Bloviating about which plane to choose, or why I keep avoiding the A380

a380

I’ve said multiple times that the plane I most want to fly is the A380. As someone who hates turbulence, I’m intrigued by its gigantesse and supposed smooth ride. I always get excited when I see the Emirates A380 that sometimes comes into view near my house en route to SFO. (Why it seems to be Emirates every time and never any of the other airlines that routinely fly A380s to SFO is a good question.) Finally, there’s something that just seems too cool about a full double-decker plane.

I also like the A380’s hilariously ugly, bloated outer profile, as if Airbus issued a design directive that the 747 was too majestic to compete with, so they might as well go in the extreme other direction. It’s so homely and ungainly, it really brings home the miracle of flight that such a pudgy lump of a plane is even able to get off the ground. You do you, A380.

Between Air France, Lufthansa, and British Airways, there are no shortage of options to go to and from Europe on an A380. However, for one reason or another, I always decide against it, which has me wondering if they’re going to go out of service before I ever get the chance to fly on one. My first A380 flight booking was on Air France in their crappy business class, but I ended up changing my trip to travel via Chicago instead (on United, in their crappy first class). And most recently, I was planning to book a flight on British Airways from London back home, and availability in first class to San Francisco via A380 was wide open. However, I was also able to find tons of availability to San Jose on the new 787-9, which has BA’s newest first class product. So which to choose – A380 to SFO or 787 to SJC? I ended up going with the 787, and I’ll tell you why.

(Note to sites whose pictures I have used: I have tried to properly credit photos, but if you’d like me to take them down, just let me know and I’ll do it right away.)

First, here’s a great view of the A380 first class seat from Luxury Travel Expert. I used this image because it provides a good view of what I would consider the wasted space in the A380 suite. Because the layout is 1-2-1 on the lower deck of the A380, there’s no reason for these seats to be any less roomy than other, more highly rated first class products (Lufthansa for instance). BA staggers the seats slightly to increase the density to 14 seats, but you still get tons of space. However, there is an enormous console between the seat and the window, and aside from a storage compartment, that space doesn’t really add anything to the overall suite. The seat/bed is still fairly narrow as a result (at least in first class relative terms).

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One of my concerns booking the 787 was that the narrower fuselage width would make for a tighter seat than the much wider A380 lower deck. However, BA’s newest product looks very intelligently laid out to maximize the space you do get. Here’s a photo (from British Airways) that I found in a very thorough review on Airline Reporter:

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The general feel of the seat is the same, with a slightly staggered configuration but overall pretty roomy. It looks like there may actually be less foot room here, since your feet go underneath the TV, whereas they’re unobstructed on the A380 – although it definitely doesn’t look like the little tiny foot compartment you see on some business class products. The big difference here, however, is that the shelf that juts out from the window is open underneath, meaning you can stretch out almost all the way to the window, rather than having a giant immobile console in your way. At least from comparing photos, it looks like the 787 seat actually has more usable width than the A380 seat, although I’d love it if someone who has flown both could weigh in in the comments.

Other reasons I gravitated toward the 787… Well, the huge TV is a pretty big draw. I don’t like TVs that fold out from the wall, so I’d rather have a fixed TV – and it certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s enormous. Also the fit and finish of the cabin looks incredible. This brings up a good point that I have meant to explore in other blog posts, but it gets to the question of what exactly makes a great first class cabin. Obviously there should be tons of space, but is that the only criteria? A lot of the reviews of BA first mention the incredibly stylish cabin en route to calling it a glorified business class cabin due to the quality of the seat (and admittedly, the layout on the 747 and 777 really do look like jazzed up business class seats). Comparing 787 first class products, here’s a picture of Xiamen Air’s first class cabin courtesy of One Mile at a Time:

xiamen-first-class-787-1

Compared to BA, this looks wider and roomier, but it also looks considerably shittier. The plasticky finish is a far cry from the chrome and stitched leather trim found on BA. So which would you prefer? Would you rather have seat width and foot room above all else, or is there value in your surroundings being luxurious?

Personally, I’m not sure where I come down on that question, although I also don’t think I have flown enough of these products to have a strong opinion either way. Ultimately, I think it’s one part of a larger confluence of factors, from the quality of the food, entertainment, seat, service, etc. I could put up with a dingy, generic looking cabin if everything else were amazing; similarly, all the stitched leather in the world wouldn’t make up for an uncomfortable seat, rude service, and inedible food (which I realize is how some people describe first class on BA!).

Back to this award, though, the final reason I chose SJC is the most practical: the schedule. Both SFO and SJC are day flights, but the SFO flight gets in at 6:45PM, or 2:45AM London time. I’d much rather leave earlier in the day and arrive at SJC a few hours earlier, even if that means a longer drive home. Plus, leaving London at 1PM fits our overall itinerary much better, since we’ll have an overnight layover at the Sofitel attached to the airport and a few hours to enjoy the Concorde room before the flight. I’d rather do it this way than starting somewhere else early in the morning and waiting out a layover in London, since boarding a long haul flight when I’m already tired is kind of a slog, even in premium cabins.

And so, my date with the A380 will have to wait for another trip, although I can’t say I’m disappointed to be flying 787s to and from Europe (assuming I don’t get equipment-swapped). Lastly, here are a few other random things that have sprung up around this award booking that are worth noting:

  • I booked through Alaska, which provided the itinerary from Copenhagen with an overnight stop in London automatically. However, to get BA to do the same, I had to put in London as a stopover; otherwise, it only showed me flights with same-day connections.
  • I love that I was able to choose a seat and meal preference online using BA’s confirmation number. All the partner bookings I’ve made through Aeroplan have required calling the operating carrier to do that. While it has never been too painful, I always prefer doing that kind of thing online. I’m annoyed that the window seats in row 1 are blocked, though.
  • In general, I have been impressed with BA’s website. Looking at the itinerary online, I was able to find information on the lounge in Copenhagen, as well information on the First Class concierge that I can use to book Concorde Room cabanas or spa treatments. It’s the little things, you know? Especially RE: lounges, British Airways doesn’t operate a lounge in CPH, so I appreciated that they still had information on the lounge that would be available to me as a business class passenger. Most of the time in my experience, airlines only offer information on their own or alliance-operated lounges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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