Flying the Emirates A380 in Coach (Part One)

Sorry it took me an extra day to put this together, but it was no easy feat. The A380 is one big plane, and I have plenty to talk about. Because of that, I’ve decided to split this post in half. Today, I’ll cover life on the lower deck, in the economy cabin. Tomorrow, I’ll go back to the fancy pants world of business and first class on the upper deck. I’m also doing things differently this time in that I’m focusing on videos instead of photos. If you want to see all the photos and videos, go here.

You might remember when I flew on the A380 demo flight out of LAX late last year. At the time, I talked about the airplane itself, but the interior didn’t matter because it was just the Airbus house interior. This time, it was outfitted with the full Emirates product, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on here . . . mostly.

But first, let me say this. My seat this time was right on top of the unbelievably massive wing, fairly close to the engines. The noise from those engines was significantly less than I remembered sitting behind the wing last time. It was virtually silent from where I sat, and that was impressive in itself considering its size. This plane feels like a tank, in a good way.

But getting on the plane would have to wait. It all started out slowly when our aircraft was delayed. As we waited for the plane to arrive outside the fantastic Flight Path Learning Center at LAX, we were all of a sudden taken aback by an American 757 landing against the traffic pattern (to the east). Needless to say, it was the emergency landing that the news covered thoroughly. That actually delayed the A380′s arrival by another 15 minutes since they had to briefly close the south runways.

Once the plane arrived, there was the usual press conference, handshaking, blah blah blah. You guys don’t care about that (and neither did I, really). Let’s get to the plane itself. I was seated in coach while my friend and still photographer (at least for this event) Paul Tomasiello from Expedia was seated in business class. (Not sure how he pulled that one off.) So they had everyone in coach board using the rear stairs and everyone in business board using the front stairs. Nobody was seated in first, as far as I know.

Once onboard, the first things that caught my eye were the gigantic seatback televisions. They are truly massive for a coach seat. Emirates has set this up so that the entire bottom deck is a sea of coach, so seeing all the screens flicker in unison was an interesting sight. I walked for a few miles before finally reaching my seat over the wing. (They need water stations every mile or two on that thing.) The aircraft is set up in a 3-4-3 configuration, and I had the middle seat on the left side. Shortly after sitting down, the guy in the window somehow self-upgraded himself and I never saw him again. So, we had a nice empty middle seat.

The economy seat itself proved to be comfortable. There is a good amount of legroom on board, to the point where my knees didn’t get very close to the seatback. I was surprised to see that the seatbacks were stuffed full of inflight magazines and catalogs, so clearly they haven’t gone paperless just yet. Once they do, there will be even more room.

The seats have a nice recline. It’s the style of recline that brings the front of your seat forward so you don’t disturb the person behind you as much. That can be a pain when there isn’t much legroom, but in this case it worked out well.

Let’s talk about connectivity. This thing is seriously connected. There’s a universal power outlet in each armrest and a USB port in the back of each seat. There’s also a place to hang a coat on your seat as well as a cupholder that spins loosely to keep your cup level regardless of the pitch of the airplane.

Then there’s that big pretty screen. You can do all kinds of great stuff with this system. There are something like 1,000 movies, tv shows, games, music, etc. They also have the ability to share screens – which I believe means that you and your seatmate can watch the same thing at the same time on your own screens.

There’s a great map (which may be the same one that Air New Zealand uses?) and it even shows you the registration number of your airplane. That gets the official seal of airline dork approval. There are also three different camera views. One is taken from the nose pointing forward, one is taken from the tail pointing forward, and another looks straight down. I saw this on a South African A340 once before, but that didn’t prevent me from being entertained by it for a long time.

After making myself comfortable, it was time to get airborne. Check out this massive wing. Believe it or not, that’s a wingtip in the distance.


August 5, 2008
Emirates #7224 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 1204p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 133p
LAX: Imperial Terminal, Runway 25L
Aircraft: A6-EDA, Airbus A380-800, ~250/489 passengers
Seat: 61B
Flight Time: 1h29m

Shortly after takeoff, the seatbelt sign came off, but I waited for the crowd rush to die down before 051 Me Upstairstaking my own tour of the plane. While we waited, they brought by some very tasty appetizers (mmmm, foie gras) followed by ample, flowing Dom Perignon.

I waited for Paul to come downstairs to visit us peons before we heading backwards on the guided tour. We stopped by the crew rest facility taking up the middle of the last few rows of the plane, passed the row with oxygen masks hanging down, and finally reached row 88, the last row in coach. After that, we took a trip up the winding rear staircase (felt like a cruise ship back there), and finally made it up to the rarefied air of the upper deck.

As I mentioned, this post is getting long, so come back tomorrow and I’ll have all the details on the upper deck. If you can’t wait, you can see all my pictures from the trip here.

19 Responses to Flying the Emirates A380 in Coach (Part One)

  1. John M. says:

    Ooooh, that’s so cool. Too bad all the other airlines will probably cram 1100 seats into the thing, essentially making it a slave ship.

