Airplanista Blog Editor
Part 1 of 3
My recent trip to Austria and Italy in celebration of my 25th wedding anniversary to Julie Celeste had been in the planning stages for over a year. My wife is a Master at planning trips, but when she read me the itinerary for my first round-trip flight over the Atlantic, all I wanted to know was...you guessed it...what flying machines were involved.
To my delight, I was stoked to find out the trip would put me in the business class cabin on two of the largest and most sophisticated airliners flying today, Boeing's brand new 747-800I (for intercontinental) and the Airbus A380. As an aviation writer, it quickly became clear that I MUST write a comparison of the "jumbo jet" and the "superjumbo."
Part one begins inside the A380 over Sacramento as the 'Bus settles in for a nine hour, thirty minute transoceanic flight. In part two, I will write about my journey in the Four-Seven eight hundred, and close with part three as I offer comments on what is sure to be great battle of two REALLY large birds.
The progress aviation has made in the 109 years since the Wrights first flew at Kitty Hawk finally hits me as I recline in business class luxury at FL370 over Northern California. I'm reading "Airbus A380 - Superjumbo of the 21st Century" by Guy Norris and Mark Wagner on my iPad, riding on the top deck of the seventh A380 delivered to Luftansa Airlines.
On the video screen in front of my very supple and comfortable seat, I can see we are making 650 mph ground speed, quite respectable for a giant airliner that had a gross takeoff weight of "500 tons" according to the flight deck announcement. When you do the math, yes, friends, that pencils out to an even one million pounds. Of that superjumbo GTW, our Captain said 130 tons of it is fuel, which calculates out to roughly 40,000 gallons of Jet-A required for the 5,874 nm flight SFO to FRA.This incredible flight started with an impressive scene when flight 455's entire flight crew came down the escalator at SFO's Gate 101 in a group - 24 in all, including three pilots. It was quite a sight to see the entire escalator completely full of Luftansa uniforms. When asked, one FA told me their entrance into the gate area was indeed choreographed, because an "over-the-top" airliner demands that sort of aviation theater.
About 24 minutes into the flight, an FA brings me a hot towel, followed closely by another FA holding an armload of small, white pieces of fabric. She says something I have never heard while flying coach my entire life..."Excuse me sir, may I set your table?" I realize this is a tablecloth, and as it is laid out on my tray table, so begins a completely surreal passenger experience.
For the next hour, as a million pounds of airplane whisks me smoothly across Montana, Wyoming and up into Canada, I devour an exquisite meal, which begins with Endive salad, red and yellow heirloom tomatoes with Friseé hearts, Asparagus spears and Baby Micro Greens, all tastefully coated in a very good Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette. The main course of Korean Style spiced Chicken, White Bean Ragout and Swiss chard tastes as if it came from an actual restaurant and not a Gate Gourmet box truck. The Lufthansa dining orgy ends with a generous helping of Chocolate Pot de Creme for dessert.After finishing dinner, the cabin crew brings the lights down slowly allowing we pax to get into a sleeping mood in our (mostly) lay-flat seats. While having more technology built into them than many GA airplanes, these seats just did not lay all the way flat. It was in theory "flat" but when fully extended, seemed raked at about a 15 degree angle, which ended up being the perfect deck angle to allow this passenger to gently slip down into the footwell. But despite this squawk, a quiet cabin made more comfortable by Lufthansa's luscious blankets and pillows, and a behemoth airplane that pretty much swatted away any turbulence made sleeping easy and restful.
Just east of Nuuk, Greenland, we've picked up a respectable tailwind now, and the Flight Info screen says we are cranking along at 724 MPH of ground speed. It makes me briefly think of Lindbergh out here alone in the Spirit of St. Louis, or Jerrie Mock flying Three-Eight Charlie across the vast, angry sea below.
We wake from a nice nap inbound over Scotland at FL390, and the tailwind we picked up over the North Atlantic was now gone, with the A380 loping along at about 620 mph ground speed. I was about to begin preparing for our descent into FRA when a very personable FA appeared at our seats offering omelets, fresh fruit, an assortment of breads and pastries, juices and very tasty coffee. In Lufthansa Business Class, it is apparently impossible to fly very far without having more food delivered to your seat. I am so impressed with this airline...
Of the many things Lufthansa got right on this business class ride over the pond, one of the best was the "quality" of the cabin crew (FAs). Every woman working our flight was gorgeous, charismatic and classy. They were the type of FAs you would expect to find on a transoceanic flight...in the 1960s. With their perfect uniforms and cute yellow Lufthansa scarves, they appeared to come right out of central casting. And while admittedly not a good judge of male hunkiness, I was assured by my female travel partner that the one male FA was also attractive. But what set these Lufthansa FAs apart was not only their appearance, but their vivacious and outgoing personalities. Throughout the flight, it was common to have them stop by our seat to chat, and at all times, the crew was smiling, laughing and joking with each other in a way that indicated they truly loved their jobs.Our ride to the EU on Lufthansa's A380 was a very cool experience for this #AVGEEK. The airplane was big, fast and comfortable, and the service was impeccable. But how will it compare to the return flight aboard one of Boeing's newest 747-800 Intercontinentals? Check back here soon for part two of this story, when I review the return flight in the business class comfort of the four-seven.