Saturday, November 17, 2007

Airbus 380

Little did I know when I booked my holiday vacation to Australia months in advance, that I would have the distinction of being one of the first to fly in the world's first commercial Airbus 380. The chance came actually at the end of my holiday on the return flight from Sydney to Singapore. In only its second full week in service, I was fortunate enough to climb on board Singapore Airlines' newest and proudest addition to their fleet, which just happens to be the world's largest commercial aircraft ever built.

When I first approached the A380 my initial thought was that it didn't seem as massive as I had expected. That notion was quickly abandoned when I saw a Boeing 777 taxi next to the A380, making the large-body 777 look like a small toy. Make no mistake about it, this is a gigantic aircraft. To give you some perspective, the total volume of the fuselage is 1,570 square meters, which is equal to a space that could hold 4.5 million tennis balls. The fuel tanks can hold up to 310,400 litres, which is the equivalent of 4.5 million Singapore Sling cocktails. The height of the A380's tail is the equivalent of 8 stories off the ground. Airports that will use the A380 have had to retro-fit their gates in order to accommodate this behemoth. In Sydney, we all boarded using two separate jetways. One for the Main Deck and another for the Upper Deck.

The A380 can hold upwards of 800 passengers at full capacity, but very few airlines will configure their class sections in this manner. Singapore Airlines (SQ), who has the exclusive rights to be the first and only airline currently to fly the A380, has configured theirs to hold 471 passengers and 18 crew. SQ has divided the massive double-decker in the following manner: The first 1/3 of the Main Deck is for First Class and the remaining 2/3 is for Economy Class. There is a spiral staircase at both the front and the back of the cabin that connects to the Upper Deck. Upstairs SQ has divided the first 2/3 for Business Class and the remaining 1/3 for another section of Economy. The cabin classes on SQ's A380 are simply amazing. I have long flown with SQ since arriving in Asia and they have done nothing to ever tarnish their global ranking as being the best airline in the world, and with their cabin class implementation of the new A380, it is an amazing step up in comfort and entertainment in every class.

First Class on SQ, or what they are calling "Suites", is the coupe de gras of luxury air travel. Passengers here enjoy a self-contained living space with a sliding door, 23 inch LCD screen, and the now famous fully flat lie-down bed that creates your own bedroom in the sky. Of course SQ pulls out all the stops with rose petals on the bedding, gourmet cuisine, and their trademark service. In case you were wondering, Yours Truly was not successful in my begging for an upgrade to First Class. I'll have to keep my Suites visit in my dreams for the time being, but not to worry as the other cabins are no slouch when it comes to new features.

Business Class brings you a tailored environment for work and relaxation. Integrated business software applications are included in the in-seat entertainment module, just in case you wanted to crank out one more slide presentation before you land. USB data ports to accommodate memory sticks allow for easy storage. But who really wants to work on a flight anyway? The big kicker here is the huge leather seat that could almost fit two skinny posteriors at one time. This coupled with a 15 inch LCD screen and loads of entertainment.

Last but not least is Economy Class. This is the section of which I am very familiar. It is configured in a 3-4-3 seat layout and leg room was comparable to a Boeing 777, yet better than a 747. My favorite part was the completely upgraded KrisWorld, which is the name for SQ's on-demand in-seat entertainment center. Countless movies, TV shows, and a seemingly endless music catalog, all available on-demand on an 11 inch LCD screen, had me fully engaged for most of the seven hour flight back to Singapore. Economy Class also is treated to normally Business Class features on the A380 as USB, network, and video ports are all integrated into the seatback for access.

What was the most astonishing thing for me about the A380 beyond its size and window dressing, was the quietness of the cabin, even at full take-off. You can just imagine how powerful those four Rolls Royce engines are to be able to lift the world's largest commercial aircraft off the ground. For passengers inside the A380 however, the take-off and subsequent flight is dramatically quieter than anything I have ever experienced. Engine technology as well as insulation and material design has produced a cabin that is functional and comfortable, even for 471 people.

Being one of the first to fly the A380, in only its second week in operation, will go down as a major lifetime experience for an airplane buff like me. I spend countless hours on these metallic birds traveling for business and even occasionally for pleasure. It was truly amazing to experience this engineering marvel first hand and to fly on the newest and biggest bird in the sky.