Today: Return of the A380 – the superjumbo makes a comeback
It has been an excellent week for the Airbus A380 – the world’s largest commercial airplane – with both Lufthansa and Korean Air confirming they are bringing the iconic plane out of retirement. This is great news for passengers of course as – according to several airline surveys – the A380 remains a favorite with travelers. Since the A380 completed its first (test) flight almost 20 years ago, over 120 million passengers have experienced the aircraft. Some even choose destinations just to fly it (count me in). And why wouldn’t they? A wonder of modern engineering, every flight on a 500-seater double-deck A380 is an experience that can never be forgotten, as I experienced myself on multiple occasions.
However, no matter how much the A380 aircraft inspired awe among passengers and aviation enthusiasts, it put serious pressure on airline accounts. The fuel-guzzling jet also faced powerful competition from dual-engine long-range aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and A330neo, and the Boeing 787 and 777 families, all of which made more financial sense for carriers. Since the airline industry was clearly making a decisive shift away from giant aircraft to smaller, wide-bodied jets, Airbus decided to stop the production of the A380 in 2019 (only 242 were built). The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, which hit the world in the same year, made things even worse as the prospect of flying a huge number of passengers in a single mammoth plane made the A380 temporarily obsolete: dozens of Airbus A380 aircraft were sent into storage, accelerating the demise of the world’s largest commercial airplane.
However, the iconic double-decker plane is now making an unexpected comeback as airlines around the world are scrambling to cope with booming travel demand, shortage of staff, and delayed delivery of newer aircraft models (such as the Boeing 777X). As a result, the A380 has found new favor with airlines and is returning to the air, mainly as a workhorse to cover busy periods. As it stands, the total number of A380s back in service rose to more than hundred (up from a low of just four when the pandemic hit in April 2020). Here’s an overview of the 10 airlines that are flying the A380 (again), though for how long is unclear.
Have you ever flown in an Airbus A380? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
Lufthansa is reactivating the Airbus A380 in response to the steep rise in customer demand and the delayed delivery of ordered aircraft, particularly the Boeing 777X. The airline expects to use the long-haul aircraft, which is popular with customers and crews, again from summer 2023. Lufthansa still has 14 Airbus A380s, which are currently parked in Spain and France for long-term so called “deep storage”. Six of these aircraft have already been sold, eight A380s remain part of the Lufthansa fleet for the time being. Lufthansa will reactivate up to five of these eight Airbus A380s and they will will exclusively be based in Munich.
The Executive Board Members of Deutsche Lufthansa AG also announced the reactivation of the A380 in a joint letter to the company’s customers: “In the summer of 2023, we not only expect to have a much more reliable air transport system worldwide. We will be welcoming you back on board our Airbus A380s, too. We decided today to put the A380, which continues to enjoy great popularity, back into service at Lufthansa in summer 2023. In addition to this, we are further strengthening and modernizing our fleets with some 50 new Airbus A350, Boeing 787 and Boeing 777-9 long-haul aircraft and more than 60 new Airbus A320/321s in the next three years alone.”
Read here my review of my flight in First Class onboard a Lufthansa A380 from New Delhi to Frankfurt (or watch my video below).
During the pandemic, British Airways parked most of its A380s aircraft in Madrid, Spain, so it was only a two hour flight to bring them back to London. Last November, the UK’s flag carrier decided to reactivate its first A380 following an increase in demand of air travel. British Airways carrier has 12 A380s in its fleet, and currently 10 of them are operational again, flying on the routes between London and Miami, Boston, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Johannesburg, Singapore and Dubai. The carrier still considers the A380 to be a valued part of its fleet in the long term and is currently retrofitting its A380 cabins with the new terrific Business Class seats that you find on the carrier’s A350 and retrofitted Boeing 777s (meaning an excellent 1-2-1 layout in Club World, with direct aisle access and sliding doors for all passengers). Currently, British Airways’ A380 has a total of 469 seats over two decks with four cabins: 14 seats in First, 97 seats in Club World (Business Class), 55 seats in World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) and 303 seats in World Traveller (Economy).
