Flying on the Airbus A380 — Everything You Need to Know [Pilot’s Perspective]

Full Disclosure: We may receive financial compensation when you click on links and are approved for credit card products from our advertising partners. Opinions and product recommendations on this site are ours alone, and have not been influenced, reviewed or approved by the issuer. See our Advertiser Disclosure for more details. We appreciate your support!

Seating 550 passengers, the giant Airbus A380 is one of the most distinctive aircraft flying the skies today. With its twin decks running the entire length of the aircraft, when it first took flight in the spring of 2005, it spawned a new era of “Superjumbos.”

With space for up to 853 passengers, it was hailed as a savior, solving the problem of greater customer demand in ever-crowded skies. If you can’t have fewer people on more flights, have more people on fewer flights.

Initially, the aircraft was a success. Passengers loved the comfort that the size of the aircraft brought and airlines were seduced by the economies of scale, which fitting more customers into a single flight suggested.

However, as the years went on, airlines’ romance with the A380 began to dwindle. The aircraft never proved to be as efficient as promised and the complexities of operating such a massive aircraft brought logistical headache after logistical headache.

With the orders drying up to a point where it was no longer commercially viable to continue producing the A380, in February 2019, Airbus announced that it would stop making the aircraft by 2021. The project, hailed to be the next revolution in air travel, had its wings clipped far earlier than anyone could have ever imagined.

Still, some of the world’s largest airlines continue to fly the A380 as it remains a firm favorite with passengers.

Here’s the definitive guide on all you need to know about flying on the “Superjumbo.”

The Airbus A380 — a Brief History

Creating the Concept

The summer of 1994 saw some historic moments. South Africa elected its first black president in Nelson Mandela, football star O.J. Simpson was arrested for murder, and an Major League Baseball (MLB) strike saw the World Series not being played for the first time in 90 years. As seismic as these moments were, over the pond in Europe, aircraft manufacturer Airbus was about to embark on a project that would change commercial aviation forever.

Ever since its introduction in the early 1970s, the Boeing 747 had dominated the large scale long-haul market. Airbus had grown its aircraft size up to the 370-seat A340, but still, it was nowhere competing with the mighty “Jumbo Jet.” What was needed was a complete rethink and new approach to the philosophy of aircraft design.

Airbus A380 Series Aircraft
Plans for the A380, dubbed the A3XX at the time, began in 1994. Image Credit: Airbus

Boeing was in the later stages of launching its latest aircraft, the twin-engine 777 aircraft designed to carry fewer people than the 747 but to be profitable on more point-to-point routes.

The big question of the time was how would air travel develop over the next 20 years? Would airlines prefer to fly aircraft with fewer passengers straight to their destination, or would the hub-and-spoke system of larger jets like the 747 prove to be more economical?

One certain thing was that air travel was going to continue to grow at a massive rate over the next 20-30 years. Would it grow so fast that the limiting factor wouldn’t be the aircraft themselves but the capacity at airports and in the skies?

A Revolutionary Design

As part of this project, Airbus worked in conjunction with Boeing to determine the feasibility of a Very Large Commercial Transport (VLCT). The aim was a joint venture to share what was predicted to be a very limited market. However, as the study progressed, the 2 companies came to different conclusions.

Boeing decided that the predicted $15 billion development costs of such an aircraft would be too great to recoup in sales. As a result, it opted to modify the existing version of the 747 with a stretched model. This would later become the 747-800.

Airbus, on the other hand, saw the benefit of the larger aircraft. With the predicted reduced capacity at airports, airlines would need to fit more people onto fewer flights. Passengers would fly between large hub airports and transfer onto smaller aircraft to complete their journey.

British Airways A380
The double decks of the A380 would provide space for over 500 passengers. Image Credit: British Airways

Even though only 2 airlines had publicly declared an interest in such a large aircraft, in June 1994, Airbus announced its plans to go ahead with the production of its new “Superjumbo,” designated at the time as the A3XX.

To accommodate the number of passengers Airbus envisaged its new aircraft would need to seat, several designs were considered. This even included a novel “side-by-side” layout using 2 fuselage sections on the A340 aircraft. Airbus worked with over 200 focus groups to try to determine what the optimum configuration would be. Finally, it settled on a double-deck model.

