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The A380: How Big Is Too Big?

John Deiner

Count me among those -- okay, are there others? -- who have no desire to fly on one jet with more than 800 other people. Anywhere. Anytime.

Last week, I watched with interest all the coverage on the maiden commercial flight of the A380, the world's largest passenger plane. Singapore Airlines Flight SQ380 flew from Singapore to Sydney carrying 455 people (that 800-plus figure is if the superliner is set up for all economy-class).

For an interesting report on the voyage, check out this story by David Armstrong. (There's also video showing the plane landing.) He was on board and goes into great detail about how luxe Singapore Airlines has outfitted its plane.

Here's his report on the "Singapore Suites," the ultra first class:

"Singapore Suites, which the airline promotes as 'beyond first class,'' is a jaw-dropping luxury product. Located on the main lower deck, the 12 suites resemble posh private railroad cars from the Golden Age in sumptuousness and size. The seat pitch is a giddy 81 inches. The personal video screen measures 23 inches, the seats are 35 inches wide with the armrest folded. When it's time to go to sleep, the high-end customer gets a real bed -- a mattress laid out specially for the traveller, not a seat that unfolds into a bed. The rectangular bed too, is big, at 78 by 27 inches."

He sat in business class and goes on about the luxury there, too.

But I know me, and if I ever did venture onto one, I'd end up in economy, of which he says: "Even on the huge A380, economy is economy." Which basically means being wedged into a space with 400 other people.

Blech. I get uncomfortable on a two-hour flight to Florida with 138 other people; flying overseas with hundreds and hundreds of others just seems unbearable. I'm no snob about flying -- I fly Southwest everywhere and am well-accustomed to econo-cram. But all those people? Man, sounds like a New York sidewalk at rush hour plopped between two wings.

Armstrong reports that the premium passengers received their bags about a half-hour after landing, and the mere mortals sometime after that. Considering the eyes of the world were on the flight, that still seems a bit long to me.

Maybe it'll be the best way in the world to travel. But it still gives me the willies (and I'm trying not to think about the horror if/when the first A380 goes down; let's pray it never comes to that).

What do you guys think? Does this plane have any appeal?

By John Deiner |  October 29, 2007; 9:50 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , John Deiner
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The A380 sounds like a more miserable version of the 747. I hate the 747 because of the loud cattle car feel in economy, so I imagine I wouldn't like the A380 any better. When they switched over to 777s on some of the Pacific routes I fly it was a huge relief ( though sadly flight tonight is on a 747!). I hope the wave of the future really is smaller, more fuel efficient planes.

Posted by: va | October 29, 2007 10:52 AM

This plane might work on extremely heavily trveled routes where there are slot restrictions on both ends -- I'm think NYC to London. Otherwise, an airline with two smaller planes (like the 787) would have a huge advantage because they could run one plane on slow days, run a morning and evening flight, or split the flights with one leaving from JFK and the other from EWR. Sooner or later, however, somebody's going to run this as a transatlantic bus with rock bottom fares, no service, and 900 people on each flight. And as long as the fares are cheap, some folks will flock to it.

Posted by: folger | October 29, 2007 6:23 PM

Imagine the check in lines for the A380? "Sir, you must be here 3 hours before your flight!"

Imagine the wait for baggage? Maybe they'll have people getting their baggage by the same group no. as when they boarded.
"Baggage for group #39 will be arriving in 23 minutes. We appreciate your patience and thank you for using the carousel snack bar and lounge.

Posted by: jerry mendel | November 21, 2007 4:22 PM

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