No, Planes Won’t Have Exercise Bikes And Cafes Anytime Soon

There’s no doubt that there has been a lot of innovation over the years when it comes to the onboard products offered on planes. From Emirates and Etihad having onboard showers in first class, to Qatar having fully enclosed suites in business class, flying in a premium cabin is largely more comfortable than ever before (sadly the same can’t be said for economy travel).

While there has been innovation, airlines have also been rather ridiculous in the concepts they’ve claimed to be considering. For years airlines have claimed that they’re considering adding amenities in economy, ranging from bars to gyms to all kinds of other things. And it simply never happens.

So, along those lines, Qantas has just released research about “what customers really want on ultra long-haul flights.”

This is shared in the context of Qantas’ “Project Sunrise,” as the airline wants to launch nonstop flights from Australia’s East Coast to New York and London from 2022. Later in 2019 the airline will decide whether to order the 777X or A350 for the purposes of these flights.

Qantas says they’ve 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.

Based on that feedback they say that physical wellbeing, state of mind, and personal time and space are the things that passengers care most about.

As the CEO of Qantas International describes it:

“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.”

Unfortunately they can stop right there. The economics of ultra longhaul flying are really challenging to begin with. So if we’re going to talk about any extravagant amenities, you can bet that they won’t contribute towards the flight being “affordable for customers and commercially viable for the airline.”

Just look at Singapore Airlines, for example. The airline operates the world’s longest flights with their A350-900ULR aircraft, which are built specifically for these routes, and they have zero additional amenities. That’s not a coincidence.

So, what are 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.”

I don’t want to be a downer, but like I said, airlines have been sharing things that are supposedly under consideration for years and years and years… but they never actually introduce it.

Sure, we sometimes see amenities in business and first class, but in economy we’ve yet to see anything like this, and I wouldn’t expect that to change.

On one hand ultra longhaul flights are most in need of additional amenities. At the same time, these flights are also the most challenging economically to begin with, so they’re also where I’d expect the airlines to be as efficient as possible when it comes to utilizing space. And if they were going to be generous with space, a couple of extra inches of legroom would go much further than anything else.

So yeah, Qantas, of course people want cafes and exercise bikes and bowling alleys and swimming pools onboard. But let’s be real, none of that is happening. The closest any of this will get to becoming a reality is Emirates’ April Fools’ joke from a few years ago.

I will say that Qantas has done a good job focusing on “health and wellness” onboard, even in business class. That seems to come in the form of them serving significantly smaller portions than other airlines.

What do you guys think — will we ever see an airline introduce any “real” amenities in economy, or is it a pipe dream? 

Comments

  1. Whatever happened to the concept of staggered economy seats, where each seat is offset from its neighbors by a few inches? That would go a long way to provide some comfort and relief (especially on ULR flights) without sacrificing capacity. I seem to recall quite a lot of publicity about this a few years ago, but no airline seems to have touched it. You could even have these in addition to a zone with the traditional flush seats and/or skycouches for families or those who want “ghetto” biz class.

  2. Some of it is already here if airlines simply listened and be a little smarter. For example – “sense of space and separation” – I found this on Cathay Pacific 777 in the area where you can help yourself to snacks. If I remember you can stand around here and enjoy a quiet snack or drink. Took the edge of the 16hr HKG-JFK hike. If airlines smartened up such an area in/around a galley with a chair and small table (?), this would be a nice start. All in all – just an area where you can stretch out and be by yourself for a few minutes.

  3. I think airlines would be better off separating economy cabins in to smaller cabins divided by a bulk head to crest a sense of space and to create a more private feeling.

  4. First off, if planes start adding exercise bikes on planes, I really hope there’s a shower as well! hehe
    For me, I have always thought flying ultra longhaul in economy is fine —- as long as it’s not full! Obviously the ideal for any passenger who has to fly economy longhaul is to get their own economy row. For me, I’d say if economy is 70% full or less, then that flight would be manageable as the likelihood of me getting an empty seat next to me is pretty good. If economy is 90% full or higher, then it’ll be tough… perhaps this is why I prefer not to fly economy during peak season. There was a blogger on BA (willrunformiles?) who wrote about her experience flying Etihad A380 in an full economy class and it didn’t look like a good experience.
    I agree that having a snack area where economy pax can simply pickup snacks or soda/water is a good idea.

  5. “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.”
    – I am sure AA was using the same motivations for introducing project “Oasis”.

  6. Doesn’t SWISS have a snack area in the back of the Y section? making smaller cabins would go a long way (seperations). I know the y often do this in J as well. They also do it in F if the cabin isn’t full.

  7. I think some of these ideas could be introduced, but obviously they would have to drive enough revenue to make up for the space they’d be taking. For example, KE uses a ridiculous amount of space on their a380 (equal to 13 seats) for an in-flight duty-free store. Duty-free is VERY popular in Asia, so this has actually been value-adding to the airline. At the same time, it gives travelers a chance to walk around a bit.

