Flying the Big Bird


I posted last week about my short trip to Germany, which while enjoyable was … well … short.  While there was some interest in the Oktoberfest I stopped by in Stuttgart, there seemed to be even more interest when I mentioned I was going to be on an A380 for my return flight to the states.  Still battling jet lag, I thought why not spout out about that experience.

The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest commercial airliner.  By largest, I mean, there isn’t even a competition for first place.  The standard A380 carries 525 passengers.  The next closest is the Boeing 747-8, which while impressive at 416 passengers is still over 100 people behind.  A380s can be configured for a maximum passenger number of 853 which if you want to see something crazy, google A380 evacuation test and watch them try to get that kind of number out in less than a minute.  The A380 was so big it left airports in a mad rush to handle such a plane.  Airbus had to test the crushing weight of the wheels so that airports could ensure runway lights wouldn’t get destroyed by them.  Wings were so wide they had to take into consideration blowing up dirt and wrecking other planes.  Airports had to have tractors big enough to push and pull these beasts around if they had to.

Then there’s the 2nd floor.  Oh yeah, did I mention the 2nd floor?  It has the 2nd floor.  Not like the short one at the front of a 747, an Airbus A380 has an entire 2nd floor.  That’s the real standout of this aircraft, it can manage all these people because it has the floor space to handle them.  There are many who love the A380 just for this reason, because with all that space on the plane, Airbus created extravagant First Class accommodations.  Planes this large are intended for long hauls – 8 to 12-hour flights.  I’ve known people who have had rooms on an A380, not isolated seats, but actual rooms with beds and showers.  I’ve seen pictures of the bars they have on these planes, like, chat up the crew bars.

Of course, I didn’t see that … I flew coach.  I always fly coach, when there’s something cool at least.

Last week was my first ever flight on an A380, and it just leaves one commercial airline (the aforementioned Boeing 747) that I haven’t been on. My first reaction when seeing the plane was not positive.  Eleven years in aircraft manufacturing, decades of flying, and I love the look of a sexy aircraft – the A380 is not sexy.  The flight deck (where the pilots sit) is pushed out from the lower level, and the rest of the plane swoops up then back.  It looks like a guy who got hit in the forehead or is losing his hair.  If that plane played an instrument, it would be a banjo.

When choosing my seat, I targeted a 2nd-floor seat, just to say I was on the 2nd floor.  After they scan your boarding pass, you’re sent down one of three tunnels – two on the lower level (likely one is for First Class only because of all the gold-covered red carpet and champaign popping), and one climbing up to the second.  Up there, it didn’t seem any different than any other plane … except, weird-ish. My seat was second to last row and number 82L, so keep in mind there were 82 combined rows on this plane, probably.  Back there, rows were eight across – two by each window, four in the middle.  The fuselage was bending different than the rest of the plane, so my overhead space was smaller than a regional jet.  The seating in the economy isn’t much different than any other Airbus, the entertainment system as ‘Meh’ as I normally see on those flights as well.  The window seat did give me a little bit of a bonus.  Again, because of the weird bend of the fuselage, there were stow bins between me and the wall – wide enough for blankets, pillows, or whatever; deep as well.  It became a good place just to keep things that a seat back doesn’t.  The windows were awkward, as there was about a foot distance from the inside glass to the outside – so even though they were slightly larger than a normal plane, they were like looking through a tunnel.

Otherwise, flying the big bird felt no different than any larger transatlantic capable plane.  The seats were comfortable-ish, the bathrooms were just big enough to feel too small, and you just have to hope someone doesn’t recline during the meal service.  I’ve flown on worse overseas planes (looking at you 767, looking at you), but the smash forehead beast that is the A380 works in it’s own ways.



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