This entry is the third installment of our series highlighting the Airbus A380 fleet’s various cabin configurations. The selection of cabin products and services made by China Southern Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Thai Airways and British Airways the latest carriers to celebrate the super jumbo entry into service, will be discussed.
The A380 aircraft had first entered service with Singapore Airlines in October of 2007. According to Airbus, by May 31st 2011, 49 aircraft had been delivered to 6 of the 18 customer airlines covering the 234-aircraft order book.On March 14th 2013, Airbus celebrated the 100th delivery of its A380 aircraft when Malaysia Airlines received the 6th and final aircraft ordered.
As of April 15th 2014, 128 A380s have been delivered and are active with 10 carriers Singapore Airlines 19, Emirates 47, Qantas 12, Air France 9, Lufthansa 11, Korean Air 8, China Southern 5, Thai Airways 6, Malaysia Airlines 6 and British Airways 5. A total of 324 firm orders have now been received for the aircraft, latest to date lessor Amedeo (formerly known as Doric Lease Corp) firm order for 20 aircraft was announced February 13th 2014.
7. China Southern Airlines: Humble Beginnings
China Southern Airlines has taken delivery of its 5 airbus A380 at a pace of 2 aircraft in 2011, 2 in 2012 with the last one in fleet by March 2013. These Rolls Royce Trent 970-powered aircraft are configured with 430 seats composed by 8 Platinum Private Suites whose designation is simply in lieu of the traditional First Class cabin, 70 First Class seats referring to traditional Business Class seats along with the 428 seats occupying the Economy cabin.
Seating Capacity: 430
The Upper Deck
First Class (Business); 70 seats
Economy Class: 76 seats
The Main Deck
Platinum Private Suites (First Class): 8 seats
Economy seats: 352 seats
First Class: 8 Platinum Private Suites
Employing the designation “Suite” for a First Class product would not be otherwise difficult to assume, had Singapore Airlines elected not to actual install their First Class seats inside private rooms on its A380 First Class. This approach has only been somewhat matched by Emirates (see our Part II) while the rest of the industry has generally settled for a partially enclosed luxurious seat that reclines into an actual bed. Depending on the operator, we’ve mostly seen separation walls of various height enhance the level of privacy surrounding the First Class seat. Despite not having fully enclosed its Platinum product, China Southern Airlines has delivered a robust shoulder height (1.52 m / 5 ft) partitioning scheme protecting a 33-in wide, 82-in pitch purple and white fashioned seat. The 80-in long electronically adjusted seat faces a 23-in flat display housing 600 hours of digital entertainment content. With personal reading and mood lights, laptop and shoe stowage compartment, plus a mini-bar, not even mentioning generous usb and power connections, China Southern simply deserves a lot of credit. The A380 has proven just such an ideal platform to propel product innovation and further brand recognition. Deployed in two 1-2-1 abreast rows, these leather seats are found on the aircraft’s main deck forward-most compartment.
The Business Class (a.k.a First Class 70 seats)
The First Class seating arrangement simply mirrors that of a Business Class despite its name suggesting otherwise. On the upper deck, this cabin has used a configuration that we best describe as rows of 1-2-1 seats alternating with 1-1-1-1 seats. In this format each seat receives a lateral support assembly, underneath of which passenger seated will find enough hollow space to fully deploy their seat into flat bed. Through this clever alignment, a Business Class passenger can never be positioned directly behind a passenger, but instead right behind the assembly securing the precious comfort for stretched legs. Fronted by a 15.6-in LCD also holding 6 hours or 1000GB of digital entertainment, this 87-in pitch, 24-in wide flat bed is a convincing proposition augmented because individually fitted with a mini bar and a 16-in x 7-in retracting table and stowage compartment holding a laptop or shoes. This cabin visual experience however can be quickly challenged by the light blue seat color as, blended with the overall white-colored cabin, can give the impression of plastic furnishings.
The Economy Class: 428 seat.