Read here my review of my flight in First Class onboard a British Airways A380 from Johannesburg to London (or watch my video below).
Last November, a Qatar Airways Airbus A380 took to the skies for the first time in more than 18 months after the airline reluctantly took the decision to welcome the A380 fleet back into operation due to ongoing capacity shortage. Since then, eight of the carrier’s 10 A380s are operational again, exclusively flying the routes between Doha and London, Paris, and Bangkok. The national carrier for the State of Qatar is currently facing significant limitations to its fleet capacity as a result of the recent grounding of part of its Airbus A350 fleet; the latter is a direct consequence of Qatar Airways’ ongoing dispute with Airbus regarding an accelerated surface degradation condition, which impacts the surface of the aircraft below the paint. The airline also recently re-introduced a number of its A330 fleet and even leased some Cathay Pacific Boeing 777s following a continued increase in capacity requirements due to the easing of travel restrictions and the upcoming peak winter holiday period, which are anticipated to see a return to pre-COVID levels.
Read here my review of my flight in First Class onboard a Qatar Airways A380 from Doha to Paris (or watch my video below).
All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest airline for nine consecutive years, has resumed operations of its Airbus A380 “FLYING HONU” for flights between Japan and Hawaii since July 1st as international passenger demand continues its recovery. ANA’s FLYING HONU fleet is made up of three Airbus A380 aircraft, the first of which entered service in May 2019 and is painted in blue to represent the Hawaiian blue sky. The second FLYING HONU is emerald green which is inspired by the crystal clear water of the Hawaiian ocean. Finally, the third FLYING HONU features livery in orange inspired by the Hawaiian sunset. Powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engines, the ANA A380 features the carrier’s very latest in-flight entertainment systems, as well as full connectivity in all classes. ANA’s A380 features a total of 520 seats, including eight First Class suites (upper deck), 56 Business Class seats (upper deck), 73 Premium Economy Class seats (upper deck), and 383 Economy Class seats (lower deck).
During the pandemic, Singapore Airlines sent down a total of eight Airbus A380s to a long-term storage facility at Alice Springs Airport in central Australia. With the global travel situation improving, these aircraft have now been slowly reactivated, with just two superjumbos remaining in storage. Currently Singapore Airlines flies its A380 superjumbos to the following destinations: New Delhi, Mumbai, Sydney, New York, Frankfurt, and London. All of these reactivated A380s feature the carrier’s relatively new cabin fitting, with six suites in First Class, 78 seats in Business Class, 44 seats in Premium Economy, and 343 seats in Economy. The new Business Class seats, which naturally recline into a lie-flat bed, feature “sculpted wings” that surround the seat and offer support while lounging. The First Class suites are described as a “hotel above the clouds,” as each suite comes with a separate full-flat bed with adjustable recline and a plush, swivel leather chair, enabling passengers to lounge comfortably in the chair or rest in bed without the need to convert the bed from a sitting position.
Read here my review of my flight in First Class onboard a Singapore Airlines A380 from Singapore to London (or watch my video below).
Emirates has a total of 121 A380s in its fleet, including the last one ever to be built. This particular aircraft was delivered in December 2021, marking a firm end to A380 production. The carrier was the first airline to announce an order for the A380 at the 2000 Farnborough Air Show when the aircraft was still marketed as the A3XX. This was followed with a firm commitment and additional order for 15 more units at the 2001 Dubai Air Show, a bold statement just 6 weeks after the events of 9/11 challenged the industry like never before. It has been often argued that Emirates is the only airline to profitably operate the plane. Certainly the role of the A380 in building traffic at bustling Dubai International (DXB), the world leader in international travelers with 88 million, is undeniable, as they are a great fit for the airline’s business model of moving large numbers of passengers on its long-haul flights.
During the pandemic, Emirates initially parked up 218 of its 270 aircraft fleet (including the bulk of its A380s as well as several Boeing 777s). The aircraft were split between Dubai World Central, where 117 jets were sent, and Dubai International Airport, which took 101 of the wide-body fleet. But now the carrier is back to business, although dozens of the carrier’s A380s remain currently parked and out of use. At the 2021 Dubai Airshow in November, Emirates also announced a major retrofit program which will see 52 of its existing A380 aircraft fitted with Premium Economy cabins and other enhancements, highlighting the airline’s ongoing commitment to ensuring its A380 experience remains best-in-sky.
