On most of my posts, I spend a lot of time picking apart numbers, doing research, and gathering my thoughts before putting together what hopefully ends up being something you enjoy reading. Today, you won’t see any of that. My post today is one of pure airline dork bliss. Yesterday, I took a ride on the A380, and here’s how it went.
Airbus brought their A380 back to LAX this week, but instead of just a static display, they, together with Qantas, decided to have a 2 hour flightseeing trip for about 150 people. When the offer came into my inbox, I obviously jumped at the chance.
The weather has been far from perfect in LA recently. We’ve had a lot of smoke from the fires, gray days thanks to the marine layer, and some hot dry Santa Ana winds to keep things interesting. This morning we’re even seeing rain. But when I woke up yesterday, there was none of that. It was a picture perfect Chamber of Commerce day that’s usually reserved for the Rose Parade every year. Perfect.
Our flight was to depart at 730a, so I arrived early to make sure I didn’t miss anything. The event began at the Flight Path Learning Center museum which resides in the Imperial Terminal building. (If you haven’t been there, go.) I checked in and despite my best efforts to show some skin, ended up with a coach boarding pass. It was blank, so they said just take any coach seat once onboard. Though they said photo ID would be required, they never checked it. But don’t worry. They did make me take my shoes off as I went through security screening.
I milled about the museum eating a continental breakfast and filling up on LAX history until about 645a when they called us for boarding (I think that’s when it was, I was a bit groggy). I jumped to the front and ended up being the second one to head out to the plane. We were guided on to a long red carpet (at left) which led us to the towering stairs up to the beast. The flight attendants at the door took my boarding pass and then I headed onboard eager to look around.
November 29, 2007
Qantas #380 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 730a Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 930a
LAX: Gate Imperial Terminal, Runway 25L, Dept :11E
LAX: Gate Imperial Terminal, Runway 25L, Arr :33E
Aircraft: F-WWJB, Airbus A380-841, Airbus House Colors, ~150/519
Flight Time: 1h17m
You won’t hear me bothering to review the interior of this plane. This the Airbus demo, so the seats aren’t actually seats that any airline has decided to use. This is just what Airbus set up too woo potential buyers (and apparently this trip is the last one before they rip it out and prep it for delivery). What I will talk about is the plane itself.
My first impression was that it would be an awesome place to play hide-and-go-seek. It is just a massive aircraft.That could partially be because there wasn’t anyone else on board, but more likely it’s just because . . . it’s a massive aircraft. On the lower deck, coach seating will be in a 3-4-3 setup, just like on the 747 main deck, but it did seem somewhat bigger. Part of that may be the illusion of big windows. See, the outer glass window doesn’t appear to be too much larger than normal, but the inner plastic window is very large and it funnels down to the outside. It really opened the cabin up.
I started walking back and, assuming we’d takeoff and loop around to the south, took the first non-bulkhead window in coach. That put me just in front of the wing, as you can see by my pictures. After sitting down, the first thing I noticed was the curvature of the cabin walls (at right). When you’re on a 747, the walls seem to go almost straight up and down on the main deck. On this plane, it appears to curve out from the bottom before straightening out. That made it uncomfortable to actually rest my head on the wall. So, if you’re in coach and you’re going to sleep, don’t plan on using the walls.
I walked backwards while everyone else was boarding and went up the spiral stairs. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let anyone sit in coach up there for the flight, but I did have a look around. The upstairs cabin is a more humane 2-4-2 in coach. The slope in the walls is noticeable, and like on the 747’s upper deck, there is a nice little compartment between the window seat and the window (at left). That’s a great feature, and I think it’s clear that unless you’re traveling in a group of three, upper deck seating if the way to go, if you have the choice.
I came back down when we were told to buckle up and get ready for the VIPs. VIPs? Well it was just LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He came on with a gaggle of television cameras, and made his way through the plane. When he got to coach, he exclaimed, “This is where the people sit!” and then proceeded to shake everyone’s hands and ask their names. That took awhile, but when he was done, he left. Weird, right? Well apparently there’s an old California law that prohibits government officials from accepting transportation. I hear this dates back to railroad times to help prevent corruption. So, even though this was a flight that came right back to where it started, he still couldn’t accept the trip.
Once he was off, it was time to go. We pushed back and taxied slowly down to Runway 25L. Right before we took the runway, a Qantas 747 conveniently landed right ahead of us. Cool.
