It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 10 years since the Airbus A380 completed its first commercial flight. Until just a few years ago I had never even seen an Airbus A380 in person. I remember when the aircraft was first introduced all of the press coverage about its groundbreaking size and over the top opulence. With features such as onboard bars, private suites, and showers the plane seemed superior to the Boeing 747.
After several years of operation the A380 has begun making headlines once again, although this time more grim. Many carriers have reduced orders or canceled orders altogether. Launch customer Singapore Airlines recently announced they would not be extending the lease on their original A380. The more I read about the A380 the more I think it may be heading for the boneyard. Now that I have finally experienced the A380 I hope this is not the case.
A Brief History of the Airbus A380
Since 1970, Boeing has dominated the double-decker widebody aircraft market with the Boeing 747. The 747 was the first of its kind and has continued to earn the tile “Queen of the Skies.” In 1994, Airbus announced plans to launch a direct competitor. At the time the aircraft was simply called the A3XX. After several setbacks in the world economy, Airbus solidified plans to develop and launch a double decker aircraft in late 2000. With the announcement the program was officially renamed to the A380. Early production eventually began in early 2002.
After several years of production difficulties the Airbus A380 finally got of the ground (literally) on April 27, 2005. Following the maiden flight came several more setbacks. The wing design failed an early stress test which required additional modification. Then came several more delays due to the complexity of the cabin wiring. Then on October 15, 2007 the first A380 was finally delivered to launch customer Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines flew the first Airbus A380 commercial flight just 10 days later from Singapore to Sydney.
My British Airways Airbus A380 Experience
As I read more about the slow decline in A380 orders and deliveries I began to wonder if I would ever have the opportunity to catch a ride on the superjumbo. As a Chicago based traveler there are no immediate opportunities to book an A380 flight. Additionally, buying a ticket on an A380 flight from the US means you’re in for a very long journey. I luckily found a ridiculously cheap flight from LAX to LHR which coincided with my friends holiday from work. I was also fortunate enough to book the flight as an American Airlines special fare code. This meant not only would I get to fly the A380, but I would get to earn AAdvantage EQM and EQD based on distance rather than price.
Boarding At LAX
Skipping over my journey to LAX and the incredible Tom Bradly International Terminal (more on that to come) I found myself at Gate 154 ready to finally board the Airbus A380. While at the airport I kindly asked and was given an upper deck window seat (76K) and was excited to board. At the gate were 6 British Airways gate agents to assist in the boarding process. The flight boarded by cabin class and then by row for the World Traveler (economy) cabin. Once my row was called I proceeded onto the jetbridge, up the escalator, and boarded directly onto the upper deck.
Upper Deck of the Airbus A380
The upper deck of the A380 was absolutely massive. It is honestly hard to comprehend there is a complete cabin beneath your feet as you walk to your seat. The British Airways A380 features a 2-4-2 cabin which was similar in size to the Boeing 767. As you board, all of the overhead bins were in the lowered position which make the cabin feel quite cramped. As I had read previously, large carry on bags are best placed in the central overhead bins as they are larger. The window overhead bins provide plenty of space for a backpack or large duffel bag.
Additionally, window seats on the upper deck of the A380 feature a small cubby. This space proved best to store books, headphones, water bottles, etc. during flight. Also, when the cubby hatch was lowered, it offered additional space to rest personal items. However, the surface is slick and items will easily slide around during takeoff, landing, and turbulence.
Taxi and Takeoff
Taxing to the runway took quite a long time. At LAX airport, the A380 requires escort spotters to watch the wingtips along the taxiway. Once we reached the end of the runway we lined up for takeoff and waited. Shortly thereafter the giant engines roared to life and we began barreling down the runway. After no time at all we were airborne. Having flown on other widebody aircraft I was stunned by how quickly we were in the air. It did not seem possible that a jet that large could be in the air after only a few seconds of acceleration.
Cruise and Views
One of the biggest takeaways of my Airbus A380 was how quiet the cabin is at cruise. Generally I find it nearly impossible to listen to music or watch movies without noise canceling headphones. On the A380 however, noise canceling headphones are not a necessity. Likewise, talking to other passengers and cabin crew does not require you to raise your voice.
Another thing I was not expecting with the A380 was the size of the windows. Although the outside window itself may not be much larger than a traditional airline window, the interior shade is massive! I wish I had the opportunity to sit on the lower deck momentarily to see if the lower deck exterior windows are larger than the upper deck.
Coming in to land on the A380 was also something I was not expecting. I expected a fairly violent touchdown followed immediately by rapid deceleration. In reality, touchdown was smooth and followed by a very comfortable rollout. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with the skill of the pilots (or autoland features), but I truly wasn’t expecting such a comfortable landing.
Is The Airbus A380 Better Than The 747 or 787?
Keep in mind this is purely from a passenger comfort experience in economy, but I think… Yes! The A380 is quieter and more roomy than the 747-400 I’ve flown on previously. I also love that the cabin design features a 3-4-3 layout and a 2-4-2 layout. I think this makes it easier for couples traveling together as well as families to find a comfortable seating arrangement. The larger windows also helped make the already roomy cabin feel even larger.
When compared to the 787 I also have the same feelings. The twin cabins give passengers more options. I hate the standard 3-3-3 layout of the 787. Also, although the 787 cabin is much quieter than the 747, it is still noisier than the A380. Unfortunately, the 787 does have (in my opinion) superior windows by both size and pure entertainment. It is so cool being able to dim the windows electronically, but still see out during the day.
I have been a longtime Boeing widebody fan. The 787 remains one of my favorite planes out there, but my recent flight on the A380 has bumped the Airbus up to the top of my list. There were so many times during my flight that I had to remind myself there was an entire deck below me as we flew over the atlantic. What is even more incredible is knowing how many different variants of the A380 are currently in service. Some have on-board bars. Others have private residences complete with private showers. I was happy to have finally experienced a flight on the Airbus A380, but unfortunately now, all I can think about is my next Airbus A380 adventure. I just hope next time I can take a shower mid-air!