I flew 13 hours nonstop on the world's biggest passenger plane, the $446 million Airbus superjumbo jet, and it's about as good as economy can get

Harrison Jacobs/Business Insider; REUTERS/Eric GaillardThe A380 superjumbo jet is supposed to be a game-changer. I had to find out for myself.
  • The Airbus A380 superjumbo is the largest and most expensive commercial airliner in history, which once promised to revolutionise air travel with unprecedented luxury.
  • It turned out to be mostly a bust for Airbus, and Airbus has announced it will stop producing the Airbus A380.
  • The biggest A380 customer is Emirates Airlines, which operates 101 A380s. However, Emirates reduced its last order before Airbus made its production announcment.
  • I’d never flown on an Airbus A380 or on Emirates Airlines. On a recent trip to Dubai, I decided to try them both out with an economy-class ticket for the 13-hour flight from New York to Dubai.

The Airbus A380 was supposed to be the plane of the future.

With a price tag of $US445.6 million and room for as many as 800 passengers, the A380 was designed to be a game-changer for the aviation industry in the same way the Boeing 747 was in the 1970s.

But not a lot of Airbus’ ambitions have panned out. For most of the A380’s decade in service, Airbus has struggled to find airlines willing to put the A380 into service.

Except for Emirates, an airline ranked as the Middle East’s largest, the world’s fourth largest, and rated the fourth best in the world.

Emirates operates 101 A380s, the most of any airline. In January 2018, the airline ordered an additional 20 A380s, with an option for 16 additional jets. The deal, which single-handedly kept Airbus’ A380 program afloat, is worth $US16 billion.

However, Emirates reduced its last order from 162 aircraft to 123, and Airbus has now announced that it will stop producing the Airbus A380 and turn its attention to lighter, sleeker aircraft. The change in production will put up to 3,500 jobs at risk.

Read More: I flew 16 hours nonstop in economy class on one of United Airlines’ busiest international routes.

As a travel nut, I’ve always wanted to fly on an A380 and on Emirates Airlines. I’d heard excellent things about both, with many likening the experience to a throwback to the “golden age” of air travel.

When I was booking my trip to Dubai, I decided to splurge on the 13-hour nonstop economy-class ticket for a cool $US1,145. Surprisingly, it was the same price for a round trip as a one-way.

Read on to see what I thought of my flight on Emirates Airlines, departing from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for Dubai International Airport, operated on an Airbus A380.

Good morning! After a hellish commute to the airport, I arrived at the gate a bit after 10:00 a.m. Luckily, they hadn’t even started boarding.

That meant I had time to run and grab some pork buns from a nearby food kiosk — $US4.50 apiece is no joke!

I had checked in online and had a mobile boarding pass, but an Emirates staffer informed everyone that those without printed passes had to get one printed at the desk. So much for saving time.

There was little instruction about which of these boarding lines was for which. I decided to get in the shortest line.

It worked out for me. I was one of the first to board, after families with small children went through.

Friends of mine who have flown Emirates, which is owned by the Dubai government, have told me that it feels like flying during the “golden age” of air travel. Sounds nice, after years of flying United and Spirit.

There’s my sumptuous business-class seat. Just kidding! I don’t have the scratch to fly Emirates’ business class, which goes for an average of $US9,571.

Source: Quora

To be honest, I didn’t even see business class. First class, business class, and this swanky bar are all located on the second floor of the A380. It keeps the 1% away from the common folk like myself.

Around $US15,000 will buy you a first-class suite, which has a full bed and a shower. The A380 was designed to provide unprecedented luxury and comfort on a grand scale.

My cabin looked a bit more like this. I’m not sure my A380’s exact configuration, but it had between 399 and 427 seats in economy. Yowza.

Though Emirates’ A380s have been in service for a decade or less, the seats looked surprisingly dated. The fabric reminded me of old Amtrak trains.

