Qantas reveals focus group wishlist for mega-haul flights

What the people want: Inflight cafe, VR experiences and indoor exercise bikes

Image credit: Zwift set up | Sigma Sports

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Key points

  • An inflight cafe and virtual reality relaxation zones among passenger wishlists for mega-haul flights
  • Decision on “Project Sunrise” expected to be made by Qantas in 2019

Stationary exercise bikes and virtual reality relaxation and entertainment are among several features Qantas customers are suggesting for futuristic long-haul flights.

The new research, captured late last year in conjunction with Sydney University’s Charles Perkins Centre, is being conducted as Qantas prepares to conquer the final frontier of global commercial air travel, with world-first non-stop flights from the east coast of Australia to New York and London to start from 2022.

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.

CEO Qantas International Alison Webster said the new research is showing increased interest in physical wellbeing, state of mind and personal time and space.

“Customer feedback from the Perth to London flight has exceeded expectations, especially in relation to the time saved by skipping the traditional stopover and going directly to their destination,” said Webster.

Qantas International CEO Alison Webster | Image credit: The Sydney Morning Herald
Qantas International CEO Alison Webster | Image credit: The Sydney Morning Herald

“The engagement and enthusiasm we’re seeing from this research highlights how passionate our customers are to be a part of the evolution of ultra-long-haul travel.”

“Our job now is to determine where the most demand is, and create this cabin in a way that makes it both affordable for customers and commercially viable for the airline. Everything is on the table, and we are excited about what innovations may come from this research.”

The top five most frequent suggestions from customers for Project Sunrise are:

  • 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”.

The top five Qantas health and wellbeing initiatives already in place are:

  • Stretch classes at Perth Transit lounge offering 15-minute stretch routines for passengers before and after their long-haul flight. Over 80% take-up rate, with passengers as young as 12 and up to 75 years old participating.
  • Outdoor spaces in the Perth terminal and transit lounge, offering all customers access fresh air and natural sunlight before and after flights to London.
  • Inflight menu, designed by Neil Perry and leveraging scientific research from Charles Perkins Centre, to help determine the best ingredients to use in meals across various points of the flight to aid sleep and wakefulness. For example, avoid spicy foods before bedtime and instead use these ingredients during the breakfast service, as it supresses melatonin in the brain and stimulates the metabolism. Also, retiming onboard service to help re-orient the body clock to destination.
  • Specially designed and timed lighting to promote wake and sleep at the right times for passengers to help the body adapt to a new time zone.
  • The time saved by removing the need for a stopover on Perth to London. Customers can choose to avoid the physical and emotional preparations of an extra landing, disembarking, re-boarding, and resettling after take-off and get to their destination hours earlier.

The next phase will involve using new research from Charles Perkins Centre and ongoing customer feedback to inspire Qantas Industrial Designer David Caon to create features for the interior cabin, as well as future lounge features further incorporating health and wellness initiatives.

David Caon said Project Sunrise is pushing not just the boundaries of distance, but also product innovation.

“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,” he said.

“Bringing some of these concepts to life will involve an entire rethink around how to be clever about the 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 same research will also be used by Qantas Director of Food, Beverage and Service, Neil Perry, to create the future onboard dining experience.

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.

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

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