The Airbus A380

By Sarah Arkinstall

The 15th anniversary of the Airbus A380's maiden voyage was a quiet unmarked day this April. The skies were equally silent. As were major international cities across the world, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rumours of her retirement circulated.

Rewind to the late 20th Century. Airbus was imagining a plane that would compete with Boeings 747 superjumbo, that was dominating the market. Enter the A380, the giantess of the sky, whose size is symbolic of the revolutionary dreams she embodied. To provide a superior level of comfort, luxury, peace and space for all travellers alike. Whilst the airlines were offered a highly efficient plane, with a range of 8,000 nautical miles, innovative fly-by-wire technology & room to create a unique on-board experience.

In the years since her highly anticipated maiden voyage of 2005, she has flown approximately 120 million passengers across the globe. Yet rather than celebrating this journey to 2020, we are instead presented articles by analysts and journalists regarding her demise. A topic that has followed her since the beginning. So in opting for a different viewpoint, let’s take a step inside…

Many of you reading this would have flown on an A380. I recall my first trip, a 14hr long haul from Australia to Dubai. I was embarking upon a new chapter, to work as Cabin Crew. This airliner, whose size surprised me, would become my home in the sky. I would go on to spend four years flying in it, with freedom to explore its entirety.

I was working in a post 9–11 aviation world. The visits to the flight deck that I had as a child, were a thing of the past. So I was well aware of my position of privilege to be allowed such freedom of movement in an aircraft. I never failed to re-live the excitement of having the best view in the plane. It was a simple knock on the flight decks door, smile at the camera, enter to say hello… & linger to see sunset, London Bridge, the Himalayas, or simply a stunning sea of clouds below. Often forgetting completely about time, the next service, and call bells.

The pilots would receive a phone call summon from which ever manager I had. To which I would whisper to them, “Say you had to go to the toilet!” Relating to a company policy to never leave the flight deck with only one crew present, implemented after the tragic Germanwings 2015 incident. But was my key to justifying my prolonged stay. Thanks to the newer design of the lower-deck Crew Rest Compartment (CRC), I can even say that I’ve napped in the cargo area.

So true to form, let’s get back to the cabin and see what it is all about. As I walked down either of the dual aisles en route to Paris, New York, Sydney, Tokyo, Mauritius, or London, I would see hundreds of faces. Probably yours. You’d often confuse me with my colleagues, as we tend to look alike in uniform. I would serve you wine, dinner, provide toys for your children, assist you with the inflight entertainment service, or simply have a chat in the social area.

The aircraft made my job to ensure you were enjoying yourself easy. I just had to provide the extras and solve unexpected issues, on a normal flight. Airbus was delivering on its promise of an improved standard of travel. What’s more this was not just for those on the upper deck travelling in Business or First Class. Though I do recall one gentlemen, in Economy, on a Paris sector pulling out his own wine glass. Whether it was for the environment or the wine I can only speculate…but he was not using any plastic-tumblers that day.

In spite the improved cabin environment in Economy, people were still incredibly curious to see upstairs. It was not uncommon for a tour request to be made, which could be available at the Pursers discretion, but only after other passengers had disembarked. Or, those more impatient travellers try to sneak up the aft staircase during the flight. Little do they realise this leads directly into the Business Class galley. So they’re awkwardly busted by 8 cabin crew, often after service who are enjoying the untouched catering of the salmon starters, lentil soups, or fruit platters. Though without the comfort of a specially designed seat. However a metal container for a recently promoted crew can be made to look like a throne to anyone climbing the stairs from below.

Airbus really designed this plane with the passengers comfort in mind. Business Class seats are more spacious then previously seen, not entirely a suite, however the design ensures maximum privacy, a fully reclining bed, and a personal side bar. They have also successfully removed the dreaded middle seat from Business, which is always the last allocated in any cabin. Whilst First Class passengers frequently leave their private suites, in order to socialise in the on-board Lounge located at the aft of the upper deck. Exploring this aircraft is apparently part of the voyage for all onboard.

Since the YouTuber, Casey Neistat, posted his Emirates First-Class experience online two years ago it has had over 47 million views. Admittedly sneaking into First Class shower spas is a tad harder, than up a staircase, so the online tour has had to do for many. Airbus even have a website dedicated to assisting you to book on this aircraft; it is the clear passenger favourite. I always found it amusing when I had passengers tell me they were disappointed, upon boarding, to see that we were going on a Boeing. Some people don’t check their plane, they just checked the route. Others are a little more savvy.

There are a number of two-class A380s within the Emirates fleet. These are a step towards increasing capacity from the average 525 (10 First, 76 Business & 439 Economy), though no airline currently operates the plane at its maximum certified capacity of 853 passengers in the all Economy configuration. If you’re flying on one, you can book an economy seat on the upper deck. Even though it’s Economy, it certainly feels Premium. The slight reduction of ratio of crew to passengers, makes it a smoother service. Have any non-Londoners, boarded a double decker bus and sat downstairs? I think not.

The A380 brings excitement back to aviation. It truly is an experience. Admittedly my previous airline has been her champion, having the worlds largest fleet comprising of 115 aircraft. They’ve made it work for them by dreaming big.

So why then has her demise been such a hot topic? With such a grand aim it is hardly a surprise that parallels are drawn between the SuperJumbo and last centuries revolutionary plane, the Concorde. Naturally people have wondered if her story shall have a similar fate, to disappear.

The debate surrounding her success has existed long before Covid-19 impacted the aviation industry. Loudly have skeptics spoken, and they are fast to shine a spotlight on an obstacle. Critics have pointed out unprofitability, the high costs associated with operating four engines, the lack of a second-hand market or an unsustainable demand, for many years. But these are the perspectives of those detached from the experience on-board.

Simon Calder (2020) for The Independent concludes, “Like the super sonic jet, while passengers will miss the SuperJumbo, the world will not.” The difference here that he fails to recognise is that the Conconde was for an elite few transatlantic passengers, till it’s charter days, whereas the Airbus A380 is for everyone. The world will miss it.

Aviation is an industry that attracts those passionate about flight. We have journeyed from BirdMen to Kitty Hawk, from Supersonic to Superjumbo. They believe in making the impossible possible. I have no doubt whatever comes in the post-Covid era for aviation will continue to inspire.

It is the planes that give us wings, the pilots that master them, but it is humans that fly. Adaption is the answer, as we’re not going to forget the world above the clouds and beyond our own boarders anytime soon.

In celebration of the Airbus A380s 15th anniversary, I leave you with my favourite fact about the Emirates interior. Have you ever noticed the starry ceiling? Like I did on my first journey… it’s designed by NASA to represent the real stars. She really is something special.

Sarah flew over four years with Emirates as Cabin Crew. Visited over 75 countries. She left the Airline in 2019 to pursue a career as a Commercial Pilot. She really did never want to leave the flight deck.

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