarly has a dedicated little self service cabinet in the aft, right hand side of economy class. The product is there on every long haul leg.
    You therefore probably won’t see it open on the MEL-PER and reciprocal short sectors.
    As all but one B787 operator have chosen 3-3-3 economy seating you cannot single out Qantas for this cabin layout. (And JAL has some B787s with 3-3-3 economy seating too.)
    I’ve flown AirCanada across the Pacific and back, and Virgin Atlantic from London to HongKong in their B787s.
    Here’s some advice I can share.
    Request an aisle seat. That way you can more easily come and go as you please.
    Carry an empty water bottle. You can take that though airport security.
    Inflight make a point of taking a walk every few hours to ask the crew for a water fill/refill. You can conveniently use the loo at the time too.
    Whether the flight time is 13hr or 17hr, the vast majority of economy passengers cope. It is “economy” after all and pax have been flying in the 3-3-3 config for years!
    Some day I’ll find the time to try the PER-LHR flight and I will be travelling economy.
    Rather than perceiving the experience from a “glass half empty” view, mine is half-full with pleasant anticipation!

  21. Andrew says

    Have to laugh at all the geniuses who moan about the width of the seats or the lack of leg room, yet weren’t actually on the flight to experience it!

    And as for the cost of the airfare, the route is targeted and tailored towards business passengers, hence the higher J, W and lower Y cabins. Sigh….we really are a nation full or whiners and ignorants.

  22. franz chong says

    A service I would happily do.just over three hours to Perth(I am FROM Adelaide)and just under a two hour transit based on summer schedules before continuing onto London.Coming home is the best part Straight through to the WEST COAST(Perth)clear immigration/customs and get the early afternoon connection onto Adelaide which is at 5:15pm which allowing for the 1:15pm arrival from London is ample time to recheck the luggage for the onward sector.You leave the UK around lunchtime and thanks to time differences are in your own home that night and own bed.I find that as good as Emirates,Qatar and the Asian opposition are unless you are planning a stopover in Doha,Dubai,Singapore,Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur coming home from the UK for a few days this would be the way to go.

  23. Myles Dobinson says

    Some great feedback here, but what I haven’t seen mentioned is the cost of and time added of flying to Perth from East Coast.

    Brisbane is $890 return QA and 5.35 hrs to Perth and 4.25 hrs return.

    Not 17 to London it is 21.25 hrs plus stop and an extra $445 and return is 20.25 hrs and $445. sorry I would rather go Singapore, Cathay or Korean (who throw in an overnight stay in Korea}.

  24. John Reid says

    Myles – there’s still QF1 to London from Sydney in an A380 via Singapore. On dates that I have checked for my own Y-class travel, it’s usually a tad cheaper for me (starting from Canberra) to use it rather than QF9. The seats are wider too…

    I have just flown DFW-SYD on A380, also a 17-hr leg, and I don’t think that there is much difference between 17 hrs and 15 (which I have often flown) – maybe better in fact because more dark time.