We turned on to the runway and I had my seatback video tuned to the camera in the tail pointing forward. The engines spooled up and we were soon barreling down the runway. (Video of initial takeoff roll) Soon enough we were leaping off the runway. Below is a 16 second video I took as we become airborne. Notice all the helicopters swarming as we go by.
I’ve also uploaded videos of us climbing over the Pacific, encountering a few bumps, and turning.
As we continued to climb, I just kept focusing on the massive, heaving wing. It is a truly incredible structure, and probably the thing about the A380 that impresses me the most. Just an amazing work of art.
Anyway, as I said, we got up quickly, and that’s no surprise. With only 150 people on board and a short flight, they didn’t have much weight at all. I found out later that we took off at around 360 (369?) tonnes when the max takeoff weight is actually 560 tonnes. Think about that. That’s 1.2m pounds. Holy crap! I believe the 747-400ER can tip the scales at no more than 910,000 pounds if it wants to get airborne.
The seatbelt sign came off very quickly as we continued heading west along the coast toward Santa Barbara (and eventually Hawai’i – I kept my fingers crossed the pilot would keep going). At that point, it became cocktail hour as everyone got up and started mingling. The champagne came out in glass flutes while flight attendants circulated with appetizers, or as one attendant called them, savories. I just went for a walk.
The first thing I wanted to do was check out the noise. The thing I hear most about this plane is how quiet it is. Maybe it was just over hyped, because from where I was sitting, it certainly seemed quiet, but it wasn’t anything shocking. I mean, you still know you’re on an airplane. I went upstairs and discovered that it was a bit quieter up there. Yet another reason to sit on the upper deck.
On this trip upstairs, I pushed past the coach seats and headed into business class. Everyone was doting on the seats, but I went straight to the front where they had two Airbus engineers set up in their stations. Basically, they had a large area of the bulkhead cut out and outfitted with instruments showing exactly what the pilots were seeing on their gauges (at right). The two men at the station were taking copious notes when they weren’t talking to the growing crowd around them. That’s where I learned what our takeoff weight was along with other interesting technical facts. (Ok, they’re probably only interesting to me, so I’ll leave them out.)
I then walked toward the front and made my way down the main staircase to the lower deck. There was a sitting area and a side bar, but it was very crowded, so I just kept going through. That’s when I decided to visit my office, er, the lav. There are a bunch of lavs on this plane, but the one I picked seemed to be the nicest one. It’s the first time I’ve seen a commercial aircraft with a window (at left), and it’s the largest lav I’ve seen since the 777 handicapped lav. There’s PLENTY of room in there for, oh, say, having a lengthy political discourse with an acquaintance, and you get a view.
At that point, we had made our way up the coast toward Monterey and already started our return. Though I had expected a two hour flight, the flight attendants told us that we would shortly be beginning our descent and we would need to be seated. This time, I decided to park myself in a coach seat on the right side behind the wing so I could get a different view. I had been told that the ailerons really move around during turbulence to offset the flexing wing, so I hoped to see some of that. There were a couple of bumps, but I didn’t really see the ailerons move much.
I’m glad I picked this seat, because I had a nice view of Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands before we passed right over LAX (at right). Then we turned east just north of Long Beach (I tried to pick out my house), and looped around for final approach to runway 25L. The graceful glide toward the runway was shattered when the gear made a very loud noise as it deployed. I hoped we hadn’t dropped something, and apparently we didn’t. We landed with a thud and taxied back to where we started.
As I walked off, I noticed there was a spot where a seat should have been but it wasn’t there. I remembered seeing this on the Singapore seat map and thought it looked strange, so I asked about it. It turns out that is the emergency escape hatch from the underfloor crew rest area. So all A380s will have that missing seat. Of course, that led me to ask to see the crew rest area. They were kind enough to let us go down below to find 12 rather small bunks (at left). Compared to other crew rest areas I’ve seen, it did look pretty nice though. After that, it was time to leave the plane and get to work.
We can talk about economics of the plane, whether it will succeed in various markets, blah, blah, blah, but this isn’t the time for that. Something about flying a brand new airplane just makes me act like a little kid again. I simply, truly, enjoyed the ride and forgot about everything else. I think the smile on my face says it all.
If you’d like to see all my pictures in their original sizes, visit http://images.crankyflier.com/A380_Flight/.