Early Saturday morning the world of luxury commercial air travel once again moved to a new level as the Inaugural Etihad A380 flight from Abu Dhabi to London took flight, complete with the Residence, a three room suite including a private shower and double bed. The first class cabin on board (a step below the Residence) includes the only single-aisle wide-body airplane configuration currently flying. There’s a lot to appreciate about the way Etihad has approached the premium cabins on board their newest aircraft type.
But what about the rest of us?
What if you’re not flying in the lap of luxury? For passengers in the economy class cabin the A380 options appear quite similar in many ways. A bit of number crunching and reviews of seat maps suggests that there are some very real differences, however. So, who offers the best ride for A380 economy class seats?
To answer this question I took a look at all 16 A380 configurations currently flying across 13 airlines. Getting an “apples-to-apples” comparison is complicated because no two have the exact same layout on board. Still, there are enough similarities that the numbers eventually yield some useful data. I’m personally partial to layouts which have A380 economy class seats upstairs. I like the 2-4-2 layout much better than the 3-4-3 layout on the lower deck. There’s usually a bit of extra space by the window thanks to the curve of the fuselage and generally fewer people around which makes it feel a bit more intimate. It also typically should mean better/faster service and a quieter cabin experience overall. But only 9 of the 16 layouts offer that option.
Of those nine layouts four also have a lounge or premium seating in the same area at the rear of the upper deck which makes the comparisons much harder. And the number of seats in the space upstairs is pretty consistent; there is no one airline which has a significantly better cabin layout upstairs than the competition that I can see from the seat maps. Asiana squeezes a row or two extra in the same space so they would be last on my list, while the other airlines with a lower number of seats upstairs are usually such because the additional space is assigned to other passengers or to galley space.
Looking at the seating downstairs, however, the comparisons are a bit easier to draw. All but one of the A380 operators (British Airways) has the entire lower deck to the rear of the second exit door configured with economy class seats. And the range of seats installed is impressively broad. Thai Airways has only 297 seats behind that door downstairs while Air France has 359 seats; that’s 20% more passengers (6 additional rows) in the same space. Interestingly, Asiana is towards the lower end of the collection on the lower deck with only 311 seats in the compared space, comparable to Singapore Airlines and one row more than Korean’s 301 seats.
At the crowded end of the spectrum Air France is joined by Malaysia Airlines and China Southern in having more than 350 seats in that lower deck area. And sitting in the middle of the pack are Qatar Airways, Emirates, Lufthansa, Qantas and Etihad.
Of course there are variations in the on-board product such as the IFE systems, meals and other factors. But at the end of the day I’m focused on personal space above all the other stuff. And looking at the numbers I now know where I’m going to have the best chance of actually finding that smidgen of extra space which makes the flight just a bit more tolerable.
I should note that I’ve flown on Thai & Lufthansa’s A380 in Y downstairs and on BA’s upstairs. I do remember the Thai & BA seats being quite reasonable and Lufthansa’s as not all that horrible. That seems to line up with these numbers as well.
n.b. – Most of the data, including the images, for the comparisons was pulled from SeatGuru with spot-checks against the airlines’ sites as well.
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