Tony France, the Traveling Optimist, is back with another post, and this is a long one. Last time Tony generated a lot of discussion, so let’s hope this does the same.
As for the back of the bus, fear not, coach flyer; despite the aforementioned density of 332 seats in 3-4-3 layout the one HUGE upgrade to this cabin is the introduction of 110v power ports to each bank of seats. Finally even coach customers are acknowledged for needing and wanting to use their laptops for work or their own entertainment in flight. This simple, phenomenal offering has instantly rendered anything by United and Air New Zealand both dead in the water…air. Who needs 160 channels of film and music when my own library can boast several thousand titles of songs, movies and games, completely unedited, personally selected and on a laptop screen up to 17 inches across without PA interruptions? Heaven! With all respect to Coach for that is certainly where much of my personal flying takes place, I would not have placed First and Economy so close together on the same level. Even with priority boarding I would not necessarily want such a divergence in my customer base to mingle on the jet bridge. Neither would I want economy sized traffic traipsing through the refinements of First Class on the way back to Steerage even if they are, to borrow a line from “Titanic,” quite good on this ship. Moreover, placing Premium Economy above standard coach and just behind Business Class works for an illusion of exclusivity during the flight until it is time to deplane and there is only one jet bridge for the aircraft. That puts Premium Economy waiting to come down the back stairs and deplane behind standard coach. Through the galley. And past the lavatories. After 16 hours. Ew. The biggest concern is having the entire Business Class cabin placed on the upper deck. For customers with physical disabilities how will a Business Class customer in a motorized chair board an aircraft through a single, main-level jet bridge and get to his seat upstairs? I saw no accommodation for an elevator, chair lift or other powered device to transit such a passenger from the main level. The 747 rarely ever had that problem because at least one cabin for each class was always on the main floor. If the Business Class passenger cannot navigate stairs will they receive a complimentary upgrade to First Class? I doubt any Business Class passenger for any reason will accept a downgrade to steerage without a loud and long fight right then and there. I like, no LOVE the 747-400. Economically the airplane may be nearing the end of its useful life but an airline with deep pockets can put an onboard product into the older aircraft to match Qantas’ investment with the A380. Air New Zealand is a solid service oriented airline that well knows the challenges of ultra-long international service. It has nonetheless gone two-cabin in its configurations and, as a classic example of a long-and-thin airline, is in no need of something as big as the A380. As a 747 replacement the 777 works just fine, thank you very much and, like a top notch gridiron quarterback, can “make all the throws” (fly every international route) this peppy little carrier needs to succeed. Despite recent stories to the contrary, United is not again bankrupt but is in severely tight straits regarding fleet replenishment such as would be needed to go toe-to-toe with Qantas, Singapore, Emirates and Company. If United cannot afford or does not need the A380 then that’s fine but their announced upgrades have the overall affect of the emperor’s new clothes. Sadly for United, however, it appears old Mrs. Haversham will ply the friendly skies to Australia and Hong Kong, their two longest nonstop routes, for some years to come, pining for the customers with whom she once was one. So, ultimately, my issues with the Qantas product are all about physical placement on and within the aircraft and not towards what appears to be magnificent creature comforts in all classes. The seats in each cabin look gorgeous and the food and amenities thoughtfully created and well appointed. None of my issues detract from the physical comfort or culinary standards Qantas has set. It’s clearly and simply a case of coming just within a hair of perfection – I like being able to get to my preferred seat without obstruction and, once settled in, I like to see where I’m going and what the world looks like around me. Qantas, I eagerly look forward to your A380 experience.