As time progressed, Airbus broke ranks from the usual sequential numbering of its aircraft. Coming after the A340, in theory, the A3XX should have been named the A350. However, as the number 8 is deemed to be lucky in several of the Asian countries that Airbus planned to market the aircraft, and the fact that 8 looks like the double decks, Airbus decided to name it the A380.

Production Line

The major parts of the A380 are built all over Europe and assembled at the Airbus factory in France. The logistical process to get all the parts to the assembly line is almost as impressive as the aircraft itself.

The journey begins in Hamburg, Germany, where the front and rear fuselage sections are loaded on to specialist ships that set sail for the United Kingdom. Once in the U.K., they meet trucks carrying the wings the short distance from manufacturing facilities in Broughton, Wales and Filton, England. If you think Filton sounds familiar, it’s where the British side of the Anglo-French Concorde project was based.

A380 barge
A section of an A380 wing on the barge to the assembly line. Image Credit: Airbus

The next stop is Saint-Nazaire in northwest France where the ships trade the component fuselage parts for assembled sections that were unloaded weeks previously.

The journey continues down to the coast to Pauillac, France where the parts are unloaded. Then, via barges and trucks, they make the final stages of the journey to the Airbus factory in Toulouse.

Once the aircraft has been completed and rolled out of the factory, it makes the short flight back to Hamburg where it is painted and furnished.

The whole production line was based on the delivery of 4 aircraft a month.

A380 fuselage section road transport
A section of an A380 fuselage travels the last few miles to the assembly line in Toulouse. Image Credit: Airbus

First Flight and the Testing Process

Before any new aircraft can carry its first commercial passenger, it must undergo extensive testing to ensure that it is as safe as the designs expected it would be. This process involved putting the aircraft through an extreme array of examinations in locations all around the world.

To complete the testing and demonstration process as efficiently as possible, Airbus built 5 aircraft specifically for these tests. The first of which, registration F-WWOW, was unveiled to the world’s media on January 18, 2005, before it first took to the sky a few months later on April 27, 2005.

first A380 reveal
The first A380 was revealed to the world’s media in 2005. Image Credit: Airbus

It then began a rigorous testing program to ensure that it performed as expected in the extreme environments it would be expected to operate in. High altitude performance was tested 8,400 feet above sea-level at El Dorado International Airport (BOG) in Bogotá, Colombia.

At such high elevations, the air is much thinner and as a result, aerodynamic performance is degraded. The wings generate less lift so the aircraft must travel faster over the ground to fly. This not only affects the length of runway required to take off but also means that the brakes will have to work harder on landing.

For cold weather operations, an aircraft was flown to Iqaluit in northern Canada where winter temperatures drop to as low as -49°F. At these temperatures, Airbus was able to test the efficiency of the aircraft’s anti-icing systems on both the wings and in each of the 4 Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines.

A380 first flight takeoff
The first test flight of the A380 took off from Toulouse, France on April 27, 2005. Image Credit: Airbus

Back in the hangars, a wing was tested for its ability to handle loads in excess of what it was designed to handle. For this, the wing is bent upwards until it quite literally breaks. The landing gear on another aircraft was repeatedly raised and lowered, not only testing for normal operation, but also for the “gravity extension” that is needed in case the normal hydraulic system fails.

One of the most important and impressive tests that had to be completed was the emergency evacuation certification test.

For this, the aircraft was fitted in a high-density configuration with 853 seats, all of which were occupied. Lufthansa, one of the launch customers, also provided 2 pilots and 18 flight attendants. They were all then given the task of evacuating the aircraft in less than 90 seconds.

To make matters more difficult, 8 of the 16 exits were blocked to simulate a real-life emergency. The passengers and crew knew this would be the case but were not told which 8 exits these would be. It was also performed in darkness.

All of the 873 occupants passed the test and managed it in an impressive 78 seconds — a rate of just over 11 passengers exiting the aircraft every second.

A380 evacuation test
During the evacuation test, 853 passengers and 20 crew escaped the aircraft in 78 seconds. Image Credit: Airbus

Logistical Challenges

Not only did the scale of the A380 project provide logistical challenges for Airbus, but it also required airports to do some serious thinking. Up until the advent of the A380, the largest aircraft that airports had to accommodate was the Boeing 747.

