Touring a Qantas Airbus A380 at LAX

The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger aircraft. On my recent trip to Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to go behind-the-scenes and see this massive plane from a perspective unavailable to regular passengers.

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Qantas, Australia’s largest airline and the third-oldest in the world, flies multiple daily flights to Los Angeles International Airport from Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Generally, two of these flights are operated by the A380 and because of the time zone differences, the planes spend most of the day on the ground at LAX.

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A friend who works at LAX was kind enough to offer a tour of the plane, a rare treat for a lifelong aviation enthusiast like me. Now, as the planes had a long layover, Qantas uses this time for maintenance and a deep cleaning. The planes had only just arrived and so they were pretty untidy when I viewed them. Normally, the interiors are immaculate, so don’t let these pictures affect your perception of the airline.

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With 40% more usable floorspace than the Boeing 747-400, the Airbus A380 is the world’s largest passenger aircraft. Two decks running the entire length of the aircraft can accommodate up to 800 passengers, although Qantas has just 484 passengers in four cabins: First, Business, Premium Economy, and Economy.

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The aircraft is 72.7 meters (238 feet) long with a 79,8 meter (261 foot) wingspan. There are 14 exit doors, 4 engines, and the aircraft range is 8,500 miles. While the Boeing 747-8 is slightly longer, the Airbus A380 is overall a larger aircraft.

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My walk around the plane took several minutes, as the plane is so large, it is difficult to take in its full size, especially when you are up close.

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Looking up at the tail, which reaches 24.5 meters (80 feet) tall, gives you some sense of the scale we are talking about.

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While there were two A380s parked at the airport, we visited Nancy-Bird Walton, the first A380 delivered to Qantas. It was the 14th overall A380 built and its first commercial flight with Qantas was October 20, 2008. Interestingly, this plane suffered an uncontained engine failure on November 4, 2010 and made an emergency landing in Singapore. There were no injuries, but repairs to the plane took more than 16 months and cost more than US$140 million. It has served safely ever since returning to the skies in April 2012.

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Climbing nearly three stories to enter the plane, you get a sense of the massive size of the wings. Even with more than four decades’ experience flying and sufficient knowledge of the principles of aerodynamics, I am still amazed that something this large can take to the air!

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Entering on the main deck, a left turn leads us to the intimate First Class cabin. There are 14 individual seating pods, which offer privacy but are not as enclosed as on many of the Middle East carriers. I like this balance because on the carriers with “suites”, you feel like you are stuck in a cubicle at work, albeit a very nice one!

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The 22-inch wide seats rotate to the side and then recline into a fully-flat 79-inch bed. In this mode, you feel very like you are in your own cocoon. When you are ready for bed, the flight attendants add a mattress and a duvet, so you will sleep cozily. Round-trip tickets between LAX and Australia run about US$23,000 in this cabin, so of course the experience is luxurious.

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Heading towards the back of the plane on the main deck are two massive Economy Class cabins. Each has 17.5-inch seats in a 10-abreast configuration. Each seat has its own touchscreen monitor with loads of free entertainment.

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While the seats are comfortable enough, especially with the adjustable headrest, at just 31″ pitch (the distance between the same point on two rows of seats), I would find this a tad too cramped for a 14-hour flight.

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At the rear of the main deck is a spiral staircase that takes you to the upper deck. Hidden away at the rear of this upper deck is a smaller Economy Class cabin. With just 30 seats and a large exit row, these are the seats you want if you have to travel on a budget!

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Just ahead of the small upper deck Economy Class is Qantas’ Premium Economy cabin. These seats are arranged just seven-abreast and at 19.5-inch width and about 38″ pitch, are equivalent to First Class seats on a domestic flight.

IMG_2205AWith only 35 of these seats in this mini cabin, this would be my choice to enjoy some comfort on a long flight without breaking the bank.

IMG_2208AAhead of the Premium Economy cabin are two Business Class cabins, seating a total of 64 passengers. The seats are arranged in pairs, six-abreast. This layout, which has been in place since the introduction of the A380s, will soon be replaced with a new layout which allows each passenger direct access to the aisles. Truthfully, though, I prefer this type of pair seating as it feels less confined to me and is a better arrangement when traveling with another person. Even which the seats are reclined, it is not difficult to get to the aisle.

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The seats recline to a fully-flat bed that is nearly identical in dimensions to the First Class seat. The primary difference, as near as I could tell, is in shoulder space, which is narrower in the Business Class product. Also, you are more exposed, although the padded “hood” ensures privacy and helps dampen any noise. When I fly long distances, sleep is more important to me than caviar, so I would opt for the Business Class seat and save some money. (Of course, I am still a long way from affording a Business Class ticket!)

