Last month, the Airbus A380 made its inaugural commercial flight to Europe when Singapore Airlines' super-jumbo jet landed at London's Heathrow Airport. Though Singapore is still the only carrier flying the A380 (it has three), two more airlines will add the world's largest commercial passenger jet to their fleet by the end of the year.
In August, Qantas Airways will receive its first A380 and soon after is expected to deploy it on flights between Los Angeles and Australia. On Oct. 1, Emirates Airlines' first A380 will make its inaugural commercial flight from Dubai to New York. In total, 189 more are on order as of the end of March.
The A380, at about 239 feet long and nearly 80 feet high, can accommodate 525 passengers. With all that room, why just take people from Point A to Point B? Why not throw in a casino if you can fit it? Virgin Atlantic is thinking about it.
Besides Singapore, 13 carriers, an airplane leasing company and a Saudi prince are slated to receive the A380 from Airbus. Here's a look at what's in store for those who will ride in these behemoths.
Singapore's A380 holds 471 passengers -- 399 in economy, 60 in business and 12 in first class. When the jet made its maiden flight in October, the airline set the pace for customizing the A380 by introducing private suites in first class, with leather chairs and fully flat beds.
The suites, designed by French yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste, are essentially hotel rooms operating at 30,000 feet. Each of the 12 suites aboard Singapore's A380 features a 23-inch-wide LCD TV, a 35-inch-wide leather chair (with armrest folded away) that reclines up to 130 degrees and a large table. The suites also have blinds for added privacy and a chaise longue.
At bedtime, the reclining chair tucks away to make room for a fully flat, stand-alone bed a little longer though narrower than a twin bed. And there's no need to stow luggage under the seat in front or in the overhead bins. The suites come with full-length wardrobes, and the duvet and cushions are designed by Givenchy.
Four of the 12 suites can be combined into two double suites, and the beds of each suite can join to form a double bed for couples. But curb your imaginations -- the airline is gently but tactfully informing passengers that its enclosed suites are not to be used for . . . that.
Qantas is configuring its jets to hold 450 passengers -- 14 in first class, 72 in business, 32 in premium economy and 332 in economy.
First class will hold 14 private cabins that will offer a personal storage area for clothes, a dining table for two, a leather chair and an LCD TV. At 17 inches, Qantas' TVs are smaller than those on Singapore's, and the bed, though fully flat, will be converted from the chair. Nice touches include soundproofing and a multi-zone massage built into the chairs.
Passengers in business class won't have cabins, but they will have a private lounge with leather sofas, a large video monitor and a self-service bar.
Lufthansa's 550-passenger planes will house first and business class on the upper deck, and economy passengers will be seated on the main deck to allow for boarding on two levels.
In designing the interior of its A380, Lufthansa said it conducted 6,000 interviews with passengers and sought the expertise of luxury hotel chains, auto manufacturers and yacht designers. Although the airline won't yet release details of its A380's interior, it said first-class passengers on long flights would have subtle lighting adjustments to help with jet lag.
What passengers should not expect are "showers, large bar areas, billiard tables, spas or similar gadgets," Martin Riecken, Lufthansa's head of corporate communications for the Americas, said in an e-mail. In its research, Lufthansa found that passengers valued personal space.
Virgin Atlantic won't yet release details of its plans for its A380s, but Virgin's founder, Richard Branson, has hinted that amenities such as spas, double beds, gyms and casinos would be aboard. We'll see if Branson makes good on his word when Virgin Atlantic rolls out its planes in 2013.
In November, Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, chairman of Kingdom Holding Group, placed the first firm order for the Airbus A380 Flying Palace, the VIP version of the A380. Alwaleed's net worth is estimated at $20 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
Alwaleed will not be the only private owner of the A380. Edése Doret Industrial Design Inc., a New York-based design company, is working on the interior of another A380 Flying Palace for an undisclosed buyer. The plane will live up to its palatial moniker, though with a "modern and minimalist interior," says Edése A. Doret Jr., the company's president. Using the A380's cargo space, the interior will consist of three levels. The first will serve as the entry and crew area. From there, a spiral staircase will lead to the main deck, where two lounges, a dining room with seating for 14, a galley and entourage seating area await. The third level will house the master bedroom and bathroom with a Jacuzzi. Doret describes his creation as a "flying yacht" with a "New York City loft" feel.
The plane comes with a price tag of nearly $320 million. The interior will cost an additional $150 million, Doret said.
MORE ON THE WAY
Major airlines -- British Airways, Air France and Korean Air, among them -- have placed orders for the A380, but they're not yet disclosing the details of their cabin interiors. Airbus also won't comment. "As you might imagine, the use of the phenomenal cabin space in this aircraft is a very competitive marketing point," Mary Anne Greczyn, communications manager at Airbus Americas, said in an e-mail.
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