However, how airports would have to handle an A380 would be vastly different. The new aircraft would be heavier, wider, and carry far more passengers than the incumbent jumbo. For this, airports would have to make significant changes.

Firstly, there was the weight and wingspan to consider. The taxiways and parking stands that the A380 would use had to be able to support its huge weight and the massive 262-foot wingspan.

To be certified to handle the aircraft, many airports had to undergo upgrades to their existing facilities. Taxiways had to be dug up to increase their load-bearing strength and parking stands had to be widened to accommodate the larger wingspan.

A380 parking
All airports wishing to host the A380 had to make changes to their infrastructure. Image Credit: Airbus

It wasn’t only the width and the weight of the aircraft that would necessitate changes — the height also needed to be addressed. Even though the 747 does have an upper deck, it is small and seats just a handful of passengers. As a result, a small internal staircase is sufficient for passengers to access the top floor.

However, with a full-length upper deck on the A380, using the internal staircases would not be practical. Once again, airports had to change their infrastructure to meet the demands of the new visitor.

Most wide-body aircraft such as the 747 and 777 use 1 and sometimes 2 doors to disembark and board passengers. To facilitate 550 passengers to do the same as quickly as possible, one of the doors on the upper deck needed to be used. As there were no steps in existence that would reach such a height, airports had to build brand new jet bridges that could reach the upper deck.

As with the steps, the existing catering trucks could only reach up to the height of the main deck. To stock the galleys on the upper deck, brand new catering trucks had to be designed and produced to solve this problem.

A380 ground servicing tests
Frankfurt International Airport ground facilities when preparing an A380 for flight. Image Credit: Airbus

With all these changes, airports wishing to attract airlines with the A380 had to make a serious financial investment years before the first flight ever arrived.

It also required Air Traffic Control to make considerable changes to its procedures.

Due to the size of the wing and the lift generated, designers found that the wake turbulence generated was far greater than any other aircraft currently operating. While aircraft such as Boeing’s 747/767/777 and Airbus’ A330/340 were classified as “heavy” aircraft, the wake turbulence generated by the A380 was so great that it required a new category to be created — “Super.”

This meant that there needed to be greater spacing behind an A380 on both arrivals and departures to ensure the safety of the aircraft behind it.

First Commercial Flight

After some production delays, the first aircraft was delivered to Singapore Airlines in October 2007, flying its first commercial service on October 25, 2007, from Singapore (SIN) to Sydney (SYD). For this momentous occasion, Singapore Airlines auctioned tickets for charity, with passengers paying between $560-$100,380 for the honor of being on board the first-ever A380 commercial flight.

9 months later, Emirates became the second customer to fly the A380, starting with the Dubai (DXB) to New York (JFK) route, followed by Qantas who first flew between Melbourne (MEL) and Los Angeles (LAX) in October 2008.

A380 singapore airlines delivery
Singapore Airlines was the first customer to take delivery of an A380. Image Credit: Airbus

Airlines Operating the A380

As of December 2019, a total of 242 A380s had been delivered to 14 different airlines — most of them operating a fleet of only a few aircraft.

By far the largest operator of the A380 is Emirates with 115 currently in service and another 8 due for delivery by 2021. The smallest operator is Maltese charter airline, Hi-Fly, that flies a single aircraft, a former Singapore Airlines airframe.

AirlineA380s in FleetAirlineA380s in Fleet
Emirates115Lufthansa7
Singapore Airlines19Asiana Airlines6
Qantas12Malaysian Airlines6
British Airways12Thai Airways6
Qatar Airways10China Southern5
Etihad10All Nippon Airways3
Korean Air10Hi-Fly1
Air France9

Reception and Looking to the Future

While the A380 became an instant success with passengers, with airlines it was a different matter.

Initially, airlines shared their customers’ love of the new Superjumbo. 2 months after Singapore Airlines’ inaugural flight, CEO Chew Choong Seng declared that the A380 was performing 20% more efficiently per seat-mile than its existing 747-400 fleet. Emirates found that the aircraft performed more efficiently flying faster than the suggested cruise speed.

However, the love was not to last.

As the years went on, airlines found the aircraft less and less profitable. Boeing had entered the market with the super-efficient 787 Dreamliner that carried fewer passengers but allowed them to fly direct to their destination. It became an instant hit with airlines — contrary to Airbus’ prediction of the future model of aviation.