    I can absolutely see a cafe/bar concept working. Unlike in premium cabins, you would pay extra for a premium food selection in an open space. I could even see something like a massage chair or VR zone covering the cost of the added space. The key is that none of these amenities would be free.

  8. How can there possibly be a colossal reversal in the downward spiral of more seats in Economy, less legroom, less IFE, no electrical outlets, costly WiFi, and less food of poorer quality? Why would the corporate brain trust at these airlines suddenly reverse direction and turn aircraft real estate into non-profit producing space? I remember several years ago AA running a TV ad that showed them throwing two rows of seats out of Economy to boast about how much legroom they were adding – I laugh now just thinking about that ad. As long as the public only cares about cheap fares, expect to continue in the downward spiral. This Project Sunrise and other such efforts are just a ruse to placate the flying public. Nothing more.

  9. I think Andy has the right idea. If the area is used for generating revenue, it might very well be feasible. It would also limit the number of people who would want to use the area, which is important given the number of passengers vs the available space.

  10. Side question: what’s the current order backlog for 777X and A350 deliveries? Seems to me that if Qantas wants to offer flights from SYD/MEL/BNE to JFK and/or LHR in 2022, they should have ordered the planes already, no?

  11. CraigTPA – Well they can’t really order what doesn’t exist can they! Qantas want new, longer range versions of one of those planes.

  12. Isn’t Qantas’s issue that the ULH fllights they are envisaging (SYD-LHR and SYD-JFK) going to be weight limited for at least the next generation or so of jets.

    Qantas had/has snack bars in Y downstairs on the A380 – it is/was pretty much just a fridge with soft drinks, apples, coffee plus some packaged snacks.

    I think project sunrise is a bit of blue sky thinking about how to turn the difficulty of weight restriction into an upside, so I would expect the thinking will eventually be revenue based – not how many extra seats can be added, but rather what can be sold as a value add.

    I reckon a Qantas Club in the sky with paid access for Y travelers or the cafe ideas have legs – particularly given the thinking about using cargo space to deliver these additional amenities. It may even be a way to offer status benifits onboard (pricing based on status, point upgrades etc)

    I think the reason their earlier “bunk bed” proposal has disappeared is that there was no way to make the business case work – J and F already have lie flats, offering full beds to Y (even with an upcharge) would cannabalise premium revenue (in fact my first thought when I saw their mock ups was that they looked superior to J and probably F as beds).

  13. The pool idea could work! You could cram all the Economy passengers into it and the amount of passengers is variable based on demand. Too bad the FAA won’t allow it though 🙁

    Also, if the A380 Pool pic above was true, then during takeoff wouldn’t all the water rush to the back of the plane? Wouldn’t it be like the 747 crash a few years ago in Afghanistan?

  14. Good article James. The problem if you ask people what they would like, they often come up with ideas that will not be practical.
    Rather than the fanciful ideas Qantas would do better doing the following:
    8 across in economy on the 789.
    Better seat pitch in premium economy.
    More and larger toilets.

  15. Donna is right. You can serve an ocean of herbal tea, but if an airline cares only about short-term revenue, we are all more likely to be on versions of EasyJet with advertising on every square inch and relentless hard selling.
    Attention American shoppers, now in aisle 2, taco cozies! Numbers 12-15, restrooms are available in the rear. Please take your number with you and no more than six in line at any time. While you wait be sure and see our specials on propellor beanies and l’air de mer cologne.

  16. I think the cafe is likely. Take SQ’s A350ULR. The forward cargo hold is otherwise permanently sealed off because adding cargo there would limit the aircrafts range to where it can no longer fly SIN EWR. That is really space that isn’t being used otherwise. A walk up cafe bar would literally cost nearly nothing and they could advertise it to all hell. Gyms are less likely I would say, because equipment is heavy.

  17. Ghetto Snack area in the back of the Y section were invented by Elal Passengers few decades ago…

    I remember being on CX’s first few flights HKG TLV. The Staff were shocked being introduced to this practice of 40 odd Y Pax standing in the “bar” at the tail of the plane for hours…

  18. 360 camera mounted on the tail linked to a VR headset in the IFE. Another one mounted in the cockpit.

    Free wifi access for everyone with decent speeds for streaming.

    Ability to turn IFE in all classes into a second screen for laptop or device.

    Larger bathrooms.

    and

    Bloody airvents.

    None of the above require major structural work but of course the airline will focus on the ‘experience’ rather than tangible benefits.

  19. It would be wonderful if planes were long enough to accommodate swimming pools and a mini gym for all passengers to enjoy. I can see Boeing doing something like this in the future if the demand gets high enough and requests start pouring in. Perhaps that’ll be a reason, should they introduce these new types of aircraft to American customers, to give TSA workers also an increase in pay because revenues would literally double overnight. Agree?

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