Three Airlines-one plane- comparing the A380

How many people really care what aeroplane they are in? I do care -cos I sit in a 100 planes a year! These planes are my favourites: 

The plane I am in love with is the A380, the world's largest passenger plane. First flew it with Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Sydney last November. Then I travelled on the Qantas one in June from Los Angeles to Sydney (blog post here) This week's adventure on the mega Jumbo was with Emirates, the airline of Dubai on their service from Auckland to Sydney. Today I compare the flying experience between these three airlines. Sadly only in Economy. Sponsorship is welcomed to try the First Class product with all of them!

Passenger Reactions
I was curious to see the reactions from my approximately 500 fellow as they  filed past the plane. Just five of us stopped and took photographs of the 569 tonne monster (pictured)

Forty or fifty gazed, pointed and chatted displaying an excitement about flying the 22 wheeled Double Decker aluminum "Super Jumbo" aeroplane.
Some were more nonchalant, glancing at the plane as they headed to the Boarding gate
A very large number were clearly caught up in the excitement of the journey - just happy to be travelling. The type of plane seemed irrelevant in this situation. We had two large groups -a large Kiwi young rugby player contingent and a Chinese tour group on board.
A few slipped nervously on board, obviously dreading the three hours inside the 73m (239ft) long metal tube. Can you believe the the Wright brothers first flight was only 37 metres (120 feet) long. In other words this plane is almost twice as long as humanity's first ever powered flight. One would love to see their faces if they ever came face to face with this plane.
Emirates check in was astoundingly efficient considering there were three flights departing Auckland in a short time period -one to Brisbane, (B777), one to Melbourne (A340) and the A380 flight to Sydney. This means a potential check in number of a 1000 passengers. Plentiful desks and hired contractors directing passenger traffic made the experience easy . From queue to boarding pass was less than six minutes. This matched the Qantas check in and faster than the one at Singapore Airlines.

Check in:
Emirates (EQ) 10/10
Qantas   (QF) 9/10
Singapore (SQ) 8/10

Boarding was also efficient -and fast. The welcome aboard by the on board crew was astounding. While the Qantas welcome on the A380 had been up to the usually Qantas friendliness,  I generally find the Singapore Airlines "welcome aboards" a little false and forced. With Emirates the ethnically diverse crew members greeted you in a way that seemed personal, unique and genuine.  It may not seem much but this contact reminds the passenger that they are special and are involved in the special experience of flying. I know many Airlines have reduced flight to that of a bus to the detriment of the flying experience I believe.

Boarding/Welcome aboardEQ: 10/10, QF: 9/10,  SQ 7/10

On Board
My seat was 81K. This seat together with 81A and 68A and 68K  are the best seats on the Emirates plane. Located in the emergency exit, they have no seat in front of them. Thank you to my friend Brett for this tip. 
On this plane I had two very fun women sitting next to me in my row -thanks for a great flight! 
A gentleman seated a row in front of me was a different story. When I arrived at the seat, I found the very large luggage bin a disaster area with bags badly packed and a couple trying to shove lots of bags on top of the other bags in the bin. The couple were oblivious to contents or fragility. I suggested to them, we repack which they accepted. The repacking was a success! We got all the bags into the luggage bin including mine. I made sure that small bags were on top of big ones. As I did this, I asked who owned a blue bag that had been in danger of being squashed under an avalanche of duty free. I wanted to get the owners permission before I moved it. The owner, seated in 80J, who had been watching this activity  yelled at me threatening me if I damaged his bag in any way, he would be very angry. I pointed out to him, I was saving his bag and that a polite thank you would have been better. He looked at me and was suddenly chastened when he realised he was out of line. He didnt say much for the flight.

Safety Brief
Pre -flight inspections by crew were through and efficient. Safety briefing is only done over the TV monitors with the crew standing by. I prefer the way Qantas engages their cabin staff in the safety brief. To me it lends an air of seriousness --that the airline really knows its safety stuff.

Safety Inspections and BriefingEQ: 7/10, QF: 9/10,  SQ 8/10

The Cabin Experience
Takeoff on the A380 is incredible. Firstly it is so quiet! There seems to be no dramatic roar  as the plane moves down the runway. Then the plane seems to simply glide up. The 380 feels like it wants to fly and is simply going back into the atmosphere where it belongs.

It is 40 years since the original jumbo started flying. The advances in air technology since then have been amazing. The A380 is a massive improvement over the 747. For example the A380 produces 50% less cabin noise than the currently flying 747 models and has greater cabin air pressure which makes travel more pleasant. The windows are larger. The bins are larger. The cabin is wider and higher. And of course more people can be flown for less fuel.

While Emirates has two versions of the A380: One with 516 seats and one with 489seats. However, Air France crams in 538 people into its A380 in three classes. Lufthansa reduces that to 526. Singapore has opted for 471 seats and Qantas has only 450. NB The overall capacity of the plane is 853 passengers. One airline has said it will aim of 840 seats when it gets its A380 (Air Austral). Ryanair would probably aim for 1000! The feel of all three A380s I have been on has been of incredible spaciousness.

The Lavatories on the Emirates are real class with wood panelling and nice moisturisers etc! Tip: use the ones in the front of the plane. Most people seem to congregate down the back of the plane.

Cabin atmosphere and feel: EQ: 10/10, QF: 9/10,  SQ 8/10

On Board Entertainment System:
I found the Emirates ICE entertainment to be clunky and slow to navigate compared to their counterparts on Qantas and Singapore.
One of the groovy features with Emirates, however, is the cameras they have built into the nose and tail of the pane which allow you to watch takeoff and landing from any direction -although the woman next to me and I decided : "it would be not a nice sight to watch your plane crash". 

Entertainment System:
Emirates ICE: 7/10 plus 1 for the camera 8/10
Qantas iQ: 9/10,  
Singapore Krisworld: 10/10

The Emirates meal was amazing. In a world where airline meals in Economy have declined or diappeared, Emirates seems to believe that giving a quality product may attract repeat business! Starting with a Prawn (shrimp) cocktail, this was followed by a main dish of lamb and pasta, a bread roll, cheese & crackers, a chocolate cake dessert and a small chocolate square filled the spot. Contrary to a popular mythology,  Emirates is not a dry airline on most sectors, so wine was available with dinner. (Flying into Iran and Saudi Arabia would be a very different matter).

 MealEQ: 10/10, QF: 7/10,  SQ 9/10

The Verdict
Our landing into Sydney was bumpy (we had been forewarned) with rain, wind and low clouds. We felt very secure in our seats as the plane bounced through the cloudbursts.

My seatmates and I decided that the Emirates Airbus A380 is worth going out of the way for. So my A380 Ratings out of a possible 60:
 #1 Emirates  55
#2 Qantas   52  (check out the blog post)
#3 Singapore  50
(Although I suspect if I was in first class, then I think Singapore's private suites might be the winner!) 
In July I complied my list of Top 21 Airlines I have flown. When I revise the list, guess who will be the new number one?!

Thanks to my fun seatmates, Emirates and the cabin crew for a great trip

S**t, S**t, S**t

I flew this week into Wellington, (North Island) New Zealand with Qantas on a Boeing 737 called Bellbird. (plane's rego is ZK-JTQ).

Wellington airport is built on a stretch of low-lying land. It has only one runway which starts at Wellington Harbour  to the north and and finishes at Cook Strait to the south. (Cook Strait separates the two islands of New Zealand). This means your landing has to avoid water on both ends of the runway- after dodging some hills to get down. Worse, the airport is universally known for its rough weather (Check out this video of a Wellington attempted landing) because of the massive crosswinds that come up from Cook Strait. Virgin awards it one of the ten most scarey landings in the world! In fact many commentators believe it to be the 3rd scariest in the world!!!

I have used Wellington airport 25 times and have mostly enjoyed the experience. This week was no exception. We descended over the south island of New Zealand and crossed Cook Strait toward Wellington. The cabin crew were ordered to their seats early because of turbulence-always a bad sign! It was a clear night and the beautiful moon was almost full. Below us, we could see the rough seas of Cook Strait reflecting in the moonlight and ahead we could see the lights of Wellington. As we descended, the 737 began roller coasting and bouncing. The cabin became very quiet as passengers listened or watched (and I imagine some were praying as the plane bounced through the wind).

Soon the runway was in sight. We did a huge rollercoaster lurch as we approached the airport perimeter. Wheels down, lights on, flaps adjusted...Runway metres away. Suddenly the engines roared into life and we were climbing rapidly. My ears popped as we accelerated up still bouncing in the wind. I turned to the guy next to me: "missed approach". He stared at me wide eyed terrified, like a kangaroo caught in headlights! The woman behind me loudly said "S**t, S**t, S**t". We continued north and then moved West. At this point the First officer spoke on the PA: " We re just making a go around. We decided that it was too windy for a landing so we will go and try again. The wind looks like it will be better the next time". We flew back south and then aimed back toward the runway.

A go-around/ missed approach/ aborted landing/ rejected landing are all variations on the same theme. The Pilots judge it to be too dangerous to land the plane in the conditions. I think a missed approach is a good thing. I would rather a pilot didnt try if they are not sure it going to work! But its interesting at these times, you reflect how the lives of 200 people are in the hands of two people. You hope they are well trained, well paid and well rested!

Needless to say on our second approach, the silence inside the plane was very intense. We rollercoasted in again but this time, wheels hit the tarmac for what was actually a very smooth landing.  Now everyone on board had an interesting landing story to tell their friends, family and blog network!

I fly out of Wellington two times this week! To Nelson (coming back by ferry) and Auckland.

The Five Peeve Taxi Journey

523am -porch light and two house lights are on -and the front door is open

I had booked a taxi for two minutes later (525am) to ride to Adelaide airport. At the afore mentioned hour of 523, my taxi arrived and tooted his horn. Peeve #1: In a quiet suburban street, when I am clearly ready for the taxi, I find tooting the horn excessive, unnecessary and rude.

Now, confession, I used to be a taxi driver and drove 300 000 kilometres (180 000 miles) in taxis through many Melbourne nights to fund a University degree. I still know a few taxi driver tricks. I also knew how to give good taxi service.

I walked out to the taxi with my bag. The driver popped the boot (trunk) and hopped out. “Good Morning” I said. He didn't say anything. “how are you doing?” I continued. More silence. Peeve #2a Uncommunicative taxi drivers (Peeve #2b Opinionated or racist ones that never shut up-there is a happy medium)

He reached for the boot (trunk) to lift it. Unfortunately he fumbled, and slammed it shut which means he had to go back to the driver's seat to open it.

Relax" I said "small bag. I will put it on the back seat". He didn't say anything. He just sat down and closed his door.

I hopped around to the front seat (Australian men generally sit up front with the taxi driver).

You are late” he said pointing to the clock that said 527am. These were his first words to me.
What two minutes?”. He shrugged. “Its almost the end of my shift. I have to change over.”
That isn't actually my fault”. I said. “wheres your change over?”. He named a suburb that lay between my origin point and the  airport. “great" I said, "you will do that easily. 15 minutes to the airport, ten minutes back. Changeover 6am?"
No” he said: “530 Changeover"  I looked at him: “you took a job for 525am knowing you had changeover at 530 which you would never make and you have the gall to tell me off".  Peeve #3

The best taxis I have encountered are in Singapore. Sparkling clean, staffed by friendly drivers, I have never ever had a hassle with them. When you ring for a taxi, they give you the taxi registration number so you know immediately that you have the right cab. They also have a Common Taxi Number (6-DIAL-CAB): "One ring to call them all" which will link you to the first company with empty cabs! You can even book a Singapore taxi by SMS!! The taxis have clever lighted signs on top of them that clearly say they are occupied or free. Unlike many countries which have lights on top of the taxi. In some cities a lit up sign means the cab is free. In others it means it is occupied!

One very late night, I landed in Manchester, New Hampshire, USA, to find no cabs at the taxi rank. To get one, you had to go to a mysterious little room in the middle of the airport and ask them to call a taxi. I did this and went out and waited. Oh joy, a taxi glided into the airport to drop a passenger off.  I approached the taxi. The driver looked at me and drove off. I went back to the mysterious little room to complain and was told that only one taxi company is allowed to pick up at Manchester airport! No other taxi company is allowed to pick passengers up, only drop them off. I hate these exclusive agreements which seem uncompetitive to me but in his case it was ridiculous. For when my taxi finally arrived after a 1 hour 49 minute wait in the cold, I found out the company only had one taxi on duty that night. How is this customer friendly?

 Needless to say on this early morning taxi ride, we sped to the airport, sitting 10-20km/h over the speed limit. Peeve #4.The two most terrifying taxi rides of my life involve speed.

One was in Bangkok, Thailand when the driver tailgated cars on the airport freeway at 140km/h (84mph). I was so terrified that I texted my farewells to family and friends from my seatbeltless seat. I am looking forward to the Bangkok airport train there- when they finally open it.

The other was in Delhi, India where I discovered size matters-the bigger your car and the louder your horn, the greater the likelihood was of being given priority. We flew down the wrong side of the road, zipping back onto the correct side seconds before other cars plowed into us. Often we would end up on the "correct" side of the road to find a car overtaking from the other side. I recently learnt that "India overtook China to top the world in road fatalities in 2006 and has continued to pull steadily ahead, despite a heavily agrarian population, fewer people than China and far fewer cars than many Western countries" (Times of India).  118 000 people died on Indian roads in 2008- 14 people every hour. Having learnt that, I now take the train, bus and subway everywhere in India! Seriously.

 Well, my customer unfriendly driver reached Adelaide airport at 540am and asked for his fare. I handed him my Credit Card which he processed. As I got out of the taxi, I asked for my card back. "I gave it to you" As politely as I could I said: "No I don't seem to have it".  He said: "well you have got it". "Are you sure?", I said, "?" He looked down at the machine: "oh here it is". Peeve # 5 . Needless to say he got no tip (NB its not a requirement to tip in are generally only given for good service ).  I must admit I only said "goodbye". not "thank you".

In a poll compiled by, London taxis were considered the best (and most expensive) in the world, New York and Parisian taxi drivers the rudest. My peeve with the survey is that it was only conducted with travellers from the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Hardly a global sample.

My  Seven Point Manifesto for good taxis:
  1. Pay the drivers decently (I would give taxis exemptions for all fuel and road taxes)
  2. Train the drivers well (London, England does this)
  3. Expect drivers to be friendly (Brisbane, Hobart and Perth Australia, this is always the case) 
  4.  Focus on customer service (Singapore)
  5. Ensure clean cars (Most of Switzerland)
  6. Ensure there is good availability (New York City) 
  7. Allow payment by Cash and Credit Card with no outrageous fees (Singapore) 

Any transport regulator that can achieve this, gets my vote

Whats your taxi story?
(check out my blogs on the Best airlines and Worst airlines I have flown).

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