Who better to showcase the
wondrous new delights of the world's largest passenger plane
than high quality Emirates Airlines, one of the world's best
airlines (as well as one of the world's most rapidly growing and
Following on from the high
quality cabin layout on A380 launch airline Singapore Airlines,
Emirates goes one better by adding shower/spas to the plane, and
in total offers an improved level of comfort to passengers in
The improved environment of the
A380 adds further to the quality of the experience and helps you
get to your destination feeling less worn out than would be the
case on other planes.
This review is based on a 2
hour demonstration flight from and back to San Francisco in
early August, 2008.
The A380 Flight Experience in
Walking on to the plane, the
first sensation - apart from the beaming cabin crew - was the
'new plane smell'. Yes, new planes, just like new cars,
have a distinctive smell, and this plane had less than 50 flying
hours on it, and still looked and smelled perfectly new.
Moving beyond the transitory
'new plane smell', the lasting impression that is most
apparent about flying on an A380 is actually something that is
absent, rather than something that is present. It is a
much quieter plane, with cabin noise reduced to about half the
typical level on other planes.
This makes it easier to talk
to the person next to you, and reduces a subtle stress on your
body that is caused by the ever-present noise (see our series on
noise cancelling headphones). Your body and brain is
less tired when it doesn't have to automatically cancel out all
the background noise that is otherwise present, and this can
have a definitely noticeable effect on a long flight.
Something else that is
invisible is that the A380 cabin pressure is greater than on
most other planes. The A380 typically pressurizes its
cabin to the equivalent of a 6,000 ft altitude; other planes
typically use a 7,000 - 8,000 ft altitude, with less air in the
cabin. The greater air pressure helps reduce dehydration,
and means your body doesn't have to work so hard to get the
oxygen it needs - two more factors that help contribute to
arriving at your destination in better shape and less exhausted.
A high ceiling and nearly
vertical rather than inward-curving walls in the main cabin (ie
downstairs) makes the plane feel roomier and less
Another positive feature of
the A380 is that the windows are larger than on other planes.
People who have been on
longer rides on the A380 and experienced turbulence report that
- doubtless due to its much greater weight than any other
passenger plane in the sky - the A380 takes a very stately
approach to turbulence, moving slowly rather than sharply in
response to the external turbulence. Passengers with
sensitive stomachs will doubtless appreciate this.
Most other features of the
A380 vary from airline to airline, depending on how each airline
chooses to design their cabin layouts and what extra amenities
they include in their design. And so most of the rest of
this article relates primarily to the Emirates cabin layout
rather than generically to all A380s.
Getting On and Off the A380
The A380 is designed to have
up to three jetways connecting it to the gate area. The
upper jetway is for the 90 passengers in business and first
class, and the two lower jetways are for the 399 passengers in
coach class (ie one jetway per 200 people).
This helps allow for
efficient boarding and deplaning, making it as quick and easy
(and often quicker and easier) to get on and off an A380 as it
is to get on and off any other plane, even a small 737.
This picture is at JFK,
and shows the three jetways coming out from the terminal.
Of particular interest is the upper jetway, which connects
directly to Emirates' lounge in the terminal.
This means the upstairs jetway can only be used for
passengers boarding the plane, because when international
passengers leave the plane they have to first travel a
secure route to and through Immigration and Security, and
being routed through the lounge would not be possible.
So at JFK there are three jetways for boarding but two for
This shows the three
jetways at SFO.
from the terminal/gate area (gate 9 at the international
terminal) and so can be used both for boarding and
This shows, albeit
slightly unfairly, the relative sizes of the A380 and a 747
- I say 'slightly unfairly' because the A380 is much closer
to the camera than the 747.
Note that Qantas - it is a Qantas 747-438 in the background
- will also be taking delivery of its first A380 in
September, and will be flying to Los Angeles from Australia
with the plane from October.
