A Traveller’s Tale: Flying High on the A380
by Duncan Fry.
I see on the news that Airbus is ceasing production of its jumbo-riffic giant of the skies – the A380, citing changing tastes in passenger’s plane requirements. It turns out it’s a bit thirsty, and needs to be full of passengers to have a worthwhile trip. A bit like driving my old 8 litre Plymouth Superbird to the shops and back, and having to re-fill on the way back.
That’s a shame because, speaking on behalf of all the more generously sized passengers like me at 188cm tall or more, the A380 is the only plane that I really feel comfortable flying in. There’s plenty of room to move and eat, plenty of toilets (more on this later) and even in economy it’s very quiet.
It’s the ideal plane for the long haul from Australia to Europe and back, making all other planes seem tiny by comparison.
I haven’t tried a Dreamliner yet, but judging by the number of people going a bit wacko on its 17 hour flight to the UK via Perth, I may not try it for some time, if ever.
When we went to the Frankfurt Pro Light and Sound exhibition in 2014, for the long hop to Dubai we flew on a Qantas Airbus A380, then onto an Emirates Boeing 777 for the seven hour trip into Frankfurt. The A380 was a dream to fly on; quiet, spacious and comfortable. The 777 was like a sardine can by comparison. I’ve been more comfortable three-up in the backseat of an original Mini!
My travelling partner in crime – Colin from ARX – has a preference for an aisle seat, but I prefer the seat that’s one in from the aisle. I’m quite wide, and if I sit on the aisle I get bumped into by every trolley and lurching passenger wandering up or down trying to make their way to the bathroom in the dark.
These 777 seats were the tiniest I’ve ever tried to sit in on a plane, very uncomfortable, and set out in a 3 – 4 – 3 configuration just like a jumbo. Of course, the 777’s not as wide as a jumbo and that’s where the problems started.
Sitting in the window seat next to me was a German guy, with a very similar Body Mass Index to me, so all in all it was ultra-squeezy. He had his shoulder in my chest, I had my shoulder in Col’s, and Col had his shoulder halfway into the aisle, where every passing trolley duly thumped it.
At least it gave him an opportunity to stop them and get another bottle of red wine, thus pursuing his long-term research project into exactly how much red wine a modern passenger jet actually carries – quite a lot, it would appear!
Speaking of alcohol, though…
Several years ago a bunch of us were on our way to the NAMM show in Anaheim, California, flying with Continental Airlines. Col was never happy with the amount of alcohol they served on Continental, and this time he’d brought along his own duty-free litre bottle of Cointreau.
So the lights were dim, and the lads were hoeing into liberal amounts of the stuff, when all of a sudden the plane hit an air pocket and dropped like a stone for about one second. Whoosh! Up in the air go the contents of 4 full glasses of Cointreau, only to come back down again half a second later and about 6 inches to the left – right in their laps! A sticky night was had by all!
But I digress.
Coming back from the ISE show in Amsterdam this year we had an A380 all the way to Melbourne. Unfortunately for me, I had picked up some horrible ‘Amster-flu’ at the show and was feeling rather poorly, wallowing in a pool of self-pity and snot!
I normally sleep like a drugged sloth on a plane, but not this time. I couldn’t get comfortable at all, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t settle into any of the movies, and got sick of trying to keep my A5 size plastic food plate from sliding off the tiny slippery tray table. Just about the only thing I could do was drink lots of water and visit the toilets on a regular hourly schedule, hoping to flush the bugs out of my system.
And therein lay the problem.
By booking our flights early, Col had managed to score good seats for us in the upstairs section of the plane, towards the back, and in handy proximity to the toilet. An ideal position, you might think. But no. Let me explain:
If you’ve been to the upper deck toilets on the A380, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The ceiling of the toilet cubicle follows the curve of the roof of the plane. I open the door, walk in, and the roof curves away from me. The toilet is there, beckoning me from the furthest point away, where the roof meets the floor. With a ‘Thud’ my head hit the ceiling! I bent my head down, and it still banged against the ceiling, making it very hard to see exactly where one was aiming.
“This is crazy,” I thought, “I’ll just go down the back stairs and use one of the toilets on the lower deck.” No, that wasn’t possible, as a gate had been installed across the stairs after take-off, probably to stop any riff-raff from downstairs sneaking up to the rarified heights of the upper level!
I made my way back to the upstairs toilet, a bit quicker now, as my toilet visit was rapidly acquiring a degree of urgency, bringing with it a more literal meaning to the expression ‘to splash the boots!’
Luckily no queue had started in my absence, and I managed to get inside quickly. I looked at the problem with an analytical eye (luckily I had brought it with me!)
What I needed was to make myself shorter.
I bent my knees as much as I could and shuffled towards the toilet, hunching my back at the same time. The plane suddenly started shaking and with a ‘Ding,’ on went the ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign. Jeez that’s all I needed!
To steady myself I gripped the toilet with my knees, lifted the lid and proceeded to ‘water the horses’ as fast as I could, and then got out of there back to my seat, ready to do it all over again in about an hour!
The flight droned on for another five hours, and then miraculously we were landing in Melbourne and climbing into the relative luxury of the hire car that was waiting for us.
When I arrived back at home my gf took one look at me and whizzed me off to the doctor for a double dose of strong antibiotics, followed by a week in bed.
Ah, the joys of overseas trade shows!
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