UP, UP AND AWAY
Airlines keep reaching for the sky in technology and cabin experience
History-making flights and new and improved planes are just part of the picture for the year ahead in airline travel. Here’s a look at some of the new ways you’ll be going places.
It may feel like an age since we first heard the news, but Qantas’s nonstop flights from Perth to London are almost here and set to take off in March.
In what will be the longest Boeing Dreamliner flight in the world, Qantas’s new QF9/10 routes will take about 17 hours, give or take depending on the wind, to fly the 14,498km between the cities.
The longest flight on the Qantas network, ahead of the non-stop A380 service from Sydney to Dallas on 13,730km, will carry 236 passengers across business, premium economy and economy cabins.
Australians are about to get another daily non-stop flight to the US with United Airlines starting flights between Sydney and Houston from January 20. Another mega longhaul situation, the new flight will become United’s second longest route and take about 17 ½ hours. As Houston is United’s gateway to Latin America it will also create a one-stop hop to 51 destinations across Latin America and in the Caribbean.
Hawaiian Airlines is also offering new flights to the US. From early next year Australians who’ve gone beyond Oahu may be able to take advantage of non-stop daily routes on the airline’s new A321neo fleet between Portland and Maui, Oakland and Kauai, and Los Angeles and Kona.
In February, Canberra will become one of 25 new destinations covered by Qatar Airways, and as the flights will go via Sydney they will double as a second daily Sydney flight. The Doha based airline will also start flying to Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Las Vegas and Cardiff in the year ahead.
Meantime, Melburnians now have a direct connection to South America with LATAM Airlines starting the first non-stop service between Melbourne and Santiago just a few weeks ago.
Cathay Pacific will launch non-stop services to Dublin, Brussels and Copenhagen from March. Taking the airline’s recent addition of services to Gatwick, Barcelona and Madrid into consideration that boosts the number of European destinations we’ll be able to reach direct from Hong Kong to 15.
Within Australia, Tigerair is about to start a new route between Hobart and the Gold Coast. From December 7 the low-fare airline will start four weekly return services between the two tourist destinations.
And if you’re wishing you could be on a tropical island, Webjet ANZ country manager David Galt says things are looking up. “The Maldives is more accessible than ever with SriLankan Airlines flying from Melbourne via Colombo, as well as Singapore Airlines and Scoot via Changi Airport in Singapore.”
Next year Singapore Airlines will become the launch customer for the new Airbus A350-900 Ultra Long Range aircraft.
These new planes will have an increased fuel-carrying capacity of 165,000 litres compared to the 141,000 litres of the standard A350900s, giving the ULRs a potential flight time of 19 hours.
Singapore Airlines will use the new aircraft to re-launch non-stop Singapore to Los Angeles and New York flights. It’s believed they will do away with economy seats altogether on the new planes to make more room for business and premium economy.
Qantas has welcomed the first of its Dreamliner fleet ahead of the Perth-London flights. CEO Alan Joyce says the planes have been designed with the airline’s longest flight in mind with enhanced cabin design adding to the Dreamliner’s improved air quality and lower cabin noise.
Business and premium economy take up about half the space on Qantas’s international 787-9s with the 42 business suites and 28 premium economy seats using around the same space as the 166 economy seats located at the back.
Meantime, Air New Zealand, the first airline in the world to take delivery of the 787-9s in 2014, has welcomed its new-look Dreamliners. The first of the new 787s will start on the Auckland-Houston route in December. And Air New Zealand also has good news for those stuck in the middle seat. The economy seat designs for their new Airbus A320/ A321neo fleet will have a slightly wider middle seat to give customers who drew the short straw a greater sense of space.
Delta Air Lines will be bringing their new award-winning Delta One suites to Australia next year, in spring.
The first business-class cabin to feature a sliding door in each suite won the best cabin concept at this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards. Along with full flat beds and direct aisle access, the business-class suites have customisable ambient lighting and at 18 inches can claim the biggest entertainment monitor among US carriers.
Qatar Airways has a business-class suite of its own, and it has the option of a double bed or dinner for four. The Qsuite has privacy panels that stow away, allowing passengers in adjoining seats to share the first double bed in business class. They also have the option of creating “quads” where two centre seats and the two behind them are joined so four passengers can face each other. Qsuites are available on Qatar Airways 777-300ER QR7/QR8 services between Doha, London and Paris.
NEW ON-BOARD EXPERIENCES
In a world-first collaboration, Qantas is teaming up with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre to develop a new, more holistic approach to long-haul travel. Researchers from fields including sleep, nutrition and physical activity are working with the airline and while the in-flight changes are yet to be revealed they will start on next year’s Dreamliner service before being introduced to other long-haul flights.
Entertainment in the sky is changing, with some airlines providing new and improved systems and others removing seat back screens altogether. American Airlines will be leaving passengers to their own devices on their new fleet of Boeing 737 Max aircraft, with the first of the new planes to fly Miami to New York LaGuardia on November 29.
The world’s largest airline argues most people travel with their own devices so rather than investing in monitors they say they’ll focus on improving in-flight internet speed for easier downloads.
While some passengers embrace BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), others prefer the airline to provide everything they’ll need.
And some offer an almost dizzying amount of entertainment choices – with Qatar Airways Oryx One having 4000 options and Emirates’ ICE having 2500 – the chance to create a short list of things to watch is a welcome addition.
The Singapore Airlines Kris World app lets customers flying on the A350 and selected B777-300ER flights browse movies, TV and music and create a favourites list before they even board the plane.
The app also provides unlimited access to international magazines that can be downloaded 48 hours before and up to 24 hours after a flight and will remain on a device until deleted.
... A SLIGHTLY WIDER MIDDLE SEAT TO GIVE CUSTOMERS WHO DREW THE SHORT STRAW A GREATER SENSE OF SPACE
NEW WAYS TO BOOK
Want to fly a full-cost airline but avoid paying full price? Webjet’s David Galt says the unbundling of airfares could be the answer.
“That means you could choose a seat-only fare if the extras are not of value to you. Air New Zealand has been offering these fares across the Tasman for some time, and it may just spread to other markets and airlines.”
Meantime, Jetstar has introduced new ways to book and pay for flights.
“We all have that one ‘organiser’ friend or family member who gets lumped with making the group booking on their own credit card,” says Catriona Larritt, Jetstar group
chief commercial officer. “We’re proud to be the first Australian airline to offer a ‘split the bill’ payment option for online group bookings.”
Jetstar Fare Share lets groups split the payment between up to nine travellers, with passengers given 48 hours after the organiser books the flights to pay for them.
Jetstar has also introduced After-pay, which lets people pay for flights in four equal fortnightly instalments rather than upfront.
After-pay is available on domestic flights costing from $200 to $1000 booked four weeks or more ahead of travel, and Jetstar is considering whether to extend the service to international flights in future.
And when it comes to buying flights around the world it’s time to get into the habit of always putting your middle name into a booking so it matches your passport.
While some airline booking forms prompt people to add their middle names, others do not and it can sometimes become an issue at border control.
Middle names in bookings may not be mandated by the International Air Transport Association but there have been reports of people being forced to pay €50 (about $75) for ticket name changes before boarding planes in some European airports because of that simple oversight.
To really be on the safe side, make sure your middle name is on your airline loyalty memberships so it is included on any frequent flyer redemption tickets, and avoid any easily preventable headaches before travels in the year ahead.
AIR NZ, BUSINESS PREMIER
With new routes, new planes and new airport lounges, there’s never been a better or more luxurious time to fly. QANTAS LOUNGE, PERTH