With 76 Economy Class seats installed on the upper deck behind the First Class in 2-4-2 layout, and the 352 seats deployed on the main deck in the 3-4-3 format, travelers will compromise with the industry standard 32-in pitch offered by the17-in wide adjustable seat with separate movable back and foot rest. That cabin offers plentiful AVOD (Audio and Video On Demand) powered by the 1000 GB (or 6 hours of digital content available throughout the aircraft) channeled through a 9-in wide back-seat display interfaced to a complete office software suite, 50 movies, 300TV shows; 100 CD albums and 25 video games and more.
8. Thai Airways International
Thailand main carrier, Thai Airways has inducted the A380 in its fleet on September 26th 2012. By November 2013, all 6 of the A380 ordered had been delivered to the fleet complete with the 507 seating capacity allowing each aircraft to embark 12 Royal First Class passengers, 60 Royal Silk (Business) passengers along with 435 Economy seats passengers. Thai is another operator having opted for the Rolls Royce Trent 970 engine to equip its A380.
Seating Capacity: 507
The Upper Deck
Royal First Class: 12 seats
Royal Silk Class: 60 seats Economy Class: 58 seats
The Main Deck
Economy Class: 377 seats
Thai Royal First Class 12 seats
Installed on the aircraft’s upper deck, Thai Royal First Class relies on a 1-2-1 abreast seating arrangement covering only 3 rows of seat to deliver a unique fully flat bed experience to 12 First Class passengers. These 26.5-in wide seats, along with their 82-in of pitch when fronted with a 23-in wide LCD and Wi-Fi enabled entertainment system deliver robust value. This seat uses a structured very similar to the one mentioned in the China Southern section, but yet with a smaller waist-height enclosure preserving intimate and private spacing. Unencumbered with the Suite designation, this elegantly pearl colored seat shines by offering a very soberly refined, wood-enhanced environment into a very elegant First Class travel experience.
Thai Royal Silk Class 60 Business Class seats
Positioned on the aircraft upper deck aft of the Royal first Class compartment, the Royal Silk Class cabin aggressive concept is catchy hence adding more light to the sober elegance found on the Royal First Class. The purple color with touch of wood trimmings has been integrated to a 20-in wide flat bed seat which grants passengers 74-in of pitch. This seat is another iteration of the 1-2-1 and 1-1-1-1 staggered/alternating cabin rows we brought to light when previously discussing the China Southern cabin. An ergonomically savvy seat design whose assembly provides a small table on the passengers’ right or left side topping a small hollow space under which the passenger seated behind will find a padded foot support, ultimately positioned to become part of the flat bed. Each seat provides a protective frame surrounding the passenger when laying, certainly adding an acceptable measure of privacy. The interactive touch actuated display offers a respectable 15.6-in.
Thai’s 435 Economy Seats
Occupying the entire main deck of the A380, the 32-in (31-in for some) of pitch on a 18-in wide seat is governed by a 10.6-in seat-back mounted display delivering AVOD worth 100 movies and 150 TV programs.
9. Malaysia Airlines
Another Asian carrier which activated its entire fleet of 6 A380 in less than a year beginning from May 2012 through March 2013, also with Rolls Royce Trent 970-powered has selected aircraft furnished with 494 seats in a three class layout composed of 8 First Class seats, 66 Business Class seats and 420 Economy Class seats.
Seating Capacity: 494
The Upper Deck
Business Class: 66 seats
Economy Class: 70 seats
The Main Deck
First Class: 8 seats
Economy Class: 350 seats
The 8 First Class seats
Malaysia Airlines offers First Class seats on the main deck that are nested within a massive protective shell assembly and providing the passenger with a waist-height all around enclosed space. The seat is positioned to glide forward into a fully flat bed maintaining the passenger forward field of view at all time with the 23-in In Flight Entertainment display. With a 40-in width flat bed, this seat presents up to 89-in of pitch in a 1-2-1 cabin configuration populated with only 2 rows of seats. The dominant impression is that these are simply gigantic huge seats, without any ambiguously remote insinuation of “Suites”! This works extremely well because firmly anchoring the First Class seat as the ultimate travel experience. Upholstered with traits of handcrafting, this product blends suede and leather into a red, maroon and purple delicately balanced finish.