So far, everything I have shared is pretty visible to the average passenger, although they don’t let you ramble about on the tarmac! So let me share some of the behind-the-scenes views.

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In the middle of the main deck is a door that looks like a regular lavatory entrance, except it has a combination lock on it. Open the door and there is a hatch in the floor and a ladder descending into the cargo hold level.

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Descending into the belly of the plane, there is a flight attendant rest compartment, that has 12 bunk beds, private pods in which the crew can sleep during the flight. Long-haul crews are assigned rest periods of several hours and they can choose to rest here. Each bunk has a curtain, reading light, and other amenities. They are small places, similar to the capsule hotels in Japanese train stations, and the one wedged in under the stairs has barely any room for your feet.

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There are also four economy class seats in the back of the galley located at the rear of the upper deck. With curtains for privacy, these seats allow another place where flight attendants can sit between performing their duties.

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Another hidden space at the front of the Business Class cabin is the purser’s station. This small workplace and several storage closets are cozy, but provide extra space for the crew. It is worth mentioning that on Emirates, the Dubai-based carrier and the largest operator of the A380, this space is used for showers for First Class passengers.

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We also explored the flight deck, which is located several steps above the main deck. When you go through the first door (in which I was standing as I took this picture), you enter an entirely self-sustaining area. To the left (at the top of the hand rail) is a lavatory for the pilots and to the right are two pilot rest areas.

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The pilot rest areas are stacked like two puzzle pieces. Each contain a comfortable chair, similar to a Premium Economy seat, and a bed. The A380 flies with four pilots and they work in shifts. All four pilots are seated in the cockpit during takeoff and landing, but during the cruise phase, the off-duty pilots can go to the rest areas if they wish.

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The A380 uses a “glass cockpit”, which means that instead of dials and gauges, monitors display all the primary functions of the plane. Additionally, all Airbus planes use a “joystick” device (visible to the right of the co-pilot’s seat) instead of a yoke or control column.

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Of course, my childhood dream was to be a pilot and I am jealous of the view that my friends who are pilots have from their office windows.

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To get a sense of just how high up you are in the A380 cockpit, I leaned out the window for a selfie! Must be careful not to mess up my hair.

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After poking around a bit more, we climbed down from the plane. I walked underneath, which is high enough to walk under without ducking, but low enough that you can reach your hand up and touch the belly of the plane. The view above is of the main landing gears: four bogeys with a total of 20 tires.

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These wheels are about as high as my sternum. Combined, they can handle up to 575,000 kg (1,268,000 lb) maximum takeoff weight.

IMG_2298The view looking forward to the nose wheel. In the distance, a Qantas Boeing 747-40 sits in the hangar, undergoing maintenance.

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I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes tour of the A380. Many thanks to my friend at Qantas for giving me this unique experience and I hope that one of these days, I have the opportunity to fly Qantas across the Pacific.

Learn more about the Qantas A380 experience here.

Spotting at HKG

Last August, Tawn and I took at short trip to Hong Kong to celebrate the fifth anniversary of our marriage. I realized this weekend that I never posted the photos I took the afternoon of our return flight. Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok International Airport is one of the best places for spotting: lots of large windows offering mostly distortion-free views of the many airlines from around the globe that call on HKG.

I hope you enjoy.

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Cathay pacific Airbus A330 in the OneWorld color scheme

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Qantas Airbus A380

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British Airways Boeing 777-300ER

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China Airlines (from Taiwan) Airbus A330

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Elegant Swiss Airbus A340

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Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300 – the terminal in the background handles flights to/from the Mainland

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Korean Air’s Airbus A330 in a robin’s egg blue color that I find very fetching

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Looking over the top of a Cathay Pacific B777 to enjoy another Cathay B777-300 in the Spirit of Hong Kong color scheme. This picture also provides a very good sense of just how built up Lantau Island has become, adjacent to the airport.

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From the land of Hobbits, an Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200ER

P1290361Cathay has since retired the passenger versions of their Boeing 747-400, the “Queen of the Skies”

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Dragonair is another local carrier, also flying the Airbus A330. You can also see the British Airways A380 in the background.

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A pair of Airbus A340-600s, the front one belonging to Virgin Atlantic and the back one from Lufthansa.

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Something new and different, an Air India Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner

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Singapore Airlines also operates the Boeing 777-300 into Hong Kong

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London, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong are three great cities to view the Airbus A380. This one is operated by Emirates and makes a stop in Bangkok before continuing to Dubai.

