We travelled to Australia for our family vacation this summer and had the opportunity to fly on the new Airbus A380 from Los Angeles to Sydney, and on a Boeing 747 from Sydney to Los Angeles. Since the A380 is relatively new, and so large it cannot land at all airports, I thought I’d offer a comparison.
First impression: The A380 is massive, gargantuan, Brobdingnagian. It dwarfs anything on the tarmac. Where the 747 has that “bump” at the front, the A380 is two stories all along its fuselage. You look at it and you think, “Newton and Bernoulli be damned, there’s no freaking way that thing can get off the ground!”
Inside though, the size of the aircraft is not reflected in the amount of passenger space, at least for those of us poor sods traveling in Economy. I understand seating space really depends on the configuration chosen by the airline, Qantas in this case, so your experience may vary. Our impressions were that elbow room on the A380 was about the same as the 747 and leg room was actually a little less. This is mitigated in part by the innovative seat design of the A380; more about that in a moment. Still when you walk onto a plane knowing that this is going to be “home” for the next 12.5 to 14 hours, depending on the direction of the flight, your heart quails when you see how little space you’re going to have.
You get much more space, on the upper level, if you can afford First or Business class. First class passengers get their own “cabins” while Business class fly in the “capsules” that have been standard in First on other aircraft for some time. First class on Qantas’ LA-Sydney run will set you back $24,000, and Business costs about $14,000. Insane! Even if I had that kind of money, I can think of much better things to spend it on than a few hours of comfort.
The biggest disadvantage of the A380 is that it only services a limited number of airports today. We would have preferred to fly through San Francisco, for example, but apparently the A380 doesn’t yet land there.
The A380 does have some nice features.
- Once airborne – yes the plane did get off the ground – the ride on the A380 is definitely quieter and smoother than the 747. On the return flight to LAX on the 747, there was bad turbulence over Fiji. We felt it. The flight attendants had to interrupt cabin service for about twenty minutes. I don’t recall feeling any bumps at all on the A380. To Qantas’ credit I should also say that both flights left pretty much on time, despite reports about frequent delays of A380 flights.
- The entertainment system is more extensive than on the 747 and uses a touch screen rather than a remote control.
- There are self-service kitchen areas where you can grab a drink or a snack at any time. Predictably, in Economy, the snacks are nothing to write home about, but at least they’re available and you don’t have to press your call button.
- Skycam: There’s a camera mounted high in the tail of the aircraft looking forward over the wings and fuselage. You can watch the plane taxi, take off, fly and land from this vantage point via the entertainment system in your seat. Way cool!
As I mentioned, the A380 doesn’t offer appreciably more seating space than the 747, but the seat design partly makes up for this. When you recline your seat, not only does the seat back recline, but the seat pan slides forward a few inches. In addition, there is mesh “basket” under the seat in front of you where you can insert your legs to get them off the floor. The combined effect allows you to recline into a more horizontal position than on any other planes. The downside is that if the person in front of you is reclining, they’re practically in your lap. It is very difficult to get out of your seat in this situation.
Bottom line: The A380 is fine aircraft with some innovative features, but doesn’t offer noticeably more comfort for Economy class passengers. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to fly on one, especially if it means you can’t fly through your preferred airport.
One follow up: When the seat in front of you is reclined, I don’t think you could open up a laptop computer. Certainly not with any degree of comfort.