The 66 Business Class seats
Located on the upper deck, the Business Class follows on the First Class trend of large protective seat assembly nests surrounding the actual seats. With the caveat that in the Business Class each assembly houses a pair of seats, instead of a single one in First Class. Pairing seats in this fashion is an effective and economical way to leverage a 2-2-2 seating configuration. The net result is a 22-in wide seat with a 74-in pitch. The screen is a convincing 17-in wide display embedded in the back of the seat frame ahead. However these seats suffer from one drawback, providing a 180 degree flat recline, they are nevertheless deployed at a slight slant angle relative to the floor. This state of affair gives better credence to the motivation behind the 1-1-1-1/1-2-1 alternating configuration on rival China Southern and Thai Business Class. Fact is despite the generous size of the seats assembly, designers could not pull additional room in order to secure the highly necessary fully flat bed business traveler experience.
The 420 economy Seats.
With 10.6-in IFE display embedded in back seats, the 18-in wide seats are quite generous, preserving the 32-in of pitch that also characterize the traditional 3-4-3 configuration on the main deck and 2-4-2 on the upper deck.
10. British Airways
Having built its A380 fleet to operational status after the short span of time it required to acquire 5 of 12 aircraft following the July 2013 fleet induction and subsequent delivery of another 2 aircraft in 2013 and 2 more this year, British Airways is the youngest operator of the type. Being based at the main point of origin of the Kangaroo Route, British Airways could not receive its plane at a better time, with Emirates and Qantas set to dominate the market and Thai and Malaysia and especially Singapore Airlines on the prowl, while simultaneously responding to continental rivals Lufthansa and Air France.
The seating configuration provides 469 total seats on the aircraft with 14 in First Class, 97 in Club World (Business), 55 in World Traveller (Premium Economy) and 303 in World Traveller (Economy) putting British Airways on par with Qantas as the sole 4-cabin A380 operation to date (see Part II).
Seating Capacity: 469
The Upper Deck:
Club World: 53
World Traveller Plus: 55 seats
World Traveller: 104 seats
The Main Deck:
First Class: 14 seats
Club World: 44 seats
World Traveller: 199 seats
The First Class product: 14 seats
Installed on the main deck, the British Airways A380 First Class offers fourteen 198 cm (6’6″) long flat bed seats in a 1-2-1 abreast presentation. Positioning these seats at sideways angle relative to the aircraft forward’s movement has made possible to extract additional seats than on a traditional 3-rows cabin thus upgrading from a normally 12 passengers cabin into a 14 passengers cabin. compartment. In fact with the 2 extra seats having been assigned to the windows, there are now 3 rows of seats in the center and actually 4 rows of seats alongside the windows. Passengers amenities are plentiful with excellent power supply for personal electronic devices, an in-flight entertainment system sporting a conservative 15-in screen accompanied by noise cancellation headphones. With a 22-in width and 78-in pitch, these black leather flat bed seats offer great assurance of luxurious exclusivity. Fine finish and attention to detail can consolidate this British Airways product to elite status.
