real life

A380 – First Impressions

Singapore Airline's A380

Singapore Airlines 9V-SKA Airbus 380 by fox2mike@ flickr

I’m feeling rather euphoric, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m watching a glorious sunrise across Australia’s Eastern seaboard, or because I’m enjoying a quite lovely cup of tea and croissant, or because I’ve got Ultimate Kylie belting out of my noise cancelling headphones, or because I’m on board Singapore Airline’s A380, which is a quite extraordinary aircraft.

First impressions are very positive. The boarding gate at SIN is well organised, and surprisingly small security and boarding queues for a plane carrying 471 people. There are handy boards explaining to people how the split level boarding for economy will work, and the gate manages to board on both levels without actually making it feel like you’re boarding either “upstairs” or “downstairs”.

First step onto the plane, and it actually has that “new plane” smell to it (no, it really does). It’s also big – you can feel the extra space when you walk in. On the top deck, there’s no centrally slung luggage bins, which immediately makes the ceiling higher.

Anyone who flys, even a bit, knows that there are some inequalities in a plane; first, business and economy. On SQ’s A380, the gap between the First Suites and Economy is huge, but that’s more a reflection of sumptuousness of the First Suites rather than a shoddy economy class. You can’t really do a lot about where you fly in the plane – you’re either rich, lucky, or some mix of the two.

So here’s the big thing that I’ve enjoyed from my first A380 flight, and something everyone on the plane will enjoy. It’s humid.

By that I mean that the air feels comfortably damp, as opposed to bone dry as it is in many aircraft. I felt far less dried out than I normally do, and I did a little test by spilling a bit of water on to my napkin. On the worst offenders (yes, hello A340-600 – I mean you), it would be dry in a few minutes, the moisture sucked out of it. On the A380 it was still damp 10-15 minutes later. Bad news if your neighbour spills wine all over you, good news if you don’t appreciate having to down 2 litres of water an hour and then still feeling like a sheet of dessicated sandpaper.

SQ have also seriously upped the game for inflight entertainment. Microsoft should take notes on how good their User Interface to the inflight entertainment is – really clean, clear, and visually attractive. The functionality is good (but is basically a soup-up of the  system which has been in SQ planes for a while). Brilliantly, in C and A, you can use StarOffice applications with a USB key and a little keyboard. Not sure if I’d want to edit Powerpoint on a keyboard the size of a mobile phone, but hey, for those last minute panic edits – why not?

Other nice things. It’s big (did I mention that?), it’s unbelievable quiet and the take off from Singapore was frankly breathtaking by being almost unnoticable. The aircraft appeared to amble down the runway, taking its time, then just gently rotated and went into the air. It simply wasn’t possible to hear the 4 RR engines roar, or feel the point where the wheels lost contact with the ground. Smooth is not even close to describing it.

The amenities are great; I mean, airline toilets are always going to be small for many reasons (you work it out), but these ones are bright and the one with the child-changing area is big enough to have a small party in. (For the amorous; top deck, far front toilet, left hand side).

The touch that I really loved, but wasn’t in use, was the front staircase between the two decks. It’s been inspired by the sweeping staircases from ocean liners, but scaled to fit a commercial aircraft. It’s glamour, 2007 airline style. I liked it. I hope to be able to use it one day.

Overall the A380 really is a wonderous aircraft; the commitment to building “a bloody big plane” could have led to all sorts of horrid things happening in the cabin. In fact, it’s curiously understated (maybe that’s a European thing), and subtly glamorous. It’s so classy, it doesn’t need to shout about it. I’m keen to fly A380 again.

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