Qantas’ Project Sunrise will see the launch of non-stop flights from Australia’s east coast to the likes of London and New York. And sure, we all know the front of the plane will be comfortable on those 20-plus-hour jaunts. But how will Economy passengers fare on Qantas’ Sunrise routes: soon to become the world’s longest flights?

For an early glimpse at what the bulk of passengers will experience, I’ve hunted down Qantas’ Economy seat manufacturer, RECARO. If you’ve flown Economy on the Roo’s existing long-haul aircraft, like the Boeing 787, you’ll have already sat in RECARO’s CL3710 seat. For Sunrise, Qantas has a newer model on order: the R3, previously the CL3810.

Here at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, I have the chance to experience the R3 for myself. Mark Hiller, CEO of RECARO Aircraft Seating, also shares a few insights into the design – and what RECARO can do to keep passengers as comfortable as possible on these ultra-long legs.

Qantas’ Economy seat for Project Sunrise

We already know that Qantas will use a standard 3-3-3 layout in Economy on its Airbus A350-1000 jets. But unlike the industry standard seat ‘pitch’ of 31 inches for long-haul, Qantas is opting for more legroom down the back. On its Project Sunrise aircraft, Economy attracts a 33-inch pitch instead.

(Seat pitch, always measured in inches, is the distance from one part of a seat to the same place in the row in front or behind. For instance, from the tip of an armrest in one row to the tip of the armrest in the next).

Recaro’s mock-up here at AIX is set to the standard 31-inch pitch. As demonstration seats, the colours don’t match Qantas’ palette, but they still provide an interesting first look.

‘I think Qantas is always a very extraordinary design,’ Hiller says as we sit down for coffee. Qantas follows a ‘very special design, and (puts) a lot of focus also on the aesthetics. I think this really attracts passengers.’ He suggests Qantas’ Airbus A380 Economy seat as an example, with ‘Mark Newson as a designer, carbon fibre finish, and so on.’

But the A380 has RECARO’s previous-generation seat, the CL3710. As for the R3 – the newer model for Sunrise – it’s ‘even more comfortable. I think we are right on track for (Sunrise). But we are also doing a lot of comfort studies for ultra-long-range flights for our seats. And this is not just related to the cushion … it’s really to the backrest, to the backrest frame, to the shape (and to) the seat bottom.’

Hiller shares one major improvement passengers will notice of the R3 is that when you ‘recline the bottom, the edge will become flexible, which means it reduces really the pressure on your legs and is also avoiding DVT.’

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The features of Qantas’ Project Sunrise Economy seat

As I settle into Qantas’ Project Sunrise Economy seat, I begin to observe its features. As a taller traveller, I appreciate the extent to which the headrest can ascend. And its design is flat and smooth, which makes it feel less like my neck is being pushed forward.

The headrest is also six-way adjustable. There are wings on each side, so you can fold the edges inward to cradle your head. One hidden feature of the headrest is that you can also grab the bottom and tilt it up slightly from the middle. This adds some neck support without skewing the utility of the side wings.

Below the TV screen, there’s a fold-down stand. It’s useful for keeping your phone within easy reach, but it can also support the weight of a tablet to keep your screen at eye level. It may look a little flimsy, but it can take a great deal of push and shove. Even jamming it downward and really trying to break it doesn’t see it snap.

RECARO manufactures approximately one in every three Economy Class seats flying on commercial airlines worldwide. With experience of building seats for airlines the world over, don’t underestimate this powerful piece of plastic. A standard bi-fold tray table complements the features in front.

When asked how much RECARO has to do to customise the R3 even further for Sunrise, Hiller offers some insight. ‘I’m pretty relaxed about this requirement because, as you know, Qantas had some trials on a 787. They did (Sunrise trial flights) with the existing aircraft where our predecessor of the R3 was installed, the CL3710. Feedback was very positive.’

For Sunrise Economy though, ‘customisation (of the R3) will be done according to the needs and the requirements of Qantas, but already the existing product offers really a great comfort.’ I’m told that Qantas has ordered the most comfortable (and expensive) of RECARO’s cushioning options. I get the chance to experience the ‘standard’ and ‘super’ comfort options, one after another. The upgrade is instantly noticeable.

What about the legroom?

I’ve said it above, but it’s worth reminding. The seating photos in this story reflect the industry standard seat pitch of 31 inches. Qantas’ own seats will offer an additional two inches of legroom, which means the seat in front will be about 5cm further away than pictured. But even at 31 inches, the basic seat for Qantas’ Project Sunrise is spacious.

The design keeps the tray table respectably above knee height. This means there’s less clutter around the legs – and more space to stretch out. Even when the seat in front is at full recline – the first image below – my knees still have some wiggle room. With Qantas’ more generous seat pitch, that’ll be even more so.

The trick will be to reduce the clutter. The seatback pouch can store a great deal, but loading it up reduces legroom. Slipping a slim laptop or tablet into the pocket won’t make much of a difference. But you’ll want to strategically position any water bottles, larger charging cables, and other bulky items. After all, it’ll be a very, very long flight to London or New York, and every little bit of space counts.

Also read: Qantas’ Business and First Class seats for Project Sunrise

Except where otherwise credited, photography by Chris Chamberlin.

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Comfort test: Qantas’ Project Sunrise Economy seat was last modified: June 5th, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin