I’ll admit it. I am a HUGE aviation geek. We’re talking huge. I have always made certain any professional gig I have done in life involved travel. Not just the see the world part (which is great) but also the flying part. So much so that I am sort of like that George Clooney character from Up In The Air in that I have ‘that’ card – you know, the one where they carry you on the plane. I am still waiting for a plane to be named after me following a first class meeting with Sam Worthington. But if you follow the show then you probably know that from the Goodyear Blimp episode. Well, the last 18 hours have been a landmark for me! I have experienced the A380!
I caught wind that I would be going to Asia a couple of months back and knew immediately it was my chance. My chance to nab my first ride on the A380! And not just some two bit A380 but a Singapore Airline’s A380.
A bit about Singapore Air. What I do everyday is tell stories about cars – new and old. That is my profession. I have zero professional relationship with Singapore but had the chance to fly them many years ago and came away ridiculously impressed. I am a detail freak but they make me look like a modern day Oscar Madison compared to whoever runs the show over there (Goh Choon Phong). Here is an example, the Stewardesses (yes, that is what they call them you PC freaks) have one get up and shoes for boarding and disembarking. But then they switch to a more swanky number complete with slippers for the entire flight. You get my drift.
Prior to the flight, I spent some time researching out the different configurations of A380. All but two airlines operating this aircraft put boot class on the lower deck. Singapore has this neat little bastion of steerage towards the aft of the upper deck. It is in a two four two combo. I did some of my best Long Island horse trading leading up to the flight and finally snagged this coveted area three days prior to the flight. I will say this, mid east peace would have been a tad bit easier. Short of being on a fancy expense account or forking over a princely sum, this is where you want to be and where we were.
We turned up at the gate and were not exactly surprised to see that the boarding lounge was retrofitted for this specific aircraft. Multiple boarding lanes – more than just the first/business and commoners segmentation. This included two entries: One for each deck. The lower one did split off between Suites and cattle class. A word about Suites. This is a room. In the air. Complete with a door. No joke.
Anyway, I felt kind of like Charlie from the Chocolate Factory as I bid adieu to the poor folk downstairs. Kind of like they were still in the stone-age riding on the lower deck of an airplane, how pedestrian!
Then we made our way up to the promised land. Greeted first by the aforementioned Singapore Girl (This guy Choon knows how to hire!) and then make our way to 75 A and C. There we find a bit of a surprise. There is a storage locker not just above you, but also between the window seat and the window! Not only was it handy but also it added an air of elegance, as you didn’t feel cramped.
Then it hit me. The place was stone quiet. Think about this – this bird holds 399 pleebs, 60 expense account padders and 12 derivatives traders and you would swear you were in a library. And this was at boarding. It was even quieter up in the air!
Another admission: I was one of those people that went to the airport to watch the A380 take off and land in 2007. I was stunned how this leviathan could actually move let alone take to the air. At the time I was amazed how short it looks compared to a 747. Well inside and putting your life the hands of the European governments that built it, I was even more stunned. It moves almost at an uneventful pace upon take off. Yes, it does take A LOT longer to rotate but it is super quiet and super smooth as it does. I remember having the same feeling when I had the good fortune of a crack at the then new 777-200 in 1997. It’s times like these that make you realize how long advances in commercial aviation take when you are only exposed to new planes every 15 or 20 years. Think about it, the 757 was a stunner in the late 70s. Then the 777 followed by a refresh of the 737 which to me, still rides the same.
So in my quiet sorta premium economy section I cracked open the entertainment guide figuring what the hell am I going to do for 18 hours between LA, Tokyo and Singapore? It was about then that I thought about asking one of the stewardesses to see if we can stop by London on the way. New movies, old movies, TV, documentaries – there was *almost* too much. They even built in a PC into the system. Yes, a computer. You can plug in a USB stick and work with word and excel docs. Combined with a normal power outlet at each seat, I was set.
Then they started to lay the food on us. Forget all the jokes about airplane food. As a comedian, I can tell you they are hack. But on this A380, they are also not true. Yes, the food was good but the real unique thing here was choice – and not just beef or chicken. You could have a western meal, a Japanese meal, a light meat, instant noodles, one of many snacks, chips, Hershey’s chocolate bars, Kit Kats (and not the crappy US kind but the real life British type – if you have no idea what I am talking about – try them, you will never go back), fruit, chicken rolls . . . the list was endless.
One of the longest relationships I have had in my life is with Continental Airlines. We’re kind of married now. Even with this merger with United, they have me hooked in with the crack that is status. I started with them because they were the underdog, I lived in New York and despite what everyone thought at the time, they provided a damn good product. Well, A LOT of other people started to see that and as the architect of their turnaround put it, Gordon Bethune, they went from ‘Worst to First’. Well, I have been saddened to see that they have made changes in the name of profitability like taking away food, charging for bags and generally making things more difficult. Not so on this A380 with Singapore. Hell, I got to talking with one of the Singapore Girls (as they are known) and she offered me souvenirs! SOUVENIRS – from an airline! I am not a gambler, don’t play card games and don’t plan to start but I cheerfully took the free deck of cards simply because when was the last time it was offered? A deck of cards?
About halfway through the LAX-NRT segment I decided to go visit with the people who got hoodwinked into the lower deck. Can’t say it was the ambiance of my upper deck sanctuary but it did offer more room in all areas. The ceiling was much higher to the point where you felt it like an auditorium. Like the upper deck, it was surprisingly still quiet. A quick test of the latrines proved them to be a bit tight. If you are looking to the join the mile high club, this ain’t your bird.
Back at my seat with everyone else asleep and not appreciating my excitement, I stumbled upon a neat trick – mood lighting. No, not the Virgin Atlantic kind (although, they did have that in business class). Each economy seat has a little light that comes from beneath the 10.6 inch video screen. You can even control how much light you want. So, if you want to read espionage diagrams without your seat mate seeing, turn up the light. If you want to add a little theatre feeling while watching The Deer Hunter, have at it.
Realizing I was not going to make it through my list of movies, we approached Tokyo and yet another test – how are they going to get this thing on the ground? Here’s where it was different than most other wide bodies – you really don’t feel any descent. One minute you are at 35,000 feet watching Billy Joel Live at Shea and the next you hear the gear being deployed. It is that smooth.
In cars, I am a Lotus kind of guy. In planes, I am a Boeing kind of guy. There are a host of reasons but one of the biggest is that Boeing aircraft have a real yoke so you can fly the plane. Airbus: A joystick like MS Flight Simulator. Yes, many a pilot will debate this but my preference is the Boeing. So in this Airbus, have we gotten to the point of landing perfection because this monster of a machine is being guided by a computer?
And so now two take offs and two landings later I am at Singapore Changi airport waiting for my next flight wishing it would be another A380 . . .