Read here my review of my flight in First Class onboard an Emirates A380 from Dubai to Amsterdam (or watch my video below).
As post-pandemic international travel steadily recovers, Australia’s national carrier is reactivating several A380 superjumbos. The Flying Kangaroo had initially intended to keep its 12 A380s mothballed in the California desert until late 2023. However, in light of Australia’s fast-paced vaccination rollout, five Qantas A380 have already emerged from the Californian desert, leaving the storage yard since they was parked there in March 2020. Qantas utilized the down time while the aircraft were in the desert to upgrade the popular A380 by increasing the number of premium seats and by refurbishing the cabins. The reactivated A380 aircraft all have a reconfigured Business Class cabin, with 70 updated Business Class suites, and an extended Premium Economy section with 60 seats, up from 35, as well as refreshed Economy and First cabins. The upper deck lounge has also had a full upgrade with booth style seating for 10 people, a self-service bar and an option to order signature drinks and snacks. Qantas A380s fly the Sydney-Los Angeles, Melbourne-Los Angeles and the Sydney-Singapore-London routes.
Read here my review of my flight in First Class onboard a Qantas A380 from Dubai to London (or watch my video below).
The South Korean airline Asiana had suspended commercial flights of the A380 superjumbo during the COVID-19 health crisis, but is now bringing the aircraft back to life. Currently, the company has six A380 aircraft in its fleet with an average age of 6.8 years. Asiana is deploying the superjumbo on two routes “with high travel demand”: Los Angeles and Bangkok. Last week, the airline restarted using the A380 on the Seoul Incheon to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi route, and on July 23rd, the A380 will reenter service between Seoul and Los Angeles. The Asiana A380 has 495 seats in total including 78 Business Class seats. Operating the superjumbo aircraft will add 197 more seats for the Bangkok route and 184 additional seats for the Los Angeles route. Asiana was expected to use the A380 to Los Angeles throughout the next winter and summer schedule, but that won’t happen as from October 30th onwards, all of its Los Angeles services will be flown by A350s again. From spring 2023, Asiana has rostered the A380 on its daily Frankfurt-Seoul route but it remains to be seen whether that will happen.
Korean Air’s entire fleet of 10 Airbus A380s was grounded on March 9, 2020 due to COVID-19. However, Korean Air is now actively restoring its international passenger network, following South Korea’s removal of all international flight restrictions and mandatory quarantine requirements. To support increased operations, some of its grounded aircraft such as the A380 will be taken out of storage and passenger aircraft converted into freighters will be reconfigured. To meet the increasing passenger demand, Korean Air already started to operate the A380 daily on the New York route and three times a week on the Hong Kong route. Tokyo Narita will also see A380 service daily starting in September. In addition, Korean Air’s passenger aircraft that were converted into freighters during the pandemic are being reconfigured and returned to passenger operations. So far the airline will convert 3 of 10 Boeing 777s back into passenger jets, along with some of its A330s which have been moving freight for most of the pandemic. Korean Air is also restoring its inflight services to pre-COVID levels.
The Chinese carrier owns and operates five A380s, which are 10.3 years old on average. China Southern Airlines’ A380 adopts the classic three-cabin arrangement (Platinum Private Suites, First Class, and Economy Class) with 506 seats. The upper and main cabins are for passengers, with substantial cargo capacity below. The upper cabin provides 70 fully reclining business class seats and 76 economy class seats; the lower cabin is provides 8 box-type first-class seats and 352 economy class seats. The carrier’s first two A380s were retired from revenue service last autumn. For the time being, the other three remain in active service, although each of them operates only every few days. The type is deployed to Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles, Sydney, and Melbourne . China Southern Airlines is the only A380 operator in China. It stood out during the COVID-19 pandemic as it has never fully grounded the type, although its utilization was minimal. China Southern Airlines is set to retire all of its remaining A380s by the end of 2022, Chinese media has reported.