The first non-stop commercial flight between Australia and the UK has touched down in London.
QF9 arrived at 5.02am local time on Sunday morning after a 17-hour long-haul from Perth.
The third longest route in the world, the flight marks the first time that Australia and Europe have been connected by a non-stop flight.
There has been much hype surrounding the new route, with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce calling it a “game changer”. The airline’s next goal is to introduce non-stop flights to London from Australia’s east coast capitals – once an aircraft is developed that can make the distance.
But what is the experience like for passengers on board the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner for more than 17 hours? While VIPs from Qantas, politicians and members of the media (including this reporter) enjoyed the luxuries of business class or premium economy, other passengers endured 17 hours in the cheap seats.
Economy flying is not pleasant at the best of times, so how was it on this ultra-long-haul?
“Everything has been superb,” said Jason Haddad from Perth.
The 39-year-old clinical psychologist normally flies business or premium economy, but declared this the best economy flight he’d ever done.
“I booked this 10 days ago. I was hesitant, because here was no business or premium economy left,” he said.
“I think Qantas’ designers have really thought about the little extras like storage space, charging ports, the footrest is really good. This is the first long-haul economy I’ve done where I haven’t got a sore back, the angle of the seat is really good.”
Mr Haddad endorsed the flight as a great way to fly to the UK.
“Partly that’s because the flight is so long,” he said. “Even if you don’t have a lie-flat bed, you can actually doze for like 10 hours. So I feel more rested than I’ve ever felt on any other long-haul economy flight.”
Mr Haddad also praised the work Qantas has done around the atmosphere in the cabin such as the mood lighting and temperature changing to suit different stages of the flight.
“You could noticeably feel the air getting cooler as it got towards time to sleep,” he said.
Boeing Dreamliners offer a higher cabin pressure, closer to that found at ground level, and more humid air than that found on most other types of aircraft. This helps passengers feel less dehydrated and tired after long flights.
Brits Mark and Suzy Beasley, 62 and 63, originally from London and living in Perth for the past 18 months, also had nothing but praise for the experience.
“It’s fantastic,” said Mr Beasley, adding that being on board a plane for 17 hours didn’t bother the couple. “We’ve done a 14-hour haul from Singapore before and this is just three hours more.”
While the Qantas Dreamliner economy seats offer slightly more legroom (one inch or 2.54cm) than those found on other Qantas international flights, but they’re also marginally narrower (by 0.76cm).
Despite standing at 188 centimetres, Mr Beasley had no issues with the comfort in his economy class seat.
“I found it very comfortable, no worries at all,” he said.
Mrs Beasley agreed, though she felt the need to get up more often than her husband to stretch her legs.
“I got up maybe three or four times. Because it was such a long flight and if I wasn’t able to sleep at a particular time, it felt better for my body to get up, have a walk and stretch. I felt fine,” she said.
On their third trip to London in the last 18 months, the Beasleys plan to continue using this route in the future, provided the price stays competitive.
“If they whack the price right up, we’d probably go back to a one-stop flight – because that, at the end of the day, is the big factor,” Mr Beasley said. “But to save those four hours is well worth the extra $100 or $150.”
Sarah Fry, 39, a Melburnian ex-pat now living in London but travelling to Brisbane regularly for work, found herself in the last row at the back of the plane.
But even at the tail-end, there was nothing but praise for the flight.
“I found it much better than my usual route to London, which is Brisbane-Sydney-Dubai-London,” she said.
“I found the seat much better than other economy seats. Even in the back row the seat reclined. I was a bit worried about being on a plane for 17 hours, but you didn’t really notice it. Not having to get off the plane and go through security was much easier.”
“I’ll be recommending this to my colleagues. If you can handle being on a plane for that long, it’s a much easier flight,” she said.
The history of the Kangaroo Route
- 1940s: The name of the Kangaroo route originated from engineers who worked on the Liberator aircraft in the 1940s. The aircraft featured a small red kangaroo painted on the nose. Coincidentally, the name also symbolises the numerous stops or hops that needed to be made between Australia and the UK.
- 1947: Qantas started flying the entire route from Sydney to London, previously Qantas passengers would change over to an Imperial Airlines service in Singapore.
- 1954: Qantas started operating the Super Constellation on the route featuring a new tourist class.
- 1959: The Boeing 707 was introduced, cutting the journey time to around 27 hours.
- 1961: A new Kangaroo route from Perth was introduced with stopovers in Jakarta, Colombo, Karachi and Tehran.
- 1970s: The 747-200B was introduced on the route.
- 1989: Qantas operated a Boeing 747-400 nonstop from London to Sydney as part of its delivery flight.
- 2008: The Airbus A380 superjumbo started services to London.
- 2013: Emirates partnership begins, Dubai new Qantas hub for London flights.
- 2018: Services from Perth to London start in March, the first time Australia and Europe are linked by a direct flight, and Qantas’ QF1/ QF2 returns to UK via Singapore.
The writer travelled on board QF9 as a guest of Qantas.