Qantas unveils its new 787-9 premium economy seat: a high quality sensible upgrade if not that revolutionary.

23 February, 2017

Qantas has unveiled its new premium economy seat, which will debut on the airline’s fleet of Boeing 787-9 aircraft from Oct-2017.

Premium Economy on the 787-9 Dreamliner will feature a separate cabin of 28 seats, configured in a two-three-two layout.

A key feature of the new seat is a unique ergonomic reclining motion which ensures the body is supported as the seat reclines. There is a little more space with an increase in seat width of almost 10% compared to Qantas’ existing premium economy seat, in addition to greater recline.

Further comfort features include a headrest which can be separately fitted with a specially designed pillow. There is also a re-engineered footrest which works with the recline function to ensure the passenger is cradled more effectively than in other premium economy seat products.

The high-definition Panasonic inflight entertainment seatback screens are 25% larger than the existing premium economy product. There are five individual storage compartments and two USB charging points per seat, as well as shared AC power and a personal LED light.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has highlighted that the new 787-9 Dreamliner premium economy seats have been designed to offer enhanced comfort for the ultra-long-haul routes on which the Dreamliners will be operating:

“Our Business Suite has been dubbed ‘mini first class’ by some of our frequent flyers and our economy seat for the Dreamliner has features that some reserve for premium economy.

“This new premium economy seat has serious wow factor. You have to experience how well it supports you when you recline to realise it’s completely different from anything else in its class.”


Source: Qantas

A quality upgrade without the risk of cannibalisation

Alan Joyce hailed this new premium economy seat as being ‘revolutionary’ when launching the Qantas Dreamliner’s Business Class in 2016. When compared to the existing premium economy seen on the 747s and A380, it’s certainly a step up in terms of features.

The seat has perhaps a more advanced design than, for example, British Airways’ second generation World Traveller Plus and Cathay Pacific’s premium economy - which it will be competing against on the Australia-London Heathrow services. But the new Qantas product will also be going head to head against Singapore Airlines’ relatively new premium economy product heading west and Delta’s new Delta Premium and Virgin Australia’s premium economy heading East to the US.

In terms of legroom however, its more status quo than revolution with Qantas’ new premium economy product still offering a 38 inch seat pitch - the same as the existing seat on the 747s and A380s. This is three inches less than Virgin Australia does on its new premium economy seat to the US. And those three inches can mean a lot when the seat in front is reclined.

The new Qantas premium economy product is therefore perhaps less about being ‘revolutionary’ and more about providing a sensible quality upgrade to what has already been a market leading product in its class.

With Qantas investing heavily in its new Business Class on the A330s (soon to be retrofitted to the A380), the airline now provides an industry leading product which has overcome some of the design limitations the old SkyBed Mk I and II possessed, particularly in the areas of direct aisle access and privacy.

In launching its new premium economy, Qantas is again providing a market leading product in that class – particularly in terms of features, if not in actual leg room. But had the seat been any more ‘revolutionary’ Qantas would run the risk of cannibalising demand for its new Business Class, an issue airlines such as Singapore Airlines are currently facing. Turkish Airlines faced the same problem with ‘Comfort Class’ as did Air New Zealand with its old Space Seat. Both airlines dumped their respective products with AirNZ opting for a more conventional premium economy seat product on its 787-9s.

With partner Emirates set to launch its own premium economy product over the next 12-18 months, the stage is set to see how premium economy develops in the next five years.

Qantas’ 787-9 will seat 236 passengers across business, premium economy and economy classes .The first of eight aircraft will be delivered in Oct-2017. Qantas’ first international 787 operations are to commence in Dec-2017, with Melbourne-Los Angeles service.