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Air France also flies the Airbus A380 to Hong Kong

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Lufthansa is one of the few carriers not to give up on the 747 passenger version. This is their newest plane, a Boeing 747-8i.

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A Hong Kong Airlines’ Airbus A330 with a surprise guest in the background: a Boeing C-17 Globemaster operated by the United States Air Force.

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Another Cathay A330, this one in their regular color scheme

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Turkish Airlines Operates the Boeing 777-300ER into Hong Kong. One of the newer members of Star Alliance, I would like to try them one of these days.

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One of the more interesting color schemes on an Airbus A330 belonging to Air Seychelles. The Seychelles are off the east coast of Africa, north of Madagascar. Don’t worry, I had to look it up, too.

 

Trip Report: BKK-NRT-ORD on All-Nippon Airways

Over the holidays we flew back to the United States to visit family. Comparing all the options, we chose All-Nippon Airways, a Japanese airline and member of the Star Alliance, because with their joint venture with United, it was easy to seamlessly book the entire trip through ANA’s website. Here is a look at the highlights of the flights.

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The departure from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is quite early – about 7:00 – but we arrived early enough beforehand so we could enjoy some time in the THAI Airways Royal Orchid Lounge. The lounge was decorated for the holidays in shades of their signature purple hue.

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Now that United has exited the Bangkok to Tokyo route, leaving the flying to All-Nippon, ANA has up-gauged their equipment from a Boeing 767 to a Boeing 777.

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The flight still departs too early for my tastes, but at least you begin the day with a pretty sunrise. As Tawn explained it, since he used to work for United and the flights out of Bangkok (to Tokyo and Hong Kong at the time) both departed very early, he still associated early flights with the excitement of working.

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We were assigned a aisle and window seat but another traveler was assigned the middle seat, so we gave him the aisle so Tawn and I could sit together. There was a nice view as we climbed into the humid and hazy morning sky above Bangkok.

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The flight began with a beverage and snack service, a selection of tasty rice crackers.

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The flight attendants at ANA are very friendly. Sometimes their English isn’t perfect, but they are very sincere and quick to respond to requests.

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I opted for a western-style breakfast, which if I recall was chicken croquettes served with mashed potatoes. When I say “breakfast”, I mean “meal”.

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Tawn chose the Japanese style meal, which was a piece of mackerel served with a variety of pickles and other sides. Both meals were tasty and satisfying.

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The planes used intra-Asia have an older interior, with narrower leg room and smaller, more difficult to view monitors. The entertainment system still offers dozens of movies and a hundred or more TV shows, all on-demand. However, the screens are not touchscreen and you have to use the remote controller.

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The flight to Tokyo took about six hours and we arrived on a sunny and clear afternoon.

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A nice view of an ANA Boeing 767 with the new drag-reducing wingtips. The 767 remains one of my favorite planes, mostly due to the 2-3-2 layout in economy class, where everyone is either on an aisle or no more than one seat away from an aisle.

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Narita is an efficient, modern airport through which to connect. We spent some time at the All-Nippon Lounge, which has a good selection of food and beverage, shower facilities, and a nap area.

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A meeting of Boeing 787 Dreamliners, the one in the foreground flown by All-Nippon and the one in the background flown by United Airlines. The two airlines have an immunized joint venture for trans-Pacific and connecting flights, meaning that they operate these flights as if they were a single carrier, sharing revenues and expenses.

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The sun had already set when we boarded our Boeing 777-300 ER bound for Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

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All-Nippon is one of the few carriers to do a 2-4-3 layout in economy class, which provides a range of options for different size groups traveling together. Unfortunately, we ended up with two of the seats in the middle four. However, the good thing is that these are actually two pairs of seats, so the people in the middle each have their own armrest and about two inches between them. That means the seats do not feel cramped.

Also, All-Nippon offers 34″ of pitch (the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in the next row) – this is 3″ more than most US carriers offer. On top of it, these planes us a “shell back” seat that never reclines into your space. Instead, as you recline your seat, your seat bottom slides forward, reducing your own leg room. I prefer this because I rarely sleep on planes, but dislike having someone recline into my space.

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As you can see, the monitors are much larger and brighter, and they feature touch-screen technology. There is also a USB port in case you want to charge your electronic devices. There is also a standard power outlet in between the seats.

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Tawn and I both chose the same meal, a Japanese style grilled pork dish with cold soba noodles, tofu, and rice. Very tasty. One of the things I like about Japanese meals is that they are served with many small side dishes. The variety of tastes and textures makes the meal very fulfilling.

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After dinner, the crew dimmed the cabin lights and everyone was asked to close their window shades.

