28 April 2014

Forgotten posts from the past: Introducing the Airbus A380

The world's biggest airliner, the Airbus A380, has been creating some attention because of its sheer size. It is quite an achievement to build something so big that can fly with so many people.

Singapore Airlines will be the second airline to operate Airbus A380s to New Zealand
It promises to provide new advancements for passengers at the front (in first and business class), and maybe some modest improvements in seat width and pitch for those in cattle class - but for most it threatens long queues at bathrooms and enormous waits for luggage and checkin as 500 plus passengers fill departure lounges and the like. Airbus has made much of the ideas of onboard bars, casinos, shops and the like, but the truth is that most airlines will simply squeeze in more seats.

The A380 has been dogged by delays, partly due to Airbus not anticipating in its design the desire by most airlines to have sophisticated on demand in flight entertainment systems, and so wiring needed to be redesigned. There have also been problems meeting the promises on maximum weight, so the whole programme is behind by at least a year.

Nevertheless, Singapore Airlines was the first to fly the new whalejets, between Singapore and Sydney, and then London and Singapore. Air France announced its internal configuration for the A380. Air France is buying 12, with the first three arriving in 2009. However, Air France is promising nothing too exciting - with 538 seats.

The lower deck will have 9 first class and 343 economy class, with the upper deck carrying 80 business class and 106 more economy class seats.

Emirates has since announced its configurations. There will be three, ranging from a relatively spacious... to a tight .... heaven help you on the latter, which will probably be used for connections to and from India and Pakistan. The lower density ones are likely to operate towards east Asia, Australia and New Zealand. However, Emirates has announced nothing special, other than it will have the latest seating already installed on its newest 777s.

Emirates flys A380s 3x a day into Auckland

For New Zealanders, Singapore Airlines, Qantas and Emirates will offer the best chances to fly on the Airbus A380, but probably not directly for some time. Emirates is the only airline out of those likely to fly the A380 to Auckland on a regular basis, as an extension of services between Dubai and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.  

Certainly Air NZ has no routes consistently busy enough to justify buying the A380 in the near future.

All we know about Singapore Airlines is that its new business class (easily the best in the world and not seen on flights to NZ yet) will be seen on the A380, big wide seats that recline fully flat and not at an angle with the fuselage. Singapore Airlines is keeping what it does for economy and first class on the A380 under wraps. Others are doing the same, but it is clear Air France sees little need for the A380 to be a flagship for anything particularly special.


There are some airlines that have installed onboard bars, such as Emirates.  Some have lounges, like Qantas and Air France.  None have casinos.  Korean Air has a shop.

Singapore Airlines did do something special for first class, it called it Suites and introduced effectively mini-cabins, with separate beds, including double beds for the middle of the plane.  Economy class was just a spruced up version of what came before, but does have slightly extra seat width thanks to the cabin width of the A380. 

Bed on a plane. Singapore Airlines Suites on Airbus A380, a cut above first class. In double bed mode

What's notable is how orders for more A380s have dried up.  Demand for the mega-jet has slowed to a trickle, only in part due to the recession in Europe and the United States, but moreso because the airline industry is evolving towards more point to point traffic growth over medium distances, rather than long haul megahub traffic (notwithstanding the low cost, state capital subsidised hubs developing in Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi).

For New Zealanders, it was Emirates that maintained the only regular A380 service, although Singapore Airlines is to introduce it to Auckland on a seasonal basis from 2015.  Of course, from Australia, New Zealanders can fly on Qantas A380s as well.   Note that given the Qantas/Emirates alliance, it means Emirates Trans-Tasman services now carry Qantas codeshares.

Anyway, as a public service to you all, here is a link to a useful article comparing A380 products across almost all of the airlines flying them.  I've only flown on Qantas, and it was exceptionally pleasant, although I admittedly was in First Class (having been gifted a lot of Qantas Frequent Flyer points to spend).

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