First class is upstairs at
the front of the A380 and comprises 14 'suites' arranged in four
rows each of one on either side and three pairs of two in the
The pairs of seats have a
privacy divider that can be raised or lowered as you may wish,
but the lie-flat beds can't be combined into a single double
The suites are half
partitioned off from the aisles with dividers that go up to eye
level or slightly above for the people in the suites to give a
greater impression of privacy.
In front of the suites is a
small bar/lounge area, and further ahead, on either side of the
staircase leading down to the lower deck, are the two 'spas' - a
fancy name for roomy shower/toilet rooms.
The showers are an
extravagance for Emirates to offer its 14 first class
passengers. They provide 1100lbs of extra fresh water for
the showers (almost 10 gallons per passenger, and with a typical
2 gallon/minute shower head, this gives a good flow of water for
a five minute shower), plus they also have two (not one but
two!) extra staff on board as spa attendants, which probably
represents another 300lbs of weight. And then of course
there is the weight of the various fittings in the spa rooms,
It is interesting to see an
airline add 1400+ lbs of extra weight to their planes - this
weight (and space) could have been used to add perhaps 7 more
seats onto the plane, or to carry more freight in its cavernous
lower deck hold, or to add more fuel to fly further. It is
a costly luxury, but when you consider that a first class fare
to fly roundtrip between New York and Dubai is $16,069, then the
cost of carrying a bit of extra water pales into insignificance.
Each person is allowed to
reserve a spa for a 25 minute period during the flight, and
during their 25 minutes inside the spa they can have a five
minute shower. After the 25 minute use, the spa is closed
for five minutes while one of the attendants cleans it prior to
the next person's use.
All seats have mains power
plugs to power recharges and computers, and they have universal
sized/shaped sockets in them to accept most plugs from most
Of course the seats convert
to lie-flat sleeper beds, and even have a built in massage
Looking forward into one
of the first class 'suites' showing its huge 23" high
definition monitor, and its elegant gold and wood fittings.
This shows the huge flat
panel screen, table, make-up drawer, and, on the right, part
of the personal mini-bar.
The entrance to a first
class suite. The suites have doors that open and close
to give a greater feeling of privacy.
The forward stairway
goes straight up, the rear stairway is curved. Both
are wide and luxurious.
At the top of the
stairway, the horizontal strips of light show where the
'waterfall' artwork is, and on either side are the two spas.
This view inside the
'spa' shows the door into the passenger cabin on the right,
the door into the shower on the left, a wash hand basin and
In the very foreground
is a wc underneath the padded seating.
The spas are very
spacious, definitely room for two people (or even more!) but
Emirates say that they will only allow one person inside the
spa at a time.
The business class section
of the A380 is upstairs, behind the first class section.
It comprises 76 seats, laid out with one seat by the window, two
in the middle, and one on the other window side, a 1-2-1 layout.
Airlines always struggle,
when designing business class seats that can extend all the way
to a 'lie flat' situation, to come up with a design that makes
best use of the space. BA adopted a design compromise that
has seats paired, facing in opposite directions, so as to put
the wide parts of one seat alongside the narrow parts of another
seat (BA business class review
here). Virgin adopted a herring bone approach that has
the seats sort of sticking out into the aisle (Virgin
business aka upper class review here).
The Emirates 'compromise' is
interesting and also problematic. The far forward part of
your seat - that is, the space you'll put the ends of your legs
and feet - is actually underneath part of the seat area in front
This is okay and clever, but
the problematic part is that in order for this to work, they
have to alternate rows, one row with the seat on the outside and
the 'space' alongside the seat on the inside, and then opposite
on the next row, with the space on the outside and the seat on
the inside. The reason this is problematic is because for
some reason it ends up with a varying amount of space for each
seat - the outside seats have more space than the inside seats.
The outside seats have a 48" seat pitch and lie down to become a
79" long bed; the inside seats have a 39" pitch and become only
a 70" long bed.
A 48" seat pitch and 79" bed
is good, a 39" seat pitch is poor and a 70" bed is unacceptable
other than for short people - perhaps people less than 5'6".
