The golden age of travel is always a relative term. Did you prefer the days when suits were standard minimally accepted attire, cigarette smoke filled the cabins and tickets cost more than months of salary; or is the present of flying, with the ultra cheap deals, clean planes and sweatpants more your speed?

Planes themselves add complexity to the travel “golden age” question, and no plane in modern history has done more to revolutionize the flying experience than the massive double decker Airbus A380, dubbed the “super jumbo”.

But with passenger numbers down, and business travel at a stand still, airlines just don’t have much use for the A380, or its unique cabins at the moment.

Stunning showers were for first class passengers, suites too, and the bars for business class complicate social distancing right now, and there’s hardly any real demand for business class either. For some airlines, it means early retirement for the A380, but a growing number of airlines say not so fast.

Future Of The Airbus A380

Days are numbered for the A380, but certainly not over. While Air France, Qatar Airways and Lufthansa have either reduced A380 counts, or retired their fleet with immediate effect, airlines which always found the greatest success with the Airbus A380 super-jumbo are eyeing a return to the skies.

As rumours swirled of Etihad shutting down A380 operations, after the airline pulled A380 service from all US gateways, Etihad VP, Vincent Frascogna stepped in to clarify the move, telling Airways Magazine…

“…we still have a commitment to operate the ten A380s that we have in our fleet…But it all depends on when is the right time to bring them back into the network based on borders reopening and demand coming back.” 

Vincent Frascogna, VP, Etihad Airways

The planes are going nowhere for now, but that’s better than retirement. Meanwhile, Emirates is already sending the super-jumbo back to flying missions all around the globe, including a recently added sixth destination, Toronto.

China Southern has resumed A380 service to a variety of European gateways, including Paris and London. For the rest, including Qantas, Korean, Malaysian, Asiana and Thai, planes are parked, or in storage and no set plans have been unveiled. With Qantas A380 jets enjoying a refurb, it’s unlikely they’ll stay on the bench forever.

Early Retirement For A Young Plane?

Young, still relatively new and full of passenger comforts, why is the A380 in jeopardy you ask? Cargo is a big part, and so is operating cost. It’s a beast of a plane, and with four engines to fuel, not cheap on that either.

When boom times come once again, it’s the best way to maximize a given flight, with more paying passengers than any other plane could offer, thanks to two decks. ANA is an example of this, using the A380 exclusively between Tokyo and Honolulu.

When times are tough though, like the present, it’s an awful lot of jet fuel, pretty terrible cargo performance, and just not enough passengers to justify the cost. The cargo business has been a saving grace for many airlines during covid-19, and Emirates has used its cargo friendly Boeing 777 aircraft to keep revenue flowing, since it’s currently making more money down below, than up top.

For airlines including Etihad, Emirates and Singapore, the A380 although imperfect economically, is a competitive advantage in many ways, and could be still. Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways both offer unrivalled first class cabins, with separate seats and beds, in what can only be described as studio apartments in the sky.

Emirates isn’t far behind, dedicating the entire upper deck of the Airbus A380 to luxury travel, with massive shower suites for first class, actual suites with doors in first class, a gigantic business class cabin and a business class bar at the back, to toast the flight.

Social Distancing In Economy: The A380 Saviour?

But it’s the social distancing capabilities in economy which may be the ultimate saving grace. Being able to leave room for social distancing, but still fill more seats than any single decker aircraft could offer. For cities where just one or two daily flights operate, it could be all the difference.

The Emirates Airbus A380 is capable of offering 427 economy seats on A380’s with business and first class, or a whopping 557 on flights without first class. Leaving 100 seats empty on either flight, to help distancing measures, still sells more economy seats than the airlines next largest plane, the Boeing 777-300ER, with all the seats occupied.

Realistically, to guarantee a blocked middle seat, an A380 operator would need to only sell 65% of seats in the cabin, which still equates to 277 seats for Emirates, or 269 for Etihad. That’s More than any fully sold Airbus A350, or Boeing 787.

It doesn’t make sense commercially right now, while cargo demands incredible sums, but as cargo prices come back down, and passenger numbers go back up, it just might make for a compelling marketing scheme, at the very least.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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