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Qantas goes practical on new A380

21 Sep 2008

Australian carrier Qantas has chosen to focus on practical details rather than wow-factors on its first Airbus. While offerings such as showers (as in Emirates’ First Class) or double beds (as in Singapore Airlines’ First Class) are absent, a first look at the cabins does reveal smart, stylish interiors designed by the airline’s renowned creative director Marc Newson. Newson said he wanted to create a “classic design that would stand the test of time”, while still using modern, high-tech materials “inspired by aviation itself”.

The airline took delivery of its first superjumbo at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse on Saturday, September 19. It was then flown to Singapore, and from there, jetted down to Sydney where it arrived yesterday, September 21.

Named after Nancy-Bird Walton, an Australian aviation pioneer, the 450-seater aircraft has been configured in four cabins (the first of the superjumbos to include a Premium Economy cabin), with 14 First Class Suites, 72 Business Class seats, 32 Premium Economy, and 332 Economy seats.

As we were walked through the various offerings on board the Airbus A380, Bob Lange, head of aircraft interiors marketing customer affairs, pointed to small features, such as flexible net footrests in economy, as a sign that Qantas has gone for detail over showiness.

“The Qantas brand is not about excess or exuberence, but every feature on this aircraft has been defined and refined to the very last detail,” said Lange. “All of our customers pay attention to detail, but this has been particularly the case for Qantas.”

So what can passengers expect? Qantas has opted for Business and Premium Economy cabins on the upper deck, with First and Economy beneath. First Class is configured in 1-1-1 layout, with a total of 14 suites (four rows in the middle, and five on either side). The cream-coloured seat is a kind of herringbone/front-facing hybrid, as after take-off passengers can swivel the seat to the left or right (depending on where you are sitting) from the standard front-facing position. This enables the passenger to sit facing the 17-inch TV screen, as well as to stretch out the seat into an 83.5-inch fully-flat bed, over which a thick sheepskin blanket is laid for sleeping.

There is an ottoman which forms part of the bed or can be used for companion dining, and a fold-out table, various storage spaces, and two electronically controlled privacy dividers to create a feeling of a private suite for the user.

Economy is split across three cabins behind First Class, each one featuring a different-coloured check pattern on the seating (red, green and light orange). Configuration is 3-4-3, and the innovation in this cabin is the single-beam construction of the seat, the first aircraft to feature this new construction. The single beam refers to the way the seat is supported from underneath, and what it means for the passenger is two to three more inches of “feet and shin” room. The seat also has a “foot net” rather than the usual metal footrest, designed to offer greater comfort and also take up less space and weight.

Seat pitch is 31 inches in Economy, with a six-inch recline and width of 18.1 inches. This also the first aircraft to feature self-service bars across all four cabins (although obviously the offering varies between classes).?

At the back of the aircraft, we climbed stairs to the upper deck, although in reality these will only be used by crew and in cases of emergency. Airbus had originally envisaged the aircraft as a flowing area where passengers would move around during the flight, but as Lange explained, the airlines have ended up keeping a more rigid cabin structure.

“We did a lot of studies regarding the passenger movement on the aircraft, but the end result was that airlines did not have the desire to allow passengers to flow between decks.”

In any case, at the top of the rear stairs is Qantas’s new Premium Economy offering. Here, there are a total of 32 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration (3-2 on the first row, two rows of just the middle three seats, and then three rows of 2-3-2). Pitch is 38 to 42 inches, with a nine-inch recline and 19.5-inch width, and the TV screen is stored in the arm.

Past Premium Economy is the first of three Business Class cabins, all configured 2-2-2. The first has two rows, the second seven rows, then there is a self-service bar area, followed by a final three rows. Right at the front is a lounge area, with sofa seating for five people to the right of the aircraft.

It features an improved Skybed offering, with a fully-flat 80-inch bed (as opposed to the previous 69-inch angled lie-flat offering), a 12.1-inch in-arm TV screen, electronic privacy screen and several storage options including a seat-front stretchable compartment to fit a laptop and window storage bins.

There was no time to review the IFE system (this got a thorough workout during the delivery flight), but passengers are promised “over a thousand on-demand entertainment options”, individual seat power in every cabin, and USB and internet points. It’s unclear at this stage what the pricing structure will be for internet access, and initially passengers will have access to a limited number of email options only, until the required satellite is fitted to the aircraft.

Speaking at the press conference, outgoing Qantas CEO Geoff Dixon admitted that if all had gone to plan the airline would have received eight to 12 of the superjumbos by now, but he said that the aircraft “ticked every box, from comfort, to environmental (considerations), to yield and cost”. Asked if Qantas would be surcharging Business Class and First Class tickets on the A380 (as has Singapore Airlines), he replied “You bet!”, but no exact details were supplied at this stage. He added that the carrier expects to see the superjumbo on the London route “around February next year”.

For more information visit www.qantas.com.au.

Mark Caswell

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