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Reflections After Retirement: Time Flies and, Eventually, So Do New Airplanes

October 9, 2013

While working at British Airways I had the good fortune to work on numerous inaugurals to new gateway cities in the USA as well as see the introduction of new aircraft into the airline’s long haul fleet.

It had been my hope for many years to still be in the PR seat when the  Airbus A380 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner were delivered to British Airways, and subsequently launched onto the most deserving and most profitable routes.  No one in September of 2007, when British Airways first ordered the A380, really knew which American city would get the first A380, nor were there too many notions either about where the B787 would go as well.  As everyone knows, both aircraft programs and airline delivery schedules were victims of unforeseen manufacturing delays.

The A380 delivery schedule into the British Airways fleet was delayed approximately three years, and when it did finally begin, I followed the first commercial flight from afar.    But back in 2007 when the airline ordered the aircraft, we were already then talking about a Heathrow to the west coast USA flight and then, a second route, perhaps to one of the more lucrative Far Eastern destinations such as Hong Kong.

The choice of Los Angeles was inevitably the obvious choice for good reason and common sense as it spelled out dollars and pounds neon at both ends of the route.

Aside from London being the most important airport in Europe as well as the busiest and most slot-sought after airfield in the world, Los Angeles, with the entertainment industry, is the biggest hub on the west coast and boasts the third largest traffic throughput in the country.  A high-traffic, long distance, longhaul route was what the doctor ordered and LAX filled the prescription quite nicely.

Looking down onto the windows of the flight deck of BA's first A380

Looking down onto the windows of the flight deck of BA’s first A380

British Airways’ first A380, G-XLEA, flew on November 9, 2012, and after a multitude of hours of test flying, was finally delivered to British Airways’ Heathrow base on July 4th, 2013. How appropriate was that?

Between July and September, the aircraft underwent several hundred training flights with real time crew and passengers to Madrid, Frankfurt and several airports in the UK and France, readying all who would touch and service the aircraft.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24th, BA269,  British Airways’ first commercial A380 flight touched down at Los Angeles International Airport, the sixth busiest in the world, and as luck would have it, that global ranking may seriously start to bump up as British Airways became the sixth international airline to operate A380’s at LAX.

By the way, at the end of 2013, Emirates Airlines will become the seventh A380 carrier at LAX offering non-stop flights between Los Angeles and Dubai.

For  passengers, aircraft junkies and serious plane spotters, the A380 is the largest commercial jetliner currently flying in the friendly USA and global skies, and with the higher number of passengers each plane carries, the international passenger transiting LAX will certainly test the airport’s infrastructure.

This can only be good news for the airport and everything it touches in the local neighborhood as well. It means more business and tourist dollars flowing into the economic coffers of Southern California.

By sheer coincidence, the Tom Bradley International Terminal opened nine of 18 projected newly expanded boarding gates in order to accommodate the increased number of international passengers traveling out of Los Angeles the week before the British Airways A380 inaugural flight.

Why is Los Angeles International Airport becoming a hotter number on the international travel hit parade?   From a poll of aspiring USA-bound travelers originating from across the Atlantic or Pacific, the number one city is New York and number two on the list is always Los Angeles.

I jogged my own airline memories and I remembered the various discussions with the British Airways’ gurus who researched numerous potential A380 routes for years before announcing their first choice.  But I always thought that LA-Heathrow was a no-brainer and fit very nicely into the metrics of long distance and significant passenger lift.  To support this notion, I asked several British Airways and outside sources for their opinions.

“The Los Angeles region is the second biggest economy in the USA, and the LAX-Heathrow service is the second most valuable route in the USA for British Airways,” said Sean Doyle, Executive Vice President Americas, British Airways.  “Los Angeles is a perfect example of a vast travel market which requires an aircraft that provides significant capacity coupled with a non-stop range from the west coast to Europe, the Middle East, the Far East or Southeast Asia.

“And LAX has proven readiness, experience and infrastructure to service the A380 airlines, witness the past success of Qantas, Singapore, Korean, Air France and China Southern Airlines.  LAX has the most A380 carriers of any airport in the USA,” Doyle continued.

Local  British Airways LAX Airport Manager Kristine Morley said, “My staff and I were thrilled when it was announced that LAX would be the first destination for British Airways’  A380.  For the past few months, many of the staff have trained in London to become acquainted with the aircraft as well as our ramp handlers here at TBIT already service several of the other A380 carriers so they are well experienced with the aircraft.”

Running an A380 operation anywhere in the world In light of relatively high fuel prices can’t be that cheap, but as Henry Harteveldt, a San Francisco-based travel industry analyst says.”airlines must be very careful about what aircraft they put on what routes in today’s competitive climate.  In this case, the LA-London route exemplifies the high value and strength of British Airways’ trade and customer loyalty in Southern California  as well as the success of British Airways’ joint business agreement with American Airlines as the two carriers can feed each other business at both ends of the route.”

British Airways’ Director of Customer Brands & Experience, Frank Van der Post said: ” The A380 is garnering a lot of interest and attention in travel agent and corporate travel manager community, both in Southern California and the UK, and we are doing everything possible from special catering, new interior decor, innovative pricing and specially trained staffing at LAX so that the A380 will greatly benefit and enhance our position on this highly competitive route.”

Most all the travel agents in the Los Angeles area were in agreement that the new A380 service brings enhanced opportunities for their international business.

Craig Carter, President, Luxe Travel management of Irvine, stated, “With London being our second largest market coupled with the fact that  non-stop capacity is so limited between LA and London, this new development will open capacity, stimulate demand and give us more innovative pricing that will benefit our premium and leisure customers.  Sixty percent of our business is international so we’ll have more flexibility and options to sell, and our customers will have more even opportunities to upgrade as they see fit.”

Rob Kovacs, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Cassis Travel Services of West Hollywood stated, “With the approaching winter season combined with the increased capacity and lift, we’re hopeful for our customers that prices may actually come down as the airline will have so many seats to fill, especially in the business class and economy cabins.  Of course, we also expect our customers to be thrilled and excited about flying on such a new aircraft.”

The A380 is the largest civilian aircraft flying commercial passengers in the world today.  In British Airways’ configuration, accommodating 469 customers across four cabins,  First class will be located at the front of the main deck. and will offer 14 seats/suites.

Club World business class on BA's new A380

Club World business class on BA’s new A380

Club World (business class) customers may choose from 44 seats on the main deck or 53 seats on the upper deck.  The upper deck seats will feature a new 2:3:2 configuration across the cabin whereas the main deck provides 2:4:2.  The 55 World Traveller Plus (premier economy) seats are located on the upper deck while World Traveller (economy) customers have the choice of seats on either the main deck or upper deck.

Airline food usually gets a bad rap, but British Airways has teamed up with The Langham Hotel in London and designed a stylish new menu for customers traveling in First and Club World.  In first class an elegant five-course tasting menu was introduced which takes diners on a gastronomic journey with a combination of flavors brought together to work in the air.  Dishes include poached lobster, chicken tea, seared scallops and braised pork belly, coupled with distinctive ingredients including goji berries and pak choi.

First class on BA's new A380

First class on BA’s new A380

The first class service from London offers a range of sandwiches, artisan pastries and warm homemade scones, inspired by the range of indulgent treats offered at Palm Court at The Langham London, famed as the birthplace of Afternoon Tea over 140 years ago.

In Club World, the menu features a celebratory starter, main course and dessert. Customers may choose from a range of menu options, which will include Oxspring cured ham, fillet of beef with parsley crust and a milk chocolate bar with salted macadamia nuts.

For the pilots of the A380, the aircraft has many of the same characteristics of other Airbus aircraft.  James Basnett, British Airways’  A380 Entry Into Service Manager said, “The A380 uses a control joystick located at the end of the armrest rather than the more traditional wheel shape column, and is incredibly more responsive and agile than the B747 despite the fact that the B747 is a great airplane to fly.   The A380 is some 40 years advanced in design from the original B747 and sports a lot of new wizardry and gadgetry.

“For example on landing, there is a map display which illustrates the whole airport environment – much needed because of the greater length and width of the airplane.  This display is like the GPS in a car only it shows the aircraft in relations to buildings, runways and taxiways; it’s an incredibly useful and necessary tool.

With A380 pilot training, each pilot that has previous Airbus aircraft flying experience, undergoes 11 weeks of training, while pilots transitioning from Boeing aircraft experience an additional 14 to 20 days of training.  The first A380 aircraft will have flown over 220 training sectors around the UK and Europe before the first flight to Los Angeles,” Basnett continued.

“In terms of its environmental contribution, the A380 represents a significantly lower fuel burn and smaller carbon footprint per passenger, and that combined with the new economics of operating such a technically-advanced aircraft, airlines and customers will experience a far greater change in travel habits and the world will become an even smaller place,” Doyle stated.

British Airways’ second A380 destination city will be Hong Kong, scheduled to launch on Oct. 22, and then next spring, LAX will begin double-daily A380 flights to London.

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One Comment
  1. Ann-Louise Christiansson permalink

    Thank you John for sharing this most interesting A380 story. What an inspiration to travel more and more and more. After reading now looking forward to being one of 469 passengers embarking on a flight in this aircraft. Ann-Louise/Stockholm/Sweden

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