Reflecting the decline in high-end luxury travel and a shift towards the middle market of business and premium economy, Qantas will no longer offer First Class cabins in its newest flagship Airbus A380s.
While the Red Roo's current A380 fleet will retain the spacious seats and five-star service at the front of the plane, and continue to ply the profitable routes to Los Angeles and London (via Singapore), superjumbo deliveries past 2012 will be built with only business, premium economy and economy class seating.
"It is vital that we align this offering with forecast demand which is expected to be relatively slow compared to Business, Premium Economy and Economy" Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has observed.
The cabin reconfiguration will be good news for many business travellers -- although not for Qantas Frequent Flyers with a healthy points balance who want to upgrade to First Class.
With an uptick in corporate Premium Economy travel over Business Class, there'll be more options and greater availability for avoiding Economy.
Qantas has been tight-lipped about how the three-class layout will look and where the extra seats will go, but Australian Business Traveller delved into seating plans and aircraft layout diagrams to analyse Qantas' options.
What the current A380 looks like
Above is the seating grid for the Qantas A380s, with the lower deck at the left and the upper deck on the right. The plane is split into seven zones:
- Zone A: Lower deck, front cabin: First Class
- Zone B: Lower deck, second cabin: Economy
- Zone C: Lower deck, third cabin: Economy
- Zone D: Lower deck, rear cabin: Economy
- Zone E: Upper deck, front cabin: Business
- Zone F: Upper deck, centre cabin: Economy
- Zone G: Upper deck, rear cabin: Premium Economy
Qantas' options are restricted partly by the structure of the plane (emergency exit doors, cabin size, and so on) and partly by a desire for commonality across the fleet for lavatories, galley kitchens, and so on.
Option 1: Replace First Class with Business Class
One potential move is to put Business Class downstairs at the front, where First Class currently is. The move becomes even clearer when you take into account the seat numbering on the plane: upstairs, Business Class starts at row 11.
Let's assume Qantas doesn't want Business Class and First Class seats with the same row numbers on different layouts of the A380 (which could be confusing in the even of plane swaps and which could reduce the cachet of First Class row numbers).
That means that the downstairs Business Class section could start at row 6. Given the space available in the front cabin, they should be able to fit five rows of Skybeds in, so rows 6-10 would be downstairs, with row 11 starting upstairs.
With the added width of the lower deck on the A380, Qantas could also gain an extra five seats by adding a middle seat in the centre section to bring the cabin layout to 2-3-2.
While this middle seat is generally unpopular, it could be useful for groups of three travelling together, upgrades from Premium Economy (let's face it: any Business Class Skybed is better than a Premium Economy seat) and they'd probably be the last to fill.
With only 5 middle seats, they'd be easy enough to avoid for seasoned travellers regardless.
Option 2: Replace First Class with Economy Class
Another option for the downstairs cabin is an Emirates-style all-Economy layout. With the Premium Economy row numbers ending at 39 and the current Zone B Economy starting at row 50, there's a logical argument for ten rows of Economy from 40-49 at the very front.
That could fit with some clever shifting around of galley space, although Emirates currently fits only eight rows into its A380s.
Of course, putting Economy in this section is a bit of a missed opportunity for the high-cachet nose area at the very front of the lower deck.
Option 3: Add Premium Economy upstairs at the back
An obvious move is to move Premium Economy forwards in zone G. Currently, the last two rows of Business Class (row 24 & 25) are left over behind the main cabin.
Swapping these for three more rows of Premium Economy would add 21 more seats in the class, a total of 53.
(In the potential seat maps for options 3 and 4, we've combined Premium Economy changes with Business Class moving into Zone A.
Option 4: Add Premium Economy upstairs in the middle cabin
But just taking over the very back of the upper deck and adding three rows of Premium Economy doesn't sound like a big enough increase. It also means that with Business Class gaining 35 seats downstairs and only losing two rows upstairs, there's a net gain of 23 seats in Business Class.
Furthermore, it doesn't fit with the row numbering -- the current four-class A380s have Business Class stretching back to row 25.
So if we assume that Qantas has planned its seat layouts carefully (a safe assumption), Premium Economy would need to start in row 26.
The answer to all these issues would be to extend Premium Economy forwards ahead into the long (and, frankly, unpopularly large) Business Class cabin in the middle of the upper deck.
That would leave Business Class with a total of 24 seats in the larger cabin of the upper deck, with Premium Economy having a total of 88 seats.
What do you think Qantas will do? Share your theories in the comments below or tweet us: @AusBT.
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.