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Reluctant Americans are behind Qantas’ quest to develop a cargo class

Sydney Morning Herald, 18 April 2018
Qantas’ “out there” idea to develop a new travel class in the cargo hold is aimed at getting middle-class Americans to shake off their reluctance to fly long-haul across the Pacific, Fairfax Media has learned. Last month, Fairfax Media revealed Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce had begun exploring a new “cargo class” concept which could be installed on super long-haul direct flights from Sydney to the US and London.

The idea, while still in incubation, could involve lie-flat bunk berths, which Airbus has announced it is developing in partnership with Zodiac Aerospace, or it could be a common area for stretching, exercise and relaxation. The idea is likely to be pitched to premium economy customers who would be allocated a time during the flight that they could use below deck.

In March, Qantas debuted its first non-stop route between Australia and the United Kingdom and, while it won’t provide data, it says bookings on the Perth to London leg have been very strong, particularly in business class. Joyce wants Qantas to fly from Australia’s east coast to London by 2022.

But industry sources said the cargo class idea was aimed not at the British but squarely at American tourists who have been traditionally reticent to journey to Australia because they see it as too far away.

Sources said research showed Australia consistently came up as a top five or “bucket list” destination for Americans, however in 2015 it ranked 24th in an analysis of countries visited.

Tourism Minister Steve Ciobo said tempting Americans to fly long-haul to Australia was a more difficult task compared to the British, who have strong cultural, sporting and family ties and more annual leave.

“Americans have a very high aspiration to visit Australia,” he said.

“However, culturally it is perceived to require a big time commitment. We’re always highlighting, especially from the West Coast, that it is close.”

Qantas pushed this message through the US television personality Ellen De Generes when it paid for her show to visit Australia. When asked by an American reporter about the length of the trip, the talk show host said: “Is it long? I thought it was just a couple of hours?”

Ciobo said Qantas’ willingness to experiment with ideas that could potentially become aviation game-changers and boost Australian tourism was to be praised.

“Any innovation from the airlines that helps make the perception of distance shrink is going to help drive North American tourism to Australia.”

Tourism Australia said Americans were the fourth largest inbound market for visitor arrivals in 2016, numbering 711,400, up 14 per cent on the previous year. Visitors from the United Kingdom ranked third but American travellers spent more.

The largest number, 21 per cent, listed their residence as California, where Qantas flies a 14 hour flight out of Los Angeles. Only seven per cent listed their residence as Texas, where a direct flight from Dallas is almost 17 hours, and Qantas’ second-longest direct route.