Emirates A380 Aircraft and Flight Attendants
Emirates was by far the biggest customer of the A380. Image Credit: Emirates

Over time, it transpired that the entire A380 program was dependent on Emirates’ desire to keep making orders for the aircraft. However, when it reduced its order for 162 aircraft down to 123, the future started to look bleak for the A380 program.

With no luck in developing more orders with other customers, in February 2019 Airbus took the bold step to declare that it would cease production of the A380 by 2021.

Tom Enders, the Airbus Chief Executive at the time, stated that “As a result of this [Emirates] decision, we have no substantial A380 backlog and hence no basis to sustain production… this leads to the end of A380 deliveries in 2021.”

Airlines will continue to fly their existing aircraft and Airbus has vowed to continue with technical support for the aircraft.

The Technical Details

The A380 is easily the most identifiable aircraft at airports around the world. The biggest airliner in the world has a maximum takeoff weight of 1,234,600 pounds and its massive fuel tanks can hold 559,937 pounds of fuel. Despite being certified to carry 853 passengers, it normally seats 550 in a 3-class configuration, depending on the airline’s fit.

It is crewed by a minimum of 2 pilots (although on longer flights there can be up to 4 pilots) and 21 flight attendants.

With its full-length double-deck and massive wingspan, several features will help you identify the “Superjumbo.”

Air France A380
The A380 is one of the most distinctive aircraft at airports around the world. Image Credit: roibu via Shutterstock

Height

The most obvious feature of the A380 is its height. The doors of the upper deck sit 26 feet above the ground and the massive tail extends up to 79 feet. The aircraft is so tall that several airports had to consider its height when building bridges over taxiways.

The tail looks disproportionally tall in comparison to the length of the aircraft. This is no mistake and comes down to physics. The longer an aircraft is, the more directionally stable it is. Meaning, it is less likely to deviate from a straight line in a yawing plane.

A380 tail
The tail of the A380 reaches 79 feet above the ground. Image Credit: Airbus

If you think of an A430-600, an exceptionally long and thin aircraft, the tail is very small. This is because the length of the fuselage relative to its thickness is much greater.

The A380, on the other hand, is relatively short and stubby. As a result, it is less directionally stable. To make sure that the aircraft flies safely in all conditions, the tail had to be much taller. This is particularly important in the event of an engine failure when the asymmetric power will cause the nose to swing towards the failed engine.

In this situation, the taller tail, and therefore longer rudder, will give the pilots greater control to keep the nose of the aircraft straight.

Wings

The wings on the A380 truly are a wonder of the engineering world. For the weight of the aircraft, the ideal wingspan would be around 270 feet. However, this would cause massive logistical issues for the airports the A380 would use. To remain within the 262-foot limit, Airbus engineers had to come up with a way to create the same lift with 8 feet less of wing.

Not only were the engineers limited by the width of the wing, but there were also limitations on the wing root chord — the distance between the front edge of the wing and the rear edge. The greater the chord, the greater the lift generated.

This had to be limited to 60 feet to comply with U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rules regulating the maximum distance between emergency exits. As a result, the wing root chord is 58 feet, tapering down to 13 feet at the wingtip.

A380 rear view
The unique shape of the A380 wing creates the lift needed to get airborne. Image Credit: Airbus

The shape of the wing, too, is unique. When observed from behind, it starts low on the fuselage and curves up and out, designed to generate the most possible lift. All of this gives the A380 an incredible wing surface area of 2,776 square feet.

To top it off, each wing has a wing-tip fence, commonly know as a “winglet.” Each one of these is nearly 8 feet high and helps to improve the efficiency of the wing by blocking downward currents of air generated by the wing.

Fuselage Length

Despite its “stubby” proportions due to the massive wings and tail, the A380 is longer than you may think. Stretching 238 feet, it is 5 feet longer than the 747-400 and only 4 feet shorter than the 777-300. That said, the 262-foot wingspan makes the A380 wider than it is long.

A380 malaysian
The A380 has 16 doors, 3 of which are used for normal boarding and disembarking. Image Credit: Airbus

There are 8 doors on each side of the aircraft — 5 on the lower deck and 3 on the upper deck — giving 16 emergency exits in total. Of these 16 doors, only 3 on the left-hand side are used for normal passenger boarding and disembarkation. Doors on both decks on the right-hand side of the aircraft are used by catering trucks to restock the galleys for the flight ahead.

