- Air France is retiring its Airbus A380 fleet as the coronavirus pandemic saw a drop in passengers that makes the aircraft impractical.
- I flew Air France on the aircraft in economy class from Los Angeles to Paris in November 2018.
- I found the 516-seat jet to be incredibly comfortable and spacious with the Air France service impeccably complementing the feat of engineering that is the Airbus A380.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Air France has announced the immediate retirement of its Airbus A380 fleet as it no longer sees the demand for the 500-seat aircraft amid a slow return to normal for an industry plagued by the coronavirus pandemic.
The abrupt retirement ended an 11-year run between the French carrier and Airbus’ towering creation that replaced the Boeing 747 as the world’s largest passenger plane when it first took flight in 2005. While once the flagship of the European manufacturer, the A380’s success has been slow-going, with only a handful of major airlines taking on orders for the type.
Initially intended to increase capacity between major cities and, in turn, reduce the number of frequencies that airlines would need to fly, the arrival of efficient next-generation aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner quickly made the A380 obsolete. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, whose airline operates both the A380 and 787, noted that two Dreamliner flights could be flown cheaper than one A380 flight.
The French flag carrier itself only purchased 10 of the type and later focused more on the new twin-engine next-generation aircraft from Boeing and Airbus. Less than two years before its retirement, in 2018, I flew on an Air France A380 from Los Angeles to Paris, my first and likely last time on the Super Jumbo.
Here’s what it was like to fly on an Air France Airbus A380.
Los Angeles is one of Air France’s top destinations in the US, receiving around three flights per day at its peak on the airline’s largest aircraft. I flew the Los Angeles-Paris route in November 2018 during the Thanksgiving rush.
Like most European airlines serving Los Angeles, Air France departs from the Tom Bradley International Terminal, one of the largest and arguably nicest terminals at the nine-terminal airport.
It’s a cavernous building currently in the process of being expanded to include a second concourse.
Our flight to Paris would be departing at 3:30 p.m. along with a few other intercontinental departures on Airbus A380s.
The journey time for AF65, which previously was the only Airbus A380 service from Los Angeles to Paris, was scheduled at 10 hours and 45 minutes, the longest flight I’ve ever taken in economy class even today.
The excitement of flying on the A380 for the first time, however, greatly surpassed my reservations of being crammed into economy for nearly half a day.
Boarding the colossal aircraft required multiple jetways and luckily, Los Angeles had special A380-capable gates with jetways that connect directly to the upper level.
We began boarding the flight 45 minutes before departure to account for the size of the aircraft and the number of passengers flying. An Air France A380 can hold 516 passengers!
The upper level housed business class, premium economy, and a small economy section.
The business class seats were noticeably older but still looked quite comfortable. The only downside was that the seats did not recline fully flat, only angled flat.
Premium economy was arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration.
The seats looked near-identical to those in business class.
The main level consisted of economy and first class, known as La Premiere on Air France.
Economy is configured in a high-density 3-4-3 configuration with 389 seats in total.
Air France had clearly never bothered to update the seats on the Airbus A380 but that was actually a plus as they were the plush design that airlines have since abandoned for low-weight, slimline seats.
Here’s my window seat for the near 11-hour flight to Paris.
The downside of the interior’s old age, however, was the in-flight entertainment. Though a far cry from the high-definition screens to which flyers are now accustomed today, the system was packed with modern content.
It also featured a fan favourite, exterior cameras.
The seat included standard amenities such as a USB charging port and tethered remote, as well as some interesting quirks including a cup holder and a passport-sized compartment behind the tray table.
The remote also had a telephone capability at one point but it had been inactive during our flight.
Another downside was the lack of overhead air vents, typical for larger aircraft like the A380.
Even with a 10-seat abreast configuration in economy with 17.5-inch wide seats, the A380 was so massive that there were a few inches of space between window seats and the cabin wall. Economy seats also had 32 inches of legroom.
The windows were also enormous, allowing for great in-flight photos and letting in bounds of natural light.
Other A380 departures at the time included Lufthansa’s daily flight to Frankfurt and Emirates’ to Dubai. The trio, unfortunately, will never grace the gates in Los Angeles at the same time again.
A pillow, blanket, headset, and eye mask were placed at each seat, which came in handy for the overnight portion of the journey.
After a roaring departure out of Los Angeles, it was onward to Paris for the next 10 hours.
The aircraft offered an incredibly smooth ride as we sailed across the US, an aircraft unlike anything I’d experienced before.
The meal service began just after departure from Los Angeles, starting with a pre-packaged towel.
Flight attendants then distributed tiny paper menus before dinner so passengers could make selections ahead of time. The airline was celebrating 85 years of service.
On the menu for the evening was chicken in a pepper and sherry sauce with cilantro rice or conchiglie pasta with tomato and basil sauce. I opted for the chicken.
The flight was sufficiently crowded to justify the use of an A380. Other aircraft on the route include a Boeing 777-300ER and 777-200, the latter of which continues on to Tahiti.
Our route took us across the continental US before heading north to join the other transatlantic aircraft heading to Europe and beyond.
Snacks and beverages came first before the meal service. Air France offers complimentary champagne on its flights owing to its French heritage so I went with that to accompany some pretzels.
Then the meal came, which was one of the best I’ve had in the skies.
The lights dimmed after the meal so we could get some sleep for the journey, with some multi-coloured lights slightly illuminating the cabin.
After a few hours of sleep, I spent some time wandering around the aircraft as I wanted to explore the behemoth.
The galley featured a self-serve station of snacks for the long flight in case anybody got peckish or thirsty in between the services.
Options included cakes, ice cream, and candies, among others.
Even yogurt drinks and pre-packaged sandwiches were there for the taking.
I then wandered upstairs to see what the upper level had to offer. I always found it fascinating to be on one plane but have passengers on the upper deck be flying just a bit higher than the rest.
In the very front of the upper level, technically part of the business class cabin, Air France placed a tiny lounge with leather-covered benches and video screens showing scenes from France.
It was located right next to the grand staircase connecting the upper and lower levels in the front of the aircraft.
After flying through the night across the North Atlantic Ocean, it was time for breakfast about 90 minutes from landing.
Here’s a look at the tray including a hot breakfast sandwich with mushrooms and tomatoes, a cup of fruit, pound cake, yogurt, and a roll with butter and jelly. It was quite the feast for economy class.
The final piece of the service was a small candy distributed by flight attendants just before landing.
A few minutes later, our massive four-engine jet returned to Earth, touching down in Paris.
Arriving at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, my first Air France and Airbus A380 flight was complete. While the opportunity continues to fly on either Air France or the A380, I’ll never have the opportunity to fly on an Air France A380 again.
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