IMG_1651A view of the rear galley, where there was a bit of space that you could stand and stretch your legs.

IMG_1658Also in the galley was a basket of snacks and beverages with a sign inviting you to help yourself. Flight attendants were also available to take care of any requests, such as brewing a cup of tea for me.

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With strong east-bound tail winds, our flight to Chicago was only 10:30 minutes. The return flight from San Jose to Tokyo, a much shorter route, was actually fifteen minutes longer!

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Our second sunrise of the day, the first viewed while we were on the ground in Bangkok and the second viewed off the coast of Washington.

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About 90 minutes before landing, a second meal was served. This is the minced chicken with noodles (I think!) that Tawn had.

IMG_1669And I had a chicken thigh served with pasta. These meals were a bit lighter than the first meals, but appropriate given that we had departed in the evening and were arriving just after lunchtime.

IMG_1677The cabin with the lights on. It is actually a comfortable enough cabin to fly in, even for the long haul flight. Sure, business class would be better, but for the price, All-Nippon economy class was fine.

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About five seconds before landing, a view across the plane and out the window, where you can see planes at the international terminal where we would disembark.

Plane Spotting at Don Mueang Airport

It has been a while since I’ve shared some aviation porn, so thought I would post pictures from my trip to Mae Sot, Thailand last December. I flew from Don Mueang Airport (DMK) in Bangkok, the older of the city’s two airports.

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Originally reopened as a domestic-only airport, DMK was served primarily by Nok Air and Orient Thai airlines. For some sections of the city, it is more easily accessible than the new airport, although from where I live, it is equally far.

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“Nok” means “bird” in Thai and this airline (with its colorful Boeing 737s) flies domestic routes and is half-owned by THAI Airways International, the country’s flag carrier.

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Airports of Thailand, the organization that runs the major airports, eventually decided to open DMK for international traffic, too, as a reliever to the newer airport, Suvarnabhumi, which despite opening just over seven years ago, long ago reached its design capacity. With that, Air Asia relocated its operations to DMK.

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Nok and Air Asia (which actually is a conglomeration of separate airlines operating under a common brand name) now provide the majority of service to DMK and Nok has recently added a limited number of international destinations.

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One very recent addition to Thailand’s crowded “low cost carrier” scene is Thai Lion Air. Just in the same way that Air Asia is a group of separate but related airlines, Thai Lion Air is the second affiliate for Indonesia-based Lion Air. They are operating brand new Boeing B737-900ER “extended range” aircraft and flying to Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur internationally and Chiang Mai domestically. Their plan is to expand rapidly, which should provide the traveling public with downwards pressure on already low ticket prices.

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My flight was on a “Nok Mini” Saab 340. While branded as Nok Air, these mini flights are operated by Siam General Aviation. Some people don’t enjoy flying turboprops, I think they are fun and feel more like the “good old days” of early aviation. The plane is actually very stable and given that the flights are usually no longer than an hour, the seats are comfortable enough. The only challenge is the lavatory, which is tiny!

P1280066DMK is also the repository for a variety of oddball aircraft and airlines. Here is a row of airplanes in various stages of their lives. The Orient Thai B747-300 in the front and their Boeing 767 just beyond may still be used for some charter flights in the middle east, but the THAI Airways jets to the right have been pulled from service and are awaiting either buyers or scrapping. On the distance on the left are two City Airways Boeing 737s, part of an obscure charter airline that mostly runs flights to China.

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Another Boeing 737 operating under the City Airways name, although I’m sure many people would recognize the US Airways color scheme that still covers the plane. The interesting thing to notice is that on the very rear of the tail, the flag on the US Airways’ logo has not been painted over. This is because it lies on the rudder, the movable fin that controls the aircraft’s yaw. It is so finely balanced that adding a layer of paint over the logo would throw it out of balance, so a slap-dash paint job cannot be done.

P1280072A shot of the cockpit of my Saab 340 upon arrival at Mae Sot airport.

P1280074And a final shot on the tarmac at Mae Sot, of the Nok Mini Saab 340 against the setting Winter sun. Hope you enjoyed the photos. Food will return soon!

 

Flying the THAI Airbus A380 for the First Time

As good fortune and careful scheduling would have it, the return leg of my Hong Kong trip was aboard THAI Airways’ new Airbus A380. The A380, affectionately known as the Whale Jet because of its profile, is the world’s largest passenger jet, eclipsing the venerable Boeing 747’s floor space by almost half. 

