Since most journos who have scored free flights from airlines on A380s have been given the business or first class experience and written about that (for obvious reasons… airlines want publicity for their immensely profitable premium seats) I thought it would be worth relaying my experience of flying a Qantas A380 in economy recently. (The flight was paid for by another vendor whose conference I was attending, not Qantas. I do write for the Qantas inflight magazine, but they do not give me discount air travel and I do not give them free kicks in my coverage of Qantas in other publications ;-)
I flew the Qantas A380 on an eight hour Singapore to Sydney leg the other day and was immensely impressed. In fact, it's such a comfortable ride compared to a 747 that I will certainly be actively looking for A380 routes on future international trips, and I reckon I'd be prepared to pay 30% more on the ticket cost of an equivalent 747 route.
Some initial thoughts on what is so great about the Qantas A380 after the jump. (PS that's the awesome "tail cam" view on the inflight entertainment pictured above.)
The good things I noticed about the Qantas A380
A small touch: A4-width seat pockets – so magazines can go on their side rather than upright, therefore not interfering with the fold-down tray table.
Big, clear 11 inch widescreens in the economy seat backs with a resolution I would estimate to be 1366×768.
Australian format power points in economy!! Plus USB ports for powering iPods and the like. (The power point is remarkably stiff though — I had to ask a flight attendant why it wasn't powering my laptop, and she said just to jiggle it round the plug in the power point a bit — and to my amazement, that did seem to fix the problem.) Each power point is shared between two passengers, and apparently you can't just take a double adaptor with you as each point has a maximum wattage that would generally be overloaded by two laptops. However, you can, of course, swap the plug back and forth between each passenger as each of your respective laptop batteries run low.
There's enough room in economy class seats to type on a 15" laptop while the person in front has their seat fully reclined (that said, only just enough room — you have to put your seat back too though if you have a slight belly as I do!)
Hand-sensing water tap in the toilet — no more Twister style finger gymnastics to keep the water flowing while you wash your hands. One of the toilets I used had a non-working tap, though, and there was no apparent way to manually override it to make water come out. Not being able to wash your hands after going to the toilet is pretty annoying.
It seems apparent that Qantas has either recruited all-new staff for the A380, or picked their brightest and best customer service staff for it. They were all impeccably presented, friendly and helpful. That's not to say there aren't great staff on other Qantas flights too — I think Qantas has a higher service level across the board than many American airlines, for example, however the A380 cabin crew was particularly exceptional. (And I did confirm with one of the hosties that they are A380-dedicated.)
Strange things — the inflight entertainment system puts the seat monitor into standby if you haven't interacted with the system for a while. I was using my laptop so I didn't watch any movies, and I would assume that the power saving mode doesn't kick in for movies, but it did for things like the tail-cam and flight map. You can bring it back just by tapping on the screen, but I'm not srue what the point of the power saving mode is.
The inflight webmail and instant messaging capability is all there in the entertainment system ready to go; in fact, you can even go into the web browser on your seat-back monitor, and you can access the plane's WiFi network with your laptop. (The Qantas A380 safety card specifically mentions you are allowed to operate WiFi and Bluetooth devices on the plane, but, in a very forward-thinking manner, they have noted specifically that you cannot operate WiMax.)
Despite the internet front-end being there, if you try to access any online services, it just provides an error message saying it can't find the service, so the satellite uplink from the plane must not be connected yet (kinda surprising that Qantas left it as-is with error messages showing… they must be planning to launch it ASAP and couldn't justify the development cost of changing the system). The service is provided by OnAir.
It is AMAZINGLY quiet at takeoff. Rolling down the runway, the plane starts lifting into the air when you think it is still picking up speed towards the actual takeoff. Unlike a 747 there are no screaming engines or rattling lockers — it is literally a smooth and serene ride. The ongoing engine noise is also low enough to easily talk to people without raising your voice. Noise cancelling headphones are still a benefit, but are nowhere near as necessary as on a 747.
The lighting in the cabin is LED, including the individual seat downlight, which provides a very even, bright white light which is ideal for reading — unlike the old incandescent bulbs in 747s. Airbus has been using LED lighting for a while in all its recent model planes.
The inflight entertainment system is both touch screen and controllable via a control pad (which has a QWERTY keypad on the back for use with the inflight email and instant messaging.) The controller is included in the seat arm, underneath a flip-up lid, so you'll no longer be calling the hostie accidentally with your elbow.
The overhead luggage lockers are much bigger than any plane I've ever been on. I would estimate there's about 30% more space for each passenger than on a 747 — passengers on my flight had absolutely no trouble fitting their cablin luggage. If you travel with a maximum-size cabin bag, you'll find there's about half a foot of space above it for other stuff like pillows/jumpers etc.
Because all the electronics are properly integrated in the seats rather than added on in patchwork style as with the 747s, there are no annoying inflight entertainment computer enclosures under the seats, so there's ample legspace for everyone.
The engines of the plane are absolutely ginormous. At a guess, I would say they are as big as a room of your house – they look about 1.5 – 2 times as big as a 747 engine.
LAST WORD: for me, the compelling overall selling point for the A380 was that I came off it feeling MUCH, MUCH less tired than when flying the same route on a 747. I think that probably has something to do with the higher cabin humidity causing you to shrivel up much less during the flight, and also the extra seat room and snack bars in the cabin.