Engines

Airlines have 2 choices of engine for the A380 — the Rolls Royce Trent 900 or Engine Alliance GP7000.

The Trent 900 builds on the success of the Trent 800 engines which power some Boeing 777 aircraft. With a fan diameter of 116 inches, it produces 84,000 pounds of thrust. Depending on the deal airlines can strike, each engine costs around $25 million.

The Engine Alliance GP7000 is a joint venture between General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. At 74,740 pounds of thrust, it is less powerful than the Trent 900, however, as of 2017, the GP7000 powers 60% of all A380 aircraft in service. This is slightly skewed however by the fact that Emirates, the biggest A380 operator by far, powers its entire fleet with the GP7000 option.

A380 rolls royce
The Rolls Royce Trent 900 powers just under half of all A380 aircraft. Image Credit: Airbus

The Passenger Perspective

One of the biggest success stories of the A380 has been the passengers’ reactions. Simply put, people love flying on the A380. From the smoothness of the ride to the quietness of the cabin, Airbus’ decision to scrap the A380 program came as a real disappointment to many frequent fliers.

The Cabin Experience

Etihad First Class Apartment
The A380 brought new levels of luxury to air travel. Image Credit: Alex Miller

The beauty of the A380 is the massive internal space and thus the possibilities it creates for airlines. With such a huge blank canvas at the design stage, the scope for innovation is almost limitless. While the certified capacity allows for over 800 passengers, most airlines opted for a number around the 550 mark.

Airbus designed the front section of the upper deck to be used as the first class cabin, demonstrated by 2 of the biggest bathrooms you’ve seen anywhere, let alone on an aircraft. From there, the rest of the aircraft could be used as airlines saw best. Some opted to use the space for an inflight bar for premium customers, others created suites complete with double beds and personal butlers.

Emirates First Class A380 - Bar
Some airlines have utilized the space by installing a bar area for premium passengers. Image Credit: Erin Miller

Some airlines decided that they’d keep both premium cabins upstairs with economy on the lower deck. Others opted to mix the cabins up and utilize the extra width of the lower deck by having their first class cabin there.

One thing that is the same wherever you sit is the overwhelming sense of space. The overhead lockers are well above head height, even for a tall person. On the main deck, by nature of the shape of the fuselage, the cabin walls feel as if they are vertical — just like sitting in your living room at home.

Cabin Noise

The first thing people notice when flying on the A380 is the noise. More specifically, the almost complete lack thereof. Sitting upstairs, even adjacent to the engines, you barely notice them powering up for takeoff. Once up in the air, the cruise is notable for its lack of background din.

The aircraft is so quiet that it’s actually a downside for some of the crew. Flight attendants sometimes complain that the lack of engine noise means that they can hear everything going on in the cabin when trying to sleep in the Crew Rest Compartment during Ultra Long Range flights.

Bathrooms and Showers

Have you ever had a shower on board an aircraft before? Fly on the Emirates A380 in First Class and you can! The upstairs bathrooms at the front of the A380 are the biggest of any commercial airliner flying. While most airlines opted to use the extra space for a more luxurious bathroom, Emirates decided to push the boat out by installing showers.

A perk reserved just for those customers traveling in first class, the shower suite provides fresh towels and toiletries to ensure that you arrive at your destination fresh and ready to go. Even though the water time is limited to 5 minutes per person (to ensure there’s enough for everyone), it’s still plenty of time to clean the last 14 hours of flight off your body.

Emirates First Class A380 - Bathroom and Shower
Fly in first class on the Emirates A380 and you can have a shower during the flight. Image Credit: Erin Miller

Turbulence

One of the best things about the massive size of the A380 is its performance in turbulence. Like a large ship on the ocean, the A380 seems to ride the bumps better than smaller aircraft. While it’s impossible to exactly compare the sensations experienced in the cabin, passengers speak of how smooth the flight tends to be on an A380 — a modern-day luxury liner of the skies.

The Best Seats

The Residence

It’s not often that there is a class above first class in commercial air travel but The Residence on Etihad’s A380s is worthy of special mention. The First Class Apartments are already pretty lavish, but The Residence takes airliner travel to new heights.