The first A380 went into service in October 2007 with Singapore Airlines after lengthy production delays. These delays produced a roll-over effect and THAI Airways, the ninth operator of the type, just received its first aircraft this past September. (Only 92 aircraft delivered in five years…) Initially, THAI used the airplane for Singapore and Hong Kong flights before adding Frankfurt and Tokyo.

Unlike the Boeing 747, which has only a upper deck for only part of the length of the aircraft, the Airbus A380 has a full upper deck. This means that airport receiving regular A380 service need to have passenger jet bridges that can reach doors on both the upper and lower deck. In Hong Kong, one jet bridge is used for each level, although in many airports there are two lower level jet bridges and one upper level.

Most airlines reserve the upper deck for First and/or Business Class passengers. In THAI’s configuration, there is a small economy class cabin on the upper deck, the final eight rows of the plane. When you book your flight online and choose your seat assignment, the small upper deck cabin is not visible. Knowing that those seats existed, I had to visit a THAI ticket office and request an upstairs seat. Above, a view of this economy class cabin, which has a pair of exits in the middle of it, making for some generous leg room.

I was able to secure the last available window seat, the one you see on the left-hand side of the picture with the bin open next to it. One of the nice things about the upper deck is that there are small storage bins underneath the windows to supplement the overhead bins. This makes it easy to store small bags out of the way, freeing up your leg room while keeping items close at hand.

A look forward past the economy class cabin into the large business class cabin. Two interesting things I observed: there is a small security camera in each of the bulkheads, allowing crew members to see what is happening in each cabin, even if the curtains are closed. Also the overhead bins above the center seats have a different shape in business class than they do in economy. Usually, a single design is used in most aircraft.

Another nice feature of the A380 is the tail-mounted camera. You can watch the view on your seat back monitor. Unfortunately, there appeared to be some dirt (bird poop?) on the lens, making the view a bit less enjoyable. I have been on other airplanes that have cameras located under the fuselage looking forward or down, but this tail camera seems to be a consistent feature of the A380.

Taxiing to the runway, you can see a Russian made cargo jet and on the mountain behind, the tower from the Nong Ping 360 gondola. Here’s the view from the gondola at just about that tower, as I wrote about in this entry.

The view of the New Territories about a minute after takeoff. I lived in Hong Kong in 1998-99, not long after the new airport opened. In those days, there was significantly less development in this part of Hong Kong. Nowadays, there are clusters of high rise buildings everywhere as the city continues to grow, mostly vertically.

Inflight dining: chicken and greens served over egg noodles. There was also a salad of chicken and mixed vegetables and a panna cotta with berry coulis for dessert. The food was decent. 

As a comparison, here is the food we were served out of Bangkok, a Penang curry with chicken and bitter melon. It was very tasty, actually so much so that if they served it from a restaurant, I would seek it out. Also interesting that the service out of Bangkok had sturdier dishes for the main course as opposed to the aluminum ones out of Hong Kong. The salad was a so-so shrimp salad and the dessert was a mediocre chocolate mousse.

If you would like to see highlights of the entire trip, include a tour through the business class and first class cabins upon landing, please view the six-minute video above. Coincidentally, on my way out the business class cabin, I was recognized by one of the flight attendants, a friend of one of Tawn’s friends.

Another video covering my flight from Bangkok to Hong Kong aboard a Boeing B777-200, is located here.  

In this final shot from the gate in Bangkok, you can see that there are three passenger jet bridges attached to the plane, two on the lower level and one on the upper level. They have to be very careful as the bridge are close to each other.

Here is a view of the two forward bridges taken from the window on the upper deck bridge. I hope you enjoyed the trip!

 

Boeing Everett Factory and Museum of Flight

While in Seattle, I spent a few days with my friend Jack. He’s a fellow aviation enthusiast so we made the requisite “pilgrimage” to two Seattle-area aviation hotspots: the Boeing widebody factory in Everett and the Museum of Flight at the original Boeing site at King County Airport.

 

Boeing Factory Tour

Everett Factory
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The city of Everett lies about 35 miles north of Seattle. Since the late 1960s, Boeing has produced and delivered well over 3,000 widebody aircraft from this factory, which features the largest building in the world, measured by volume. The building is so large that 911 regulation NBA basketball courts would fit inside.

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Currently, the factory produces Boeing’s 747, 767, 777, and new 787 aircraft. Viewed above is the delivery flight line, where final systems checks are conducted before the test flights. The near row of aircraft are the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with some Boeing 747-8 freighters in the back.

The factory tour allows up-close views of the different production hangars, where you can see the jets assembled in what can only be described as an example of how manufacturing technology has evolved over the years. Unfortunately, video and still photography (along with all electronic devices) is not allowed on the tour, so I’ve had to borrow some pictures from the internet to illustrate. I’ve noted all borrowed images.

