Last week I got the privilege to fly on Qantas's new A380 aircraft from Sydney to LA. I was really looking forward to it as there were plenty of claims made about it. More room, quieter, new lounges in it...wow! Sounded impressive.
I held off on blogging about it cause I wanted to know what my wife thought of it. She flew back to Seattle today with our son who is 6. I had my opinions and I wanted to see if it was just me or she thought the same thing.
The one I got to fly on was 5 days old. It was real new! I was impressed at the sheer size of it and walking on to it I had this odd feeling of history - like I was one of the first - though in reality tons of people have flown on it since its launch late last year.
The claim I was truly interested in was the claim of more seat space. Unfortunately we had to fly economy which in most cases means "cramped" or "cattle class" as you feel like you're being squeezed in like cattle. You can give me new little in-aircraft lounges and a nicer TV screen but when it comes down to it, its the seat space. That's what makes the biggest difference, in my opinion, to the paying passenger. When I asked the Qantas Club lounge people if there was more room there was a few nervous glances at each other and a term of "sort of". Hmm...I think that sounds ominous :)
So we walked onto the plane. I was with my daughter and we were flying back earlier. Even the lower deck where economy was felt taller. Nice. We got to our carbon fibre looking seats. In the back was a rather large touch-screen TV screen and the in-flight entertainment was already working before we even took off. I decide to play with the in-flight entertainment. Way way better. Big screen. Lots of choice of movies and TV shows. Lots of music. A few games and overall a really nice experience.
Big tick of approval from the daughter who instantly started watching a movie. Tick from me too.
Of interest to me was the in-flight tail camera - which Id seen on a documentary. The A380 has been fitted with a tail camera looking forward so that you can literally watch takeoff, landing and cruise. I loved it and by the end of the flight everyone had discovered that feature and we all watched the landing into LAX....cooool!!!
People started getting on....and more....and more....and more. Looking back down the aircraft it looked like there were thousands of seats all neatly squashed together. I sat in my seat. Now I should state I'm an over 6 foot guy with much of my height in leg length. It still astounds me that most airlines don't cater to tall people. On the 747-400 it was so squashed my legs went around the seat and hit the person in front's armrrests. Needless to say it made flying a pretty immobilising activity and after 15 or so hours sitting like this, my back goes out with spasms and a funny tingling feeling goes down my right leg. Not nice. Not funny either.
So this seat, Id have to say was very marginally bigger. Marginal. They redesigned the seat so you have more room in front (aka they made the seat thinner) but your actual leg room is no different. My knees still touched in front. They did have this funky little net thing under the seat in front of you which you can put your feet in that can elevate your feet off the ground. I'm sure that would be nice for children and smaller people but not bigger guys.
We begin to taxi towards the runway. Daughter is still watching the movie and bear in mind she has had a fair amount of flying under her belt already so she knows what to expect. Lots of loud noises. Push back into the seat and sit there for 13 hours. The A380 begins its takeoff roll. She's still watching the movie. We lift off the ground. She's still watching the movie. The guy over from me comments how quiet it is. My daughter looks up in shock and asks "Have we taken off?? I didn't hear a thing!". And quiet it was. Ultra quiet and no jet roar like a 747-400. Wonderful. Truly a pleasant thing to not have your ears bleed from the blast. Awesome.
Second tick of approval.
After we were off and running I decided to go for a walk around. Up the front and the back of the plane they have these kinda spiral staircases. I go to the back one and take a peek up into premium economy. The seats in my opinion in there are what the whole plane should have in economy. Enough room to be able to stretch out and while they aren't a bed seat like in Business, represent a good choice. I like this option. Though surely were in the 21st century now where these massive airliners should have more room for everyone right?
The rest of the flight is pretty much the same as every flight. You get some food - which I don't complain about. Strangely I actually find it ok and quite nice especially compared to any American airline which serve terrible food and have the audacity to try and make you pay for it.
Once we landed and got off the plane I was in back pain again. After 13 hours, despite their claims of room and better passenger comfort I really found little if any difference. I had back pain again for days. I thought it might have been just me because I'm taller. So It was interesting that when my wife got off the plane today she termed it as squashed and no different. My son called it "Not comfy".
I guess the question is, would I fly on it again? Let me preface this with outlining the carrier choices for this route. There's Qantas or United (or possibly even Air NZ if I routed to Auckland first). In a decision between United and Qantas I would choose Qantas everytime and specifically this A380 service given it is better than the (often broken down and delayed**) 747-400 flights. I wont go into why United aren't an option....nope sorry.Overall though I have to say I did find this a better experience than usual - pluses for me was the quieter experience and the superior in flight entertainment. Mucho better. For the average Joe of average height you will probably find it quite a bit better than I did. Its a curse being tall sometimes.
** Out of my last 4 flights aside from this return sector connection all of them were delayed due to mechanical/equipment failure with a minimum of an hour and one was 4 hours with a broken autopilot.