London-Sydney nonstop: who will pay a premium for the last long-haul flight?

Qantas has gotten an absurd amount of publicity about its plans to fly nonstop between London Heathrow and Sydney, and also between Australia’s largest city and New York.

In 2019, you may recall, the Australian airline launched what it described as test flights from London and New York to Sydney to see how travelers responded to ultra-long-haul flights. This trick repeated a trick first performed by Qantas in the 1980s, when it flew a Boeing 747 nonstop from Heathrow to Sydney. The perennial problem through the decades: None of those flights carried paying passengers or cargo.

The Australian airline invited Airbus and Boeing to a “beauty contest” to demonstrate how they could adapt a large twin jet to fly 11,000 miles nonstop on a full load.

The winning bid was confirmed this week as a specially adapted Airbus A350. Services are slated to begin in late 2025. When nonstop flights do finally begin, part of the trick will be keeping passenger numbers low: Total seats are just 238, on a plane that could legally carry twice as many. persons.

So who will be aboard this exclusive jet? Well, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce expects it to fill from the front, starting with the six “luxurious first-class suites with a separate bed, recliner and personal wardrobe.” Sounds pretty similar to a budget hotel, although this one will travel halfway around the world at 500mph.

Then there are the 56 business class suites, aimed at executives who simply want to get to the City of London or Wall Street, sign a contract and go home. Qantas express will work fine for them.

I predict that the premium economy, with 40 seats, will be occupied by wealthy leisure travelers who will choose it over a discount business class offering across the Gulf. Which leaves just 140 economy seats for you and me in the back.

Or if? I think the occupants will be very different from the usual mix of tourists and family visitors of all ages traveling between London and Sydney.

The coronavirus pandemic has actually increased the demand for nonstop service. Before Covid (and the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has shut down large swathes of airspace), the most direct route between Heathrow and Sydney was via Hong Kong, which was still banned.

The heaviest traffic between the UK and Australia connected in Dubai, which, in March 2020, was suddenly closed, ruining the homecoming plans of tens of thousands of travellers.

Some people will be willing to pay a hefty premium to remove all the stops and the uncertainty they introduce. I believe these seats will sell for 50 percent more than a one-stop fare on a quality airline.

They will be joined by people paying for the privilege of not having to change planes somewhere in the dusty desert in the middle of the night.

That will help Qantas pay its huge fuel bill and promised carbon offset. The damage caused by the last ultra-long-haul flight is enormous compared to planes that stop once or twice along the way, due to the amount of fuel burned simply to carry fuel for later in the trip.

The rest of us will continue to break up the journey at one of the many tempting stopovers along the way as we travel halfway around the world. Better for the planet (or at least a little less harmful), better for us.

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