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The first stop in the tour is the production facility for the oldest of the aircraft, the Boeing 747. The first flight of the original version of the 747 was in February 1969. The design has continued to be advanced over the decades and the current version, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is larger, longer, faster, and much more fuel efficient than the original version.

The manufacturing process has in many ways remained the same. Almost all components of the aircraft are actually built by Boeing there at the Everett factory. Sheets of aluminum are attached to spars and stringers and each section of the plane – nose cone, tail, wings, fuselage barrels – are rivetted together, piece by piece. It takes four month from start to finish for each part to be made and eventually married together.

With the introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing revolutionized the production process. The Everett factory is now the final assembly point for the airplane, with all of the component pieces being produced at other facilities (by bother Boeing and contractors) around the globe.

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These component pieces are large – lengthy sections of the fuselage, entire wings, etc. In order to transport them from factories in Italy, Japan, and Wichita to the final assembly facilities in Everett, WA and North Charleston, SC, Boeing commissioned four modified B747-400 aircraft, known as Dreamlifters. These ungainly looking aircraft significantly reduce shipping time.

We were fortunate to see a Dreamlifter arrive a few minutes after parking at the tour center. I captured the landing on video, above.

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To remove the components from the Dreamlifter, the tail section swings open. A giant tractor with a head-sized ball bearing is placed under the tail to hold the weight of the tail, preventing damage to the door hinges. It is an impressive feat of engineering!

787 Production
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Once all the components are delivered, they are fastened together in a process that currently takes about seven days. That rate will increase as Boeing become more familiar with the assembly process, but is quite an improvement over the four months it takes to build a B747-8 from scratch.

Needless to say, the factory tour was impressive. Even though it was Sunday, a relatively slow production day, I could have easily spent much more than the allotted 90 minutes standing there, watching the assembly process.

 

Future of Flight Aviation Center

The tour begins and ends on the other side of Paine Field at the Future of Flight Aviation Center. Compared to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, which we visited later in the day, the Future of Flight is relatively modest. Still, it provides several displays to help you learn more about aerodynamics and the airplane production process.

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Posing in front of the nose section of a former Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 with a cockpit section of a Boeing 737 in the background.

 

Boeing Field and Museum of Flight

Finishing with the factory tour just about lunchtime, Jack and I decided to drive back to Seattle and visit the Museum of Flight. Located at Boeing Field, officially known as King County International Airport, the Museum of Flight has an extensive display of restored aircraft and many interactive exhibits. It also features the original Boeing factory, a red wooden barn dating from 1909.

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A view of the main display gallery, which features a restored Douglas DC-3 in Alaska Airlines colors, a Lear Fan 2100 with its unique Y-shaped tail and push-propeller, and a Lockheed M-21 Blackbird spy plane.

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A reproduction Boeing Model 40B, the aircraft that enabled Boeing to win the transcontinental US Mail contract. The plane was able to carry twice the load of its competitors.

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A Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II, a combat aircraft from the mid-1950s that was so light and nimble, it continued to be used for 35 years. This particular aircraft flew with the Blue Angels, the US Navy’s aerobatic team. This plane made a special impression on me because in my childhood, I had the opportunity to see the Blue Angels perform several times and this was the type of airplane they used at the time.

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A restored Stearman C-3B, a rugged biplane from the 1920s that was used to grow America’s commercial air mail network. This one is painted in Western Air Express colors.

The Museum of Flight also features an outdoor display area across the street from the main museum galleries. There, you can walk around (and in some cases, through) many of the most successful commercial aircraft.

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Immediately at the entrance to the outdoor gallery is the Concorde, a limited-edition commercial supersonic jet that shuttled the rich and famous across the Atlantic Ocean for almost three decades at twice the speed of sound. This particular jet is on loan from British Airways and it flew the final commercial Concorde flight.

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The plane is on static display and you can walk through its cabin and peer into the cockpit. Here is a view from the front passenger door, looking to the needle-like nose, which was dropped about 10 degrees when the plane of was on the ground, so the pilots could see the taxiway in front of them.

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Inside, you get a sense of how cramped the Concorde was. The interior height was only 6 feet, 5 inches and the two-by-two seating was no more spacious than current premium economy seats. That said, flight time across the Atlantic was only three-and-a-half hours, so you arrived at your destination much more quickly than on a conventional airplane.

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The museum also has the first “Air Force One” – a Boeing VC-135B, the military variant of the Boeing 707. This particular aircraft was delivered when Eisenhower was president and was replaced just three years later by a more advanced version.