The middle seats also
alternate between being next to each other (when they are both
on the 'inside') or relatively far apart (when they are both on
the 'outside'). If you are traveling with a friend, you
would probably prefer to be in two seats close together and
would be disappointed if you were in seats far apart (harder to
talk in flight).
So some of the business
class seats are better than others, but Emirates sells them all
at the same price, so be sure to get the seating you prefer
preassigned to you before your flight.
Like first class, every seat
has a power outlet. The high definition screen for the
entertainment system is midway in size between the 10.5" screen
in coach class and the huge 17" screen in first class.
If you wish to enjoy the
luxury of business class travel on the Emirates' flights between
New York and Dubai, the current cost is $10,499.
This view shows the
layout of the business class cabin, looking from the back,
forwards. Rows of seats alternate between being on the outside,
close to the aisle, and being on the inside, with the
storage space next to the aisle instead.
This makes for some issues and problems - read the
discussion in the text above.
This view looks in the
opposite direction, giving another perspective of the
alternating layout of the seats.
At the top of the rear
curved staircase is this bar and lounge area, with seating
around the outsides. Both first and business class
passengers can enjoy this area.
There's not a lot of space - you couldn't have all 90
business and first class passengers in the bar/lounge for
sure, but our experience on Virgin flights with their small
bar is that very few of the passengers choose to use the
bar, so the space here is probably sufficient for real world
This shows the storage
area alongside each business class seat. The small
screen is a wireless remote control device that can be
removed from its cradle and used to control the
entertainment system - this is useful when you're lying
The remote control unit
is also to be found in the first class suites.
Just joking. Emirates
has yet to embrace the concept of a premium economy cabin and
say that while they've looked at it from time to time, they have
no current plans to add this halfway between economy and
business type of category.
With such a huge gap in
price and quality of travel experience between business and
coach classes, there would seem to be an opportunity to add a
premium economy cabin, but it is hard to argue against what
Emirates currently chooses to do in light of their massive
success and profitability. This is one time I guess I have
to concede 'the airline knows best'.
Economy cabin seating fills
the entire lower deck, and is in a typical 747 type 3-4-3
configuration, with a total of 399 seats.
Seats have a 32" - 33"
pitch, and recline back 6". When you recline the seat, the
seat cushion also slides forward - this is only a moderately
good idea, however, because it moves your knees forward and
closer to the seat in front of you.
While 33" is a generous seat
pitch for coach class, with the seat in front of you reclined
and your seat cushion moved forward, your knees are going to be
close to or in contact with the seat in front of you.
Seats are 18" wide - about an inch wider than seats on most
other planes. An inch might not sound like much, but
with most of us filling most of the width of a seat, an extra
inch can make all the difference between 'too tight' and
A clever little touch is a
cup holder on gimbals that allows you to put your drink in the
holder and have it stay level, even if the plane is moving about
and banking and turning.
Emirates chooses to provide
individual air outlets in the ceiling for each seat, unlike some
airlines and airplanes which no longer offer this.
Massive 10.5" high
definition screens make watching movies a very pleasant
experience. Each row of seats share a couple of power
adapters for the three or four people seated there.
If you want to fly from New
York to Dubai on an Emirates flight in coach class, you'll be
paying something slightly under $1600 for the pleasure
(including all taxes).
you look carefully at this small picture you'll notice the
outside walls are vertical - they go straight up, unlike the
inward curving walls of just about any other plane.
This 'opens up' the cabin considerably, giving a greater
feeling of spaciousness. On the other hand, the
vertical wall is more distant from the window seat and makes
it less comfortable to lean against the wall when sleeping.
Looking at the seating
in coach class from the other end gives you a good view of
the large monitors in the back of every seat.
In Flight Entertainment System
One of the most wonderful
improvements to long flights in recent years has been the
transformation of onboard entertainment. It is only a few
years back when this was limited to an occasional movie shown
from a projector onto a screen at the front of each cabin -
people close to the screen were too close, people far from the
screen were too distant, and people at the right distance had
their view obscured by passengers in front of them. The
color and quality of picture was always poor and often washed
out by cabin or outside light spilling onto the screen, and if
the movie wasn't to your liking, that was your bad luck.
