As Project Sunrise discussions continue, new Qantas research reveals what customers really want on ultra long-haul flights

Stationary exercise bikes and virtual reality relaxation and entertainment are among several features Qantas customers are suggesting for futuristic long-haul flights, the Australian flag carrier has revealed in new research captured late last year in conjunction with Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre.

As the airline continues to discuss an RFP for development of aircraft capable of operating nonstop from Australia’s east coast to Europe and the US east coast with Airbus and Boeing, it plans for the Project Sunrise strategy to not just push the boundaries of distance, but also product innovation.

Using the platform of its successful Perth – London nonstop route launch, Qantas is expected to make an announcement around Project Sunrise later in 2019, including which aircraft type it would operate, with both the Boeing 777X and the Airbus A350 under consideration. “It’s not just about adding a few extra fuel tanks. The plan is to finalise everything by the year end [2019] and reach a decision on start up in 2022”, its CEO Alan Joyce, confirmed in a recent interview.

The research from Charles Perkins Centre and ongoing customer feedback will be used by the Qantas team, led by industrial designer David Caon, to create features for the interior cabin, as well as future lounge features further incorporating health and wellness initiatives.

“Customers are sharing some incredibly imaginative ideas, which is an exciting challenge and helps us to think outside of the box to redefine the ultra-long-haul experience,” Mr Caon explains. “Bringing some of these concepts to life will involve an entire rethink around how to be clever about use of all cabin space and what is practically possible but it may well involve incorporating design elements never before seen on commercial aircraft.”

The airline has been conducting focus group research as well as surveying customers as they step off the direct London to Perth services to capture their experience, suggestions and feedback. Health and wellness are the top trends coming through all research, with a strong focus on mindfulness and “separation of experience” at different stages of a long-haul flight.

Qantas has now revealed the top five most frequent suggestions from customers for Project Sunrise:

  • Provide “sense of separation” experiences where passengers can be social but then “zone out” with either virtual reality relaxation zones, audio mindfulness experiences, or through the broader inflight entertainment;
  • Spaces to do gentle exercise/stretches, promoting circulation and comfort;
  • Wireless, noise cancelling headsets;
  • Innovative cabin designs across the entire aircraft, considering both seat and non-seat spaces to focus on a broad range of traveller needs including comfort, sleep, dining, entertainment and state of mind;
  • An inflight cafe offering both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages including wine, fresh juices, herbal teas and tisanes and mocktails along with snacks including dips with vegetable sticks as well as “treat foods”.

Qantas launched the partnership with Charles Perkins Centre 12 months ago to use scientific research to help shape the customer experience of these ultra-long-haul services. Many initiatives have already been introduced on the current direct Perth – London flights, which the airline says “currently has the highest customer service rating” of any flight across its global network.

These include stretch classes at the Perth Transit lounge, the use of outdoor spaces in the Perth terminal and transit lounge, a specially developed menu using specific ingredients to aid sleep and wakefulness at different stages of the flight and specially designed and timed lighting to help the body adapt to a new time zone.