Monday, December 21, 2009

Flying on the New A380

I have flown the new Airbus A380 aircraft and I must say that it raises the bar in passenger comfort for economy class passengers. On this airplane the cheap seats feels like premium accommodations on other aircraft so I can only imagine what it's like in the upper berths.

Intended to both replace and surpass the venerable 747, the A380 is bigger in just about every measurement that counts. Longer, taller, wider, heavier and quieter than the Boeing, the only thing it is not necessarily is as beautiful to look at. One observer likened it to a fat sausage with wings, bulky and bloated with only the sweep of the wingtips suggesting any true grace at all. Like any sausage, though, it's what's on the inside that entices, scintillates and satisfies.

I flew the beast twice on two different airlines with completely different configurations and approaches to customer service. Upon boarding there is a sense of boarding a ship as I was faced with a solid vertical wall of white paint with a massive doorway swallowing other passengers whole in front of me. There is plenty of room just in the foyer area to be received by the cabin crew with no squeezing past jump seats, emergency equipment or the like.

The second thing I noticed was the extreme height of the ceiling, coming in at nearly 10 feet above the cabin floor. No worries about stooping in this airplane but while headroom is great for standing and such it means diddly when sitting down for up to 15 hours at a stretch. Legroom in steerage is up to the individual airline which I am happy to report was generous at 34" of pitch.

What I truly found to be wonderful was the spacing between my window seat and the side wall of the aircraft. With about four inches of additional room between the outer armrest on my seat and the wall there was plenty of room for me, once the seat was reclined, to truly stretch out and cozy up to the window instead of my neighbor. I stand 6'3" and where I'm used to sitting nearly straight up this added bonus definitely gave me and my fellow passengers room to enjoy our own seats in the back of the bus. I can't say enough about how I really appreciated and enjoyed that extra room.

On the first flight, courtesy of Emirates' configuration, I sat in front of the wing which I chose on purpose to see if those massive egg-beater engines were truly as quiet on take-off as advertised. They were; my car makes more noise on a cold start in the winter. The real difference for me was sitting behind the wing on the Qantas flight back to Los Angeles. The massive amounts of air being forced OUT of the engines made about as much noise as any other airplane. The strange thing is that while sitting in the back the plane just plain feels heavy. Groaning, swaying and roaring down the runway, fighting for take-off speed, everyone gasped noticeably when we finally lifted in to the air but once airborne it was smooth sailing and church-house quiet. Nothing but a big ol' drama queen!

When the A380 was first announced my national pride via Boeing was wounded. I even said I would not go out of my way to fly on the thing, actually having nervous jitters about so large a machine (1.25 Million pounds) actually making it off the ground. Then Qantas offered an irresistible sale to the South Pacific and I did both on the same trip - I set aside my worries and went out of my way to fly the monster...after it had been in service nearly a year.

I said once before that, given the money and a good reason, it's possible to make an old DC-10 look and feel just as good. The pictures here tell the story about how one airline versus the other dresses up the interior and approaches food service. Regardless of how it's tricked out on the inside, however, the Airbus A380 stands on its own.
And I can't wait to take another ride.

Gotta go.

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