Taking up the area at the front left of the upper deck, The Residence has 3 rooms for the passenger to enjoy. On board, your personal butler welcomes you and shows you to your “seat.” You enter into the living room area where you’re met by a double sofa complete with a 32-inch TV on the opposite wall. Here you have access to your own bar and foldaway table where your gourmet meals can be served along with wine pairings, should you so desire.

A380 Etihad The Residence bedroom
The Residence on board Etihad’s A380 has a double bed. Image Credit: Airbus

When you’re done with dinner, take a few steps from the living room and you’ll enter your own private bedroom. Here, a natural fiber custom-made double mattress bed awaits you, complete with premium bedding and luxury sleepwear. Close the door and shut yourself away from the world to enjoy the best sleep you’ll ever have on board an aircraft.

On waking, your butler can serve you breakfast in bed before you slip into your private bathroom to enjoy a hot shower before landing.

If you want to travel in style without jumping on a private jet, this is the way to do it.

First Class

When it comes to comfort on the A380, it’s hard to beat the first class offering from Emirates. Already pioneers with showers for all first class customers, each seat is, in fact, a suite. Configured in a 1-2-1 layout, each suite has its own sliding door that you can close for ultimate privacy. There is even a “Do Not Disturb” light that you can illuminate, letting the crew know that you want to maintain your peace.

Emirates First Class A380 - Seat with Amenities & Excitement
A view of the private suites in first class on the Emirates A380. Image Credit: Erin Miller

When you need a drink, there’s no need to try and catch the eye of one of the crew. Simply open up the stocked bar in your seat area and help yourself. When it comes to sleeping, the seat transforms into a fully flat bed, complete with fresh bedding and a comfy faux sheepskin blanket.

If you don’t want to sleep and instead are trying to stay awake to adjust to your destination time zone, the ICE entertainment system is hard to beat. With the option of over 4,500 channels, even the fussiest of viewers will find something to their liking.

Or, if you’re worried that being on a flight will mean you’ll miss your sports teams game, fear not. Emirates live streams major sporting fixtures such as the NBA, NFL, and the English Premier League.

Business Class

You can’t talk about airline quality and not mention Singapore Airlines. Regularly punching above its weight, Singapore’s business class cabin on the A380 is a dream. Taking up the rest of the upper deck behind first class, the business class cabin is laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration.

The refreshed cabins feature a modern palette of dark purple seats with light grey shells around them. When traveling in the middle seats, the divider can be lowered to form a “double bed” with the seat next to you. However, the stand out feature is the inflight dining.

Singapore Airlines Airbus New A380 Business Class Window Seat Bed
Singapore Airlines Airbus New A380 Business Class Window Seat Bed. Image Credit: Greg Stone

Singapore Airlines allows you to “Book the Cook” and order your meal before the flight. If you can’t work out what you’ll feel like eating in a few days’ time, you can still choose from the onboard menu. Hainanese pork chops, seared ocean trout fillet with Pernod sauce, and seared lamb loin make up some of the delicious options you’ll find on the menu.

Singapore Airlines Airbus New A380 Business Class Meal Service
Enjoy fine dining with the business class meal service aboard Singapore Airlines’ newest A380s. Image Credit: Greg Stone

Premium Economy

The premium economy seat on Qantas’ A380 combines an adjustable headrest, reclining seat, and footrest to result in a comfortable sleeping set up. It also provides noise-canceling headphones to plug into the entertainment system, blocking out any remaining A380 noise so that you can immerse yourself in your movie.

Dining-wise, passengers have the option to pre-order their meals, or if you plan to eat before boarding and want to maximize your rest, you can select the “no meal — maximize my rest” option to enable you to get as much shut-eye as possible. Snacks will still be available should you wake up feeling a little peckish.

Economy

If your budget doesn’t quite stretch to the luxuries of the above, don’t get disheartened. You can still have a great experience on the A380 sat in economy. Qatar Airways consistently wins awards for all of its cabins and was voted third best economy class by SkyTrax.

With one of the widest seats in the sky and over 4,000 entertainment options at your fingertips, your time on board will fly by. However, don’t just book any economy seat on the Qatar Airways A380 — book early and head upstairs.

At the back of the upper deck is a small economy cabin with just 8 rows of seats. This makes for a more intimate experience, to the point where you will almost forget that you’re sharing the aircraft with 516 other passengers.