The first big step forward
was individual seat back videos, offering a limited range of
perhaps a dozen movies that played in a rotating schedule.
If you timed it right, you could get to watch a movie from its
start to its finish, but most of the time, you'd end up watching
a movie from somewhere in the middle.
Nowadays, the latest
versions of individual 'In Flight Entertainment' systems (IFE)
are even more enormously improved, offering many more movies to
choose from, and featuring AVOD capabilities - Audio Video On
Demand. This means you can make your choice of movie start
whenever you want it to start - you can pause it, even fast
forward or rewind it. It is the same as having your own
DVD player and a library of DVDs to choose from.
It is now easy to fill even
the longest flight with a mix of eating, drinking, sleeping,
reading, listening to music and watching movies and tv shows,
and even playing video games through the IFE system. More
than once I've found myself regretting that a long flight is
coming to an end, because there was another movie that I still
wanted to watch.
The Emirates AVOD IFE system
is one of the very best in the skies today. It offers over
1,000 channels of movies and other programming. Plus it
gives you access to the moving map display of where the plane is
flying and statistics about when it will arrive, how fast it is
And - unique to the A380 -
it also gives you access to three external cameras on the plane
- one pointing straight forward from the nose of the plane, one
mounted on the tail looking forward and angled slightly down,
and one underneath the plane looking directly down. These
three cameras are fascinating when taking off and landing, and
when flying at lower altitudes, but once you get up high, it all
starts to look the same.
You can also make phone
calls, both to people in other seats on the plane and to people
on the ground, and you can even send SMS text messages to people
Other features include a USB
input so if you want to, and if you have the right cables, you
could connect your camera to the system and look through the
pictures you've taken and have stored in your camera. You
can also route music and video from your own personal
music/video players into the system.
In addition to movies and
music, there are also news channels, destination information,
and even duty free shopping information on the system.
And, for the younger
travelers, and those still young at heart, there are over 100
different games to play. Nineteen of the games are
multi-player games to be played with a seatmate.
The individual seat power
outlets - one per seat in business and first class, and one
between every two seats (ie 2 per block of 3 and 3 for a block
of 4) in coach class offer 110V 60Hz power, with a carefully
designed set of sockets to accept just about every sort of power
plug - US, UK, EU, NZ, Australian, etc. But we were unable
to get the one next to our seat working. A flight
attendant advised that there was only enough power on the plane
to power ten sockets simultaneously, and said we'd have to 'wait
our turn in queue' until the ten people using their sockets
stopped using them, and anyone in queue before us had also had
their turn. On a plane with 489 passengers, this could
mean never getting access to power at all during a long flight.
An Emirates executive
disputed the attendant's 'only ten users at a time' story, and
said he believed everyone could use their plugs simultaneously.
We're not sure he is correct - with 370 outlets for passengers,
and some extra amount of power for crew and cabin services, and
if we say that every outlet was indeed being used
simultaneously, this could represent a load of over 20kW just
for passenger power, and we're somewhat skeptical that the plane
would support that heavy a load just for passenger at-seat power
requirements. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the
middle, but for us, the bottom line was no power, whatever the
One of the three outside
camera views - this one from on top of the tail, looking
forward and slightly down. It makes for fascinating
viewing while the plane is taxiing, taking off and landing.
I've never seen a prouder
and more positive crew than on this plane. The pride of
the Emirates staff - from most junior flight attendant to the
airline's Chief Pilot and Senior VP's - was obvious, even at a
glance and from a distance.
And, happily, they have very
good reason to be proud. The A380 is a lovely plane, and
Emirates have done a great job of fitting out the cabin to give
a positive travel experience to their customers in all classes
Part 4 of a four part
series on the Airbus A380 - please
Airbus A380 antecedents
Differing plans for a 747 successor
A380 completion, configuration, and controversy
Inside an Emirates A380
Thanks to Johnny Jet for four
of the pictures above. His review of the A380 can be seen
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15 Aug 2008, last update
30 May 2021
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