I’ve been a bit concerned about the idea of flying in one of the Airbus A380 jets (assuming they ever actually deliver one to an airline I fly on, that is). I haven’t been concerned about the safety of the big plane, but rather the logistics and comfort. Although, with the latest terrorist scares, I’m beginning to wonder about the safety of flying on these big planes.
Although in theory a double-decker plane has room for a fitness centre, spa, and cocktail lounge, most airlines will take the opportunity to cram as many passengers in as they can. How many that is will depend on the airline, just the same as it does today for other planes.
So, what does a plane holding 550 people imply? It implies the same problems as with a Boeing 747 that holds around 450 people, only more so. Let’s assume the airlines in general keep the same seat pitch, seat widths, and legroom as for the 747 or Airbus A340, so the comfort level on board is roughly the same. Then there are two sets of problems I see. One is the logistical one of coping with getting that many people on and off the plane, and the other pre- and post-flight handling. Boarding time and disembarkment time will depend on whether airports have the multiple jetways to service the multiple doors; some already do for the 747 but it’s a good question as to how many airports will make the investment early on or whether they’ll wait until there are lots of A380 planes flying to incur the cost. Baggage handling and customs and immigration formalities are already pain points when 747 planes from multiple destinations land close together; they will likely get worse with the bigger planes as they’re cost centres for airports, not revenue generators.
And then there’s the security angle. Will the bigger planes be bigger targets for terrorists? They’re not that much bigger than a 747, but it seems likely to me that under the “maximum bang” theory, terrorists would aim for the largest number of people they can get at once. To minimise this danger, security checks at the gate are likely, which will further increase the boarding time, assuming that some amount of cabin baggage containing books, knitting etc will be allowed on board to try to keep the passenger boredom level reasonable. As an aside, if the passengers are not going to be allowed to bring along means of entertaining themselves, and the airlines aren’t going to widely implement individual in-flight video systems, I hope the flight attendants are prepared to cope with more cases of air rage.
So what’s the answer? Apart from avoiding travel completely, that is, which isn’t always possible. Avoiding large hubs isn’t possible for many trans-oceanic journeys, avoiding the large planes for these journeys also won’t be possible in many cases. It looks like the cost of air travel is just going to increase, in money, time, and irritation. The biggest winners are probably going to be the pharmaceutical companies that make the remedies to help passengers sleep, or to calm them down. I can just see it now, flight attendants asking “Would you like some melatonin with your ginger ale to help you sleep?”.