The Club World, BA’s Business Class: 97 seats
In the Club World Business Class cabin, British Airways has opted for a seemingly nontraditional arrangement of seats for 97 passengers. Dividing this product between the 44 flat bed seats installed on the main deck and the remaining 53 seats sitting atop has created a deranging unevenness. On the main floor, the layout offered has been a 2-4-2 arrangement with a quite original form: seats alternate between forward and rear facing positions. On the upper deck the narrower fuselage has induced a 2-3-2 compromise. This is a most dramatic departure from the industry most original offer to date of alternating rows of 1-1-1-1 with 1-2-1 seats in Business Class. Together with the First Class cabin, the two premium classes occupy half of the aircraft main deck space. On the upper deck the Club World also occupies real estate forward of the cabin. Being unorthodox has not prevented this product from being one of the few Business Class offering to allow a completely isolated, partitioned space, thanks to a sliding lateral panel. A pitch of 72-in and width of 20-in -average dimensions by all account- along with a 10.6 laterally-mounted retractable display help passengers navigate through unconventional cabin space.The seat is separated from the foot rest piece which deploys and/or retracts up against a wall facing the passenger. In flat bed configuration, the reclined seat is joined to the extracted foot rest blending into a single piece. This arrangement can become inconvenient as flat beds completely block movement of passengers who do not have direct access to the aisle. This may not be the only drawback of the forward/rear facing seating combination. Wondering what kind of experience would a steep angle take off following a quadruple Rolls Royce Trent 970-powered acceleration produce to the uninitiated.
BA’s premium Economy class, designated World Traveller Plus: 55 seats
This upper deck product marks the first occurrence of a cpnventional seats lay out aboard British Airways A380. In fact the 2-3-2 configuration encountered on the upper deck middle section would provide 55 seats offering a pitch of 38-in accompanied by a width of 18.5-in, yet 1 inch short of Qantas similar product. Display screens are located on the back of seats.
The Economy Class or World Traveller: 303 seats
Epitomizing mass travel in a way not seen since the advent of the Boeing 747 in 1970, the British Airways A380s offer Economy seating for 303 passengers. These 17.5-in wide seats deliver 31-in of pitch. There 104 seats in the rear-most section of the upper deck and 199 seats on the main deck. Because of the difference in upper and main deck fuselage width, the upper deck economy class presents a 2-4-2 abreast cabin layout versus the popular 3-4-3 layout on the main deck.
The World Traveller – Economy – seat
In comparison to Qantas, the only other 4-class A380 to date which offers 450 seats with 14 in First Class Suites, 72 in Business Class seats, 32 in Premium Economy seats and 332 in Economy Class seats, British Airways has heavily boosted the Business Class and Premium Economy capacity with, respectively 97 and 55 seats versus only 303 seats in Economy Class. In all, both carriers share similar view of the demand for First Class product, whereas British Airways unorthodox but deliberate Business class design is the second largest such cabin in the industry (after Lufthansa 97 seats and ahead of Korean Air 94 seats).
Exploiting the type, carriers expect to reap the benefits of tremendous brand recognition and superior customer loyalty. With Asian operators such as Malaysia and Thai, who alongside Singapore, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific etc operate Economy Cabin rows seating 9 passengers abreast on their Boeing 777 fleet (instead of 10 abreast as with Air France, British Airways and even Emirates), the notion of cultivating superior product is probably already elevated to a different scale.
Based in Guangzhou, China Southern has struggled to fill up its A380s due to the airport not having the traffic density the carrier was hoping to capture ….. at Beijing International (hub of rival Air China). Deploying the aircraft mainly on the Kangaroo route has proved as painful. With its main fleet composed at the time of aircraft no larger than Boeing 777-200, it is questionable if the carrier would ever be able to generate enough passenger traffic density at their hub in order to justify the need for an aircraft whom Air France indicated helped replace both a 777-200 and A340 simultaneously. Recent orders to Boeing for larger 777-300ERs prove that the Chinese carrier is attempting to correct that flaw. Yet it would need years of operating 777-300ERs in double digit number to build up an A380 profitable fleet.
As for British Airways, these may prove defining moments for a reinvigorated carrier that recently inducted the industry’s star Boeing 777-300ER in its fleet in 2010, the A380 in 2013 along with the 787 Dreamliner. The airline is in the midst of a fleet development and renewal phase that is confronting the prospect of retiring the world’s largest remaining 747-400 fleet (48 aircraft?). In that quest, there will be room to grow the A380 fleet fleet and why not adopt the newer 777-8/-9 and/or even Boeing’s 747-8.