The overhead cabin space is positively massive. I was able to get my fairly large carry-on suitcase (22.7” x 14.7” x 9.6”) in there along with my backpack.

And every seat has its own entertainment system. Emirates has taken home Skytrax’s award for Best In-Flight Entertainment 14 years running.

Source: Business Insider

Finally, I got to my seat. Economy seats on Emirates’ A380s are 18 inches wide with 32-34″ of pitch. At 5-8 and 165 pounds, I’m by no means a big guy, but it felt sufficient for my size.

Source: SeatGuru

I had a ton of legroom. I was able to stretch all the way out and even slide down my seat for a bit if I wanted to sleep. No knees hitting the seat back here.

One downside of having to load some 500 to 600 passengers: It takes forever to get settled and take off. We were 15 minutes behind schedule by the time we started taxiing.

The obligatory safety video was in Arabic first.

I figured I’d better take a look at the safety card. The mother and baby in the illustrations look a lot calmer and happier than I’d be in that situation.

After the safety video came a demonstration of the custom in-flight entertainment system, ICE, which stands for information, communication, and entertainment.

The flight attendant (who was exceptionally cheery) brought over spiffy waterproof amenities kits. I usually toss these, but this one was made of attractive, sturdy fabric.

Apparently the kits were designed with Dubai’s Expo 2020 in mind. Each colour represents a different theme of the Expo. Mine represents “sustainability.”

Source: Emirates Airlines

The kit comes with a handy sticker set so you can let the flight attendants know whether to wake you up for meals. I’d like to meet the person who doesn’t want meals on a 13-hour flight …

There was a sleeping mask and a pair of travel socks. I’ve been needing a new mask after losing my complimentary JetBlue one.

And a toothbrush, toothpaste, and earplugs.

And headphones with the for-some-reason standard two-pronged jack. I usually skip the airline’s headphones in favour of my own. But I’m only carrying Bluetooth earphones these days.

Lastly, there was an “ecoThread” blanket, which means it was made from recycled plastic bottles. It was very fluffy and warm.

But as we rose into the air, I couldn’t help wonder what amenities those in first class and business class were enjoying.

After we were in the air for about 20 minutes, I decided to have a look around the cabin. It feels massive. I got lost initially on the way to the bathroom because the aisle extends so long.

When I got back to my seat, a flight attendant came by with menus for the flight’s meals. A nice touch.

It was nice to know ahead of time how many meals we’d get. The options sounded delish.

It was a good thing I brought a water bottle on board. Unlike most flights I’ve been on, there was no beverage service until lunch came over an hour after the flight took off.

I spent a lot of time looking out the window. The faux-wood trim definitely gave that golden age of flying vibe

Finally, lunch came. I was starving. I opted for the barbecue chicken. The chicken was pretty tender, swimming in a sweet sauce, with a few dark-meat pieces mixed.

Emirates even gives you real metal silverware.

The bean salad might not look pretty, but it was delightful.

Here’s a travel tip: Dip the cold, slightly stale bread into hot barbecue sauce to liven it up.

I have to give extra points because the package of crackers that came with a block of Wisconsin cheddar had my name on it.

I finished up my meal with this “fruit of the forest crumble.” The custard mousse was light and paired well the syrupy berry compote on bottom. I wished the crumble had a bit more crunch to it.

The seat backs have these rotating cup holders. They’re useless. You can use them only when your tray isn’t down, many of the cups don’t fit in them, and it feels very flimsy.

The sun was setting as we passed across the Atlantic toward Europe.

A voice on the intercom informed me that flight attendants would be coming around to take duty-free shopping orders.

It sounds like a great idea. But I never trust the prices. I always cross-reference with major e-retailers before buying.

Emirates has its own OnAir WiFi system. The first 20MB is free and then it costs $US10 or $US15 depending on if you want 200MB or 500MB. I wouldn’t bother with the paid version. It’s excruciatingly slow, when it even works.

If you’re dying for connection to the outside, the ICE entertainment system has options. The information channel has the latest headlines with articles from BBC News. As you’ll note from the top headline, there is no escaping the latest American insanity.

The entertainment options are extensive. There are over 1,800 channels of movies, television, and games, including most “Marvel,” “Jurassic Park,” and “Mission Impossible” films.

Or, if you want to get in the mood of your destination, there are movies for just about every world region.

But truthfully, I had a lot of work to get done. I was most stoked for the power outlet and USB plug-ins. Rather than being located annoyingly below the seat, these were right next to the screen on the seat back.

It was time for a quick stop at the bathroom. Note the NOIR Naturals bathroom amenities. Very nice.

Source: NOIR Naturals

I used the night mode on my phone to get this shot. It was actually very dark in the cabin, but I wanted to point out the star lighting on the ceiling.

About seven hours into the flight, flight attendants came by to offer orange juice, water, and pretzels. Not exactly a full beverage service, but it was appreciated.

A little after that, they came with a “light snack,” this pizza. It tasted about as good as it looks. Which is to say it was a very cheesy, bready mess.

On the information section of the ICE system you can check out an interactive map/flight simulator. It’s pretty cool.

I usually skip the games because it’s annoying to play on a crappy touchscreen. But Emirates has an actual controller. Note the flight’s top three scores for “Tetris.”

As we got into the home stretch of the flight, mood lighting went on in the cabin to gently wake up passengers.

After hours and hours of darkness, it was nice to see a sunrise.

With passengers all but awake, the flight attendants started our final meal service. I opted for the eggs with potatoes, beans, and mushrooms. It’s hard to mess up breakfast, but these eggs were exceptional. Fluffy and moist.

With only 45 minutes left, the flight attendants went around to (I think) couples that had reported they were on their honeymoon. They took a Polaroid of the couple and gave them a special treat.

And then they came around to collect donations for the Emirates Airline Foundation.

I caught a glimpse of the Arabian landscape as we descended.

And when the plane had to circle around for the landing, I got a glimpse of that Arabian sunlight. It was blinding.

And then we landed!

I knew we were on the ground because the ICE system has cameras on the front of the plane that you can watch as the plane taxis.

Overall, my experience with Emirates and the A380 was very good. It’s hard to make a long-haul flight in economy pleasant, but Emirates clearly tried its best and, for the most part, succeeded with flying colours.

While the seats felt surprisingly dated, there was tons of legroom for an economy flight, and the plane itself was only half full, which meant there was an empty seat next to me.

The entertainment system was excellent, with more options than any passenger will ever get the chance to fully explore. I completely understand why it wins best in-flight entertainment system year after year.

The food wasn’t the best I’ve had on an aeroplane. (That still goes to Japan Airlines, which gave meal after meal of tasty, fresh Japanese food.) But the options were still pretty tasty, aside from the pizza, and I never felt hungry on the flight.

The flight attendants were exceptionally cheery and always willing to help, but I couldn’t help feel like they didn’t come around enough. There were many times I was wishing I could get a drink. Sure, I could’ve gone down the aisle to get one, but it’s not that easy when you’re in the window seat.

As far as the A380 goes, I can see why aviation junkies are so hyped on the plane. It feels huge and, even in economy, the bathrooms and aisles aren’t cramped and the power outlets are plentiful.

The biggest issue for me was the excruciatingly slow Wi-Fi. Now, before you direct me to that famous Louis C.K. bit, I’ll note that I’ve been on a ton of airlines with much faster connections, which didn’t charge per megabyte. I’ll skip it next time.

Whether I fly it again comes down to price. A long-haul nonstop Emirates flight is likely going to run $US1,100 or more. If there were a comparable flight on another airline for half the price, it probably wouldn’t be worth it to splurge for Emirates.

But if the difference is somewhere between $US200-$US400, it’s likely I’d jump for Emirates.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.