A380 qatar upper deck
The smaller economy cabin at the rear of the Qatar Airways A380. Image Credit: SeatGuru

The Crew Perspective

While passengers may spend several hours a year on an A380, some can spend over a month on the aircraft. For the pilots and flight attendants who work on the A380, it is their office.

Not only is it their office, but on longer flights, the aircraft also becomes their bedroom. You probably have your dislikes with your office space and maybe your sleeping arrangements at home but for the crew on the A380, they both become the same thing.

The Pilots

For those looking after the safety of everyone on board, the A380 is generally well-loved. “The A380 is a pleasure to operate,” said Nigel, a captain for a European airline. “Handling is similar to the A320, with the 380 being a little more sensitive in pitch. It’s very nimble despite its size!”

Francois, a senior first officer for a Middle Eastern airline, agreed. “The plane itself is very easy to fly, the controls are very responsive, and compared to flying the A320, there is barely any difference.”

For the European operators, the small fleet size also makes it a more personable experience, at least amongst the pilots. “My favorite thing about the 380 is probably the people I fly with,” Nigel continued. “A small close-knit group who like to maintain standards but also create an enjoyable atmosphere at work.”

a380 lufthansa flight deck pilots
The flight deck of a Lufthansa A380. Image Credit: Greg Stone

However, the size of the entire crew tends to be a downside. “More often than not, I don’t get to speak to all of the crew,” Nigel admitted. “We do in the briefing but then we could be down route somewhere and walk right past a colleague you’ve spent the last 14 hours with and not recognize them.”

For Francois, it’s the operational limitations that provide the aircraft’s downsides. “Not every airport has the capability of handling an A380,” he explained. “If we were to have an emergency somewhere remote, our biggest challenge would actually be the ground handling and maintenance support. How are we getting our passengers off? Can we provide all our passengers a room?”

As the A380 regularly operates flights of around 16 hours, it’s a long time for the crew to be on-duty. Even more so as they must be at their most alert at the end of the flight when landing the aircraft.

As a result, on longer flights, extra pilots form part of the crew and there are special areas set aside for the crew to take it turns to sleep.

However, the rest facilities vary from airline to airline.

Nigel loves the sleeping arrangements on his airline’s A380 fleet. “The rest facilities are the best of all the aircraft we operate,” he said proudly. “They are like little quiet bedrooms far away from the engines that make for a good sleep.

Unfortunately for Francois, his rest facilities are not as good. “To create extra capacity in the newest aircraft, the Crew Rest Compartment (CRC) has been put under the main deck floor next to the cargo compartments,” he explained. “The ceilings are very low and the beds are shorter and less wide compared to our old CRCs. I am only 6-feet-tall and even I struggle with the dimensions to sleep comfortably.”

The Flight Attendants

The flight attendants find different aspects of the A380 challenging to work with. One of the main issues seems to be the sheer number of crew on each flight, usually around 22. More often than not, the first time that any of the crew will have met each other will have been in the briefing room immediately before the flight.

“We are split into smaller teams to look after the different passenger cabins on both decks,” said Nicole, a flight attendant with a European airline. “Working with such a large team is both challenging, yet rewarding,” she continued. “An aircraft of this size requires a great deal of communication and teamwork to make it a safe and successful flight.”

A380 crew
For the most part, flight attendants enjoy working on the A380. Image Credit: Airbus

That said, Laura, a flight attendant for a Middle Eastern airline, loves the greater numbers of colleagues. “As there is more crew, the work gets divided up better than on other types.”

So what do flight attendants love about the A380?

Unsurprisingly, working on a modern fleet is at the top of the list. “As the aircraft are relatively young, most things on board work! Inflight entertainment, flat-bed seats, and catering equipment all tend to work without any problems, which allows us to offer the best service possible for our passengers.”

The space available to work in the galleys also makes life easier for the flight attendants. Nicole continued, “While the upper deck is slightly more narrow than the main deck, it never feels claustrophobic and the larger workspace means we are not always in each other’s way.

Yet the large number of crew can make for quite an impersonal working environment. “You can go the entirety of the flight without seeing the crew on the other deck,” Nicole confessed. “Often you can land into a destination and not even remember the faces you met in the briefing room just 12 hours earlier.”