  2. Really Really fantastic piece!. I know the chore it is to make these videos happen while traveling and make them look good. Kim and I have dreamed of shooting this plane for Jet Set Life for a long time and haven’t been able to make it happen. We learned so much and felt like we were right there with you. Thanks Rob

  3. Emily says:

    Thanks, Cranky Flier!

    We’re excited about this plane too : )

    http://www.aerochannel.com/features/2479965

  4. Dan Webb says:

    Awesome, I’m jealous!

  5. Lucky says:

    Excellent report Brett, sounds like a great time!

    I know I’m skipping ahead here a bit, but my curiosity is getting the best of me. In the tour of the “spa” I heard the guy say that they schedule 25 minute blocks with five minutes of showering. Does that mean they literally shut the water off after five minutes, or what?

    Seems pretty quick….

  6. Awesome post Brett! When the Emirates A380 landed at JFK, we weren’t allowed to tour the Economy Cabin, due to time limitations (which they weren’t making up). I’m glad you put up such a detailed account and videos of the Economy Class. It’s good to know that it’s not as cramped for space as some had expected, and there are large screens in Economy class as well.

    Though, I think they’re really going to make most of their money from the Business and First Class to the US routes. How would you compare that with the Singapore Airlines’ product? I think SIA has one-upped Emirates here. You can check out my photos and videos from the JFK landing of the Emirates A380 here: http://simpliflying.com/2008/emirates-a380-inaugural-flight-to-jfk-live-coverage

  7. @ Lucky: I remember the CEO mentioned at JFK that the water runs for a total of 5 mins. And this is indicated by lights that turn from green to amber to red, as you have less time left. At the same time, if you turn off the shower, the timer remains and the water still runs for your remaining time.

    Point to note: Emirates has got one person dedicated to cleaning the plane, and the showers are cleaned every time they are used!

  8. David SF east bay says:

    Just wondering, you said your knees didn’t get very close to the seat back. Didn’t I once read that you said you were not that tall? Would someone over 6′ have a knee to seat back issue?

  9. The Traveling Optimist says:

    I’ve always wondered…..do new planes have a new car smell? I’m also still trying to find footage of the wing during takeoff from the leading edge, in front of the engine fans. I’d like to hear how quiet it is from that vantage point along with seeing the wing deflection at lift off. The “bend” is noticable from CF’s vantage point but it also assured me of one thing. I’ll NEVER sit directly over a wing that big – ya can’t see anything else for 14 hours!!!

  10. CF says:

    Lucky – What Shashank says is my understanding as well, though there are actually TWO dedicated spa attendants. Unreal.

    Shashank – I’ve never flown Singapore, so it’s hard to compare.

    David SF – Good memory. I am only 5’8″ so I’m not tall, but my perception was that it was fairly close to what you get on JetBlue (in the back, not up front). When they get rid of all the paper in the seatback pocket, that will make it even roomier.

    Optimist – I definitely think there’s a “new” kind of smell to newer planes, but that’s not like a new car thing. Maybe it’s just not dirty.

  11. bryan SFO says:

    CF, I love the footage; watched every video. Thanks!

    But, dude, I hate to be the eco-conscience nag, but did they REALLY need to take off and fly around for you guys to take pictures?????

  12. Anon Coward says:

    I love the tail cam… cabins need some perking up tho… you’d think with all that oil money they could afford some richer colors…

  13. CF says:

    bryan – Probably not, but do they really need a shower onboard?

    To be fair, this wasn’t primarily a media thing – they took a lot of travel professionals up as a perk. Considering they’re starting service to LA in just a couple months and they have a lot of seats to sell, it’s not a bad way to spend their money.

  14. Pingback: Saturday Links #5 at Dan Webb

  15. Cool stuff.

    PLEASE don’t encourage “paperless” airplanes. Some of us still love inflight (and other) magazines. There’s something about a gloss photo of a tropical beach that just never looks as sublime on an LED screen.

  16. Cool stuff.

    PLEASE don’t encourage “paperless” airplanes. Some of us still love inflight (and other) magazines. There’s something about a gloss photo of a tropical beach that just never looks as sublime on an LED screen.

    Not to mention the route maps, which I still pore over…hundreds of flights later.

  17. A great experience, I remember attending Singapore Airlines A380 media event, both Singapore Airlines & Emirates A380 are ground breaking.

  18. Dagmara says:

    Hello, great piece of work, this review! A great preview to what the experience will be like.
    I will be flying Emirates A380 on 6 July from London Heathrow to Dubai, and then to the Maldives. Could you tell me which economy seats are the best to book, ie. are there emergency exit seats with lots of legroom? On the Emirates seating diagram I noticed some seats which were only 2 in a row, are these good seats? You wouldn’t remember the good seat numbers, by any chance, would you? :))

    Thanks in advance for your help!

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