a row of seats in an airplane

The Airbus A380 rarely needs much introduction. And yes, for those unsure, it’s the plane with two decks the entire way, carrying up to 615 passengers in today’s many configurations that looks kind of like a giant whale. It’s also the one with some of the more unique features found in the sky, like bars, or showers on board.

But it appears Airbus had different ideas for the behemoth, often referred to as “The Whale”, which may have changed its legacy. An absolutely fascinating Airbus passenger layout sheet suggests the manufacturer had plans to make the already massive plane into a stretched out 966 passenger, all economy megabus.

Airbus A380 With 966 Seats

On Valentines Day 2019, Airbus sent out the heartbreaking news that it was going to end production of the A380, with no further future orders being place. Even before the pandemic, airlines were moving to smaller, more nimble “point to point” aircraft, and the A380 just didn’t fit the bill.

It may not always have been that way though. German aviation writer Andreas Spaeth uncovered an original Airbus proposal for what eventually became the A380, noting a A3XX-200, with two decks in an all economy class configuration.

Oh, what could have been.

With just 30” of pitch – aka legroom – far below what many airlines ultimately chose to go with on the A380, and 1 lavatory per 69 passengers, the A3XX-200 concept wouldn’t likely have become the passenger favorite the A380 lived to be, but it might have made airlines boat loads of money.

Emirates made headlines in 2016 for creating an A380 configuration with 615 seats, in an all business class and economy mix, but it’s hundreds off what could have been.

Photo of Emirates a380 flying

If Airbus went ahead and stretched the already massive frame into a longer version, airlines could’ve packed 550 seats into the lower deck alone. Add in 416 up top, and a sold out flight could generate more revenue than just about any configuration live today on select routes.

It’s hard not to think that even short haul routes could’ve been changed forever, with the 966 seat configuration dropping prices to rival train, or ferry travel between short haul European destination. The question is: would it have been better, or a lot worse?

Outside of Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines, very few airlines experienced great success in maximizing revenues and spaces on the gargantuan plane, which lead many airlines to retire the plane early, a process which continues today.

The A380 still makes sense for hub travel where large demand exists between major cities, such as between Dubai and London, where cramming all the more passengers into each flight means more money, but the loads create too much strain for new and unproven routes.

A 966 seat Airbus A380 will never see the light of day, but it does make you wonder what other designs Airbus has up its sleeve. Today, Airbus is showcasing a different type of travel, with smaller, zero emissions jets for the future of travel, in support of zero emissions day. It’s a far cry from a double decker with 966 seats.

HT: Live And Lets Fly

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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