It was the kind of offer Telstar Logistics cannot refuse: "Please join us for an exclusive opportunity to experience and fly on Emirates’ cutting-edge A380 aircraft during a two hour ‘demo flight’ and reception," they said. So we said, "Sure! Sign us up!"
And away we went. Dubai-based Emirates brought the airline's first Airbus A380 to San Francisco today to provide the locals with a first-hand demonstration of the aircraft's formidable bling. Airbus delivered this A380 less than two weeks ago, and Emirates quickly put it to use as a high-profile billboard to introduce the airline to the American public. San Francisco will become Emirates' newest destination on December 15, when nonstop service to Dubai begins (using a Boeing 777-200, alas).
As you may recall, Telstar Logistics also toured the first A380 ever to land at SFO last October. That A380 was a very different creature, however. Operated by Airbus as a test platform, its interior was unfinished and hollow, but for a few instrument racks and simulated cargo. For comparison's sake, this is what it looked like inside that A380:
Here's the view from roughly the same spot, in the Business cabin of the A380 we flew aboard today:
The Emirates A380 is A6-EDA (cn 011), the eleventh A380 to roll off the Airbus assembly line. When its promotional tour is completed, it will be put to work flying Emirates' Dubai-JFK route. Today, however, it was our airborne plaything, so we explored it from front to back -- from the frilly fountain sculpture at the top of the main stairway to the inflight toaster and bunwarmer installed in the aft galley. We even played bartender in the upper deck lounge. Swingin'! Here are some other impressions from our 90-minute joyride over San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean:
- There really is such a thing as a "new airplane smell." In fact, it smells a lot like a new car. It also smells much better than the skanky interior of a typical American Airlines MD-80 that was built sometime during the Reagan Administration's first term.
- We'd heard that the A380 was very quiet, and it's true. The cabin interior was exceptionally hushed — a fact which became very clear when thrust was applied for takeoff. We barely heard the engines spinning up to speed. Seriously quiet. Want proof? As you watch this (seriously awesome) video of the takeoff taken by our distinguished colleague Theorem, listen to how hushed the cabin remains throughout. Note also that Theorem was sitting in a window seat just behind the port engines. Let's listen in:
- Also, let's hear it for the Tailcam! One of the coolest things about the A380s onboard video system is the realtime view it displays of the plane in flight. Theorem captured the takeoff, and we shot this video that shows the view from the Tailcam as we came in for a landing at SFO. This is what we saw from our seatback video display:
Passengers in all classes can choose to watch live video feeds from three cameras positioned on the exterior of the plane: A view from the top of the tail, a view forward from the nose, and a view straight down. Endlessly entertaining.
- This A380 was configured to carry a total of 489 people. On the lower deck, Economy Class has 399 seats. The upper deck was fitted with 76 Business Class seats and 14 First Class "suites."
- The Economy seats are reasonably spacious, and the inflight entertainment system has a lot to offer. There's inflight email and SMS, 100 movies on-demand, 50 on-demand television channels, 350 audio channels, and 40 electronic games. Here's the view from a typical Economy seat — this is where we sat during our takeoff and landing. Notice the gimballed cup-holder built into the back of the tray table (clever! handy!), and the fact that our knee is not bumping up against the seatback:
- Business Class seats are semi-private pods that offer lie-flat seats, a large-screen video display, storage space, and a personal beverage station. The pods are very comfortable, but they also resemble office cubicles, which is a tad unsettling.
- First Class "suites" offer even more privacy, burlwood trim, a large-screen video display, lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of gold-chrome trim, and a retractable personal beverage station, which operates as follows:
- First Class passengers enjoy access to the aircraft's two showers.
- Yes! Showers! Each of the 14 First Class passengers can enjoy a 5-minute shower in one of two private lounges, each of which looks vaguely like something one might expect to find in a Napa Valley golf club. Two dedicated shower attendants clean and freshen the rooms after each use, and the A380 carries an extra half-ton of water to meet the personal-hygiene needs of these elite First Class passengers. In aeronautical terms, there's a word for this: Super-decadent.
- We even took a photo from *inside* the shower, since this is the closest we may ever get to it shy of paying more than $10,000 for a First Class ticket:
- The shower was nifty, but the upper deck bar/lounge area was perhaps even more enticing. The bar is spacious enough and comfortable enough to encourage serious socializing, and there was an attentive bartender (Hereby dubbed "Isaac of the Airways") pouring the drinks. Extremely civilized:
All told it was a rarefied experience — not least because who the hell knows when we'll get to fly on an A380 again. (No American carriers have ordered the A380, and those that do come to the U.S. will be used sparingly on international routes.) Yet that made us all the more grateful for the opportunity to take the A380 for a test drive. And since we treat our responsibility to share such experiences as a solemn duty, we've enclosed a link to lots more pictures. Happy flying!
Emirates A380 at SFO (Flickr Photoset by Telstar Logistics)