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The aircraft is also open for walk-through tours, giving you a sense of how the presidents and other VIPs traveled when conducting government business.

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Compared with the current fleet used to fly the president, variants of the widebody B747, this older Air Force One looks very small. Above, you can see staff seating with the presidential conference room in the background. 

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Behind the cockpit and front galley is a communication station which enabled the president to communicate securely from his airborne White House.

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The cockpit of the Boeing VC-137B, which looks primitive with all its dials and gauges, when compared to today’s “glass” cockpits with their screens and video monitors.

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The museum also has the first flight-worthy Boeing 747. Named the City of Everett in honor of its birthplace, this Boeing 747-121 served as a testbed for Boeing over the years and is sometimes open for display. Unfortunately, the day of our visit, it was closed.

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The final item of interest was a Lockheed 1049G Super Constellation. This piston-engined aircraft was one of the most graceful airplanes ever designed and the “G” version first flew in 1954. By that time, it was clear that airlines were moving in the direction of jet planes and the Constellation was one of the last piston-engine planes. This particular plane was delivered to Trans-Canada Air Lines.

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View of Mount Rainier in the hazy distance from a control tower exhibit in the museum. You can listen to the radio broadcast from the Boeing Field control tower and watch airplanes (mostly general aviation) land and take off.

It was a full day of aviation geekiness, probably more than most people could handle but, in my view, a day well spent.

 

Hawaiian Airplane Porn

While most people have a limited appreciation for it, after I take a long trip I long to post some airplane porn for Matt and the few other people who read this blog who are aviation enthusiasts. If your pulse doesn’t quicken when you watch an airplane take off, feel free to skip this entry and come back tomorrow when we’ll return to regular programming.

San Francisco to Maui

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While waiting for our flight to Maui, I capture this picture of a pair of United Boeing 757-200s, a United 747, and a Lufthansa Airbus A380 (the largest commercial plane in the world) at the international terminal. Sadly, didn’t get to see the “whale jet” depart while we were there.

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A United Airlines Boeing 747-400 taxies to the runway for a trip to somewhere in Asia. Its wings are heavy with fuel and you can see how far they flex back downwards. Pity the poor economy class customers who, on United, are still stuck watching inflight entertainment on “the main screen” at the front of the cabin.

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Our plane to Maui, a Boeing 767-300, pulls up to the gate more than a half-hour late. The hills of Oyster Point in South San Francisco are in the background and some of the Genentech campus is visible. Our plane is in the new United color scheme, an uninspired hybrid of the Continental pain job and the United name.

Video of our take off roll from San Francisco as well as our landing over the sugar cane fields in Maui.

Interisland Flying

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Early morning at Kahului Airport on Maui. An Island Air flight pushes back as an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 beings its take off roll to one of the more than a half-dozen destinations they serve from Maui.

Video of our departure from Kahului Airport on Maui and the beautiful reefs just off the end of the runway.

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The beautiful view of West Maui as we climb out of Kahului and head towards Honolulu. If you are flying in the islands, I recommend a window seat.

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Our inflight service on the short Maui to Honolulu flight consisted of a container of passion-orange “nectar” – which contains only 10% juice. This is the same thing served on every Hawaiian Airlines interisland flight. Talk about simplicity of service!

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Alaska Airlines has built up its presence in the Hawaiian islands the past few years, operating these Boeing 737-800s which are certified for longer-distance overwater flights. Alaska specializes in flying to connecting smaller markets (Sacramento, for example) to the islands, trying to avoid as much direct competition with the larger mainland carriers.

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Delta Airlines has a large presence in Hawaii since their merger with Northwest Airlines a few years ago. They operate daily flights to Tokyo and Osaka, and seasonal flights to Nagoya and Fukuyoka, Japan. There is a Boeing 747-400 on the left and a Boeing 767-300 on the right. You can just see the tail of an All-Nippon Airways (ANA) jet and the rugged silhouette of Diamond Head in the background.

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This United Airlines Boeing 767-400 is originally from the Continental Airlines fleet and operates daily flights to Guam. We flew this flight last year when coming to Kauai, with an interesting Bangkok-Hong Kong-Guam-Honolulu-Kauai routing.

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A pair of Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300s, one almost obscuring the other. Hawaii is a popular destination for Japanese tourists and five different airlines complete to carry them.

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A view of the Hawaiian Airlines maintenance facility behind the interisland terminal. Must be nice to work out in the fresh air every day, although it must be a mess when a rain shower comes through. Hawaiian usually is at the top of the Department of Transportation’s on-time list even though their aircraft work a very busy schedule with a higher-than-average number of flights each day.