Singapore Suites FRA-SIN
A happy crew makes for happy customers! Image Credit: Alex Miller

However, once again, the provision for decent rest during the flight is severely lacking. When asked about the crew rest area, Laura had mixed views. “For me, they are fine because I’m small so I don’t have issues, but I’m sure the taller crew have problems sleeping comfortably in the A380 bunks.”

Final Thoughts

What was hailed as the savior of commercial aviation has sadly become a white elephant. The A380 promised a new age of commercial air travel, solving the envisaged problem of congestion in airports and the skies above our heads.

While passengers continue to love the experience of flying in such a smooth and quiet aircraft, the airlines have failed to share the same passion. The economics of operating such a large aircraft have never quite added up.

Aircraft such as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and now Airbus’ own A350 have moved the industry on another step. Far more efficient than the A380, the Dreamliner can take passengers directly to their destination without having to worry about connecting flights.

The new aircraft make life easier for the airlines, too. The logistics of handling such a big aircraft are reduced and they can offer customers greater flexibility for lower costs.

However, some of the best cabins in the skies today are on A380s. Etihad blew the competition out of the water with “The Residence” — a 3 room suite that includes a luxurious double bed. Emirates’ first class is hard to beat with its private suites and Singapore Airlines’ business class product provides some of the most delicious food of any airline.

While passengers love flying on the A380, for those who work on board, reviews are mixed.

Pilots love how the aircraft handles, very much like the smaller A320 many of them will have flown previously. The flight attendants appreciate the size of the galleys, enabling them to serve passengers without falling over each other.

However, when you’re working an 18+ hour shift, getting decent rest proves difficult. If you’re lucky enough to be a pilot whose airline utilizes the rest facility at the front of the aircraft, you’ll sleep well. However, for those who have to sleep in the belly of the aircraft, the conditions aren’t quite so comfy.

Short bunks and low ceilings make for an unfavorable environment to a decent sleep. The quietness of the aircraft actually makes things worse, meaning that the crew is able to hear every call bell and every pair of feet walking above them.

If you’re flying on an A380 soon, you’ve chosen well. If you haven’t been on one yet, you’d best hurry up. They won’t be around forever!


Frequently asked questions

How many A380s have been built?

As of December 2019, 242 A380s have been delivered to 14 different airlines around the world. Of these, 1 is now flying secondhand for a charter airline, Hi-Fly, and 2 have been commissioned for scrapping. Emirates is the last airline with airframes still to be delivered, the last 1 by 2021.

Which U.S. airports does the A380 fly to?

You’re able to fly the A380 from 10 U.S. airports – Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Of these, LAX hosts the greatest number of different A380 operators including Air France, Asiana, British Airways, China Southern, Lufthansa, Korean Air, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines.

How many pilots and flight attendants does the A380 have?

The A380 is a 2-pilot aircraft, however on longer flights 1 and sometimes 2 extra pilots are carried. This enables them to take turns to sleep during the flight, ensuring that they are well resting for landing.

Most airlines operate the A380 with 21 flight attendants, however, it can depart with as few as 18.

How many passengers can the A380 carry?

During testing, Airbus demonstrated that 853 passengers and 20 crew could safely evacuate the A380 in less than 90 seconds. As a result, European and American regulators certified the aircraft to carry up to 853 passengers.

However, in reality, most airlines have configured their aircraft to seat around 550 people in a 3-class configuration.

How big is the A380?

The A380 is the biggest commercial aircraft in the skies. Its 262-foot wingspan and 238-foot length mean that it is actually wider than it is long. The tail stands an impressive 79 feet above the ground.

The maximum takeoff weight of the A380 is 1,234,600 pounds and it can carry 559,937 pounds of fuel.

Charlie Page

About Charlie Page

Charlie is a Senior First Officer and has been an airline pilot for nearly 15 years. He currently flies long-haul on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner after 10 years buzzing around Europe on the A320. He got into travel and aviation from an early age, fortunate enough to be taken on some great family holidays. His earliest memory of visiting a flight deck was aged 8 and it was from then on that he was determined to become an airline pilot.

Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.

Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

Advertiser Disclosure

Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which we receive financial compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). However, the credit card information that we publish has been written by experts who know these products inside out, and what we recommend is what we would (or already) use ourselves. This site does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers that are on the market. Click here to see a list of advertisers that we work with.