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Our bird for the twenty-five minute flight from Honolulu to Kona, a Boeing MD-87. This plane is an updated version of the Douglas DC-9, which traces its roots to the early 1960s.

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A pair of Korean jets at the gate in Honolulu. In the foreground is an Asiana Airlines Airbus A330. A Korean Airlines Boeing 747-400 is in the background. Interesting that Korean flies such a bigger jet – nearly twice the passenger capacity – in Honolulu. Perhaps this is because of their code share with Hawaiian Airlines.

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A United Airlines 767-300 touches down as we taxi to the end of the runway. Tough to shoot these action shots and I missed the burst of smoke when the tires first hit the pavement.

Video of our departure from the “reef runway” at Honolulu International Airport.

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Climbing out of Honolulu, you see Waikiki Beach on the left and Diamond Head crater on the right. Our hotel was on the beach right where that large patch of grass is to the immediate left of Diamond Head.

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Flying over Maui. Just below the middle of the cloud line on the left side of the picture, you can make out a speck of an island. That’s Molokini crater, a fantastic spot where we went snorkeling.

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We arrived in Kona and deplaned using this accessible ramp. Much easier for people with mobility impairments to use, although sort of ungainly looking.

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Another Hawaiian Airlines MD-87 at Kona. Kona is a small airport with two gate area “clusters”. While we had purchased our ticket from United Airlines with the code-share flight on Hawaiian from Honolulu to Kona, connecting to a United flight to San Francisco, schedule changes from both airlines resulted in a short, 45-minute connection time. At most airports, this would be sufficent, but we (and about 20 other passengers who were making the same connection) discovered that you have to exit security from the Hawaiian Airlines gate area, walk around the front of the terminal building, and pass through security again to enter the United gate area. Inconvenient.

Back to the Mainland

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While heading out to our plane, I caught this picture of a Boeing 757-200 preparing for its trip to Los Angeles. This plane leaves just a half-hour after the San Francisco-bound plane, resulting in a bit of congestion at the security screening for the United gates.

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While we were in a rush to get to this fight, we still took time to pause for a picture. It is a shame that so few airports in the United States board by air stairs anymore. In fact, Kona is the only major airport in Hawaii that hasn’t moved to loading bridges. There’s a certain romance to walking across the tarmac and it certainly makes you appreciate the size of the planes.

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View looking towards the tail moments before entering the plane. Tawn and I were the last passengers aboard.

Short video of us departing Kona airport.

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Departing out of Kona, I made sure to select a window seat on the right-hand side of the plane. Tremendous view of Mauna Kea, the 13,796-foot (4200-meter) high mountain that forms the Big Island of Hawai’i. Hard to see in this resolution of the picture, but when I look at it in Picasa, you can see the white specks that are the observatory.

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Chicken wrap “meal” for sale on the five-hour flight from Kona to San Francisco. This plane does a turn-around in Kona with the same crew that flew in from San Francisco in the morning. All of the catering, including the food, is boarded in SFO, flies across the Pacific, and then is served (er, “sold”) on the return leg. When I was considering my options, the flight attendant mentioned that she still had some breakfasts from the morning flight, in case I wanted to buy one of those.

Back to Thailand

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On approach into San Francisco International after our trip to Kansas City. You can see the salt evaporation ponds in the Mountain View, East Palo Alto, and Redwood City area. Taken from a CRJ-700 regional jet, which operates this three-and-a-half hour flight. Long time to be in an RJ but at least United is operating two nonstops a day after years of having to connect in Denver.

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A view of the F gates at San Francisco international airport with Mount San Bruno in the background.

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EVA Airways lounge in San Francisco. I cashed in some miles so my travel companions could have lounge access, figuring since this was their first time flying so far, it would be good to make the experience as relaxing as possible. The lounge isn’t the nicest in the world but offers more comfort than the gate area seats.

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Wonton soup. The bowls of wontons are covered with plastic wrap, then you ladle the hot broth yourself. Seems to work pretty well.

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A selection of small desserts and a passable latte from an automatic machine.

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Before leaving the lounge, I asked the attendant to take a picture of us: Tawn and me with my sister, brother-in-law, and some random man who is looking for a magazine to read. This was their first trip to Asia and you can see the anticipation on their faces.

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On the way to our gate, I see a Swiss Airbus A340 preparing to depart for Zurich. A United Boeing 777-200 taxies by in the background.

 

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Brother and sister posing in front of a United Airlines B747-400. We grew up the children of a United Airlines employee and I worked for them briefly after high school, so we have a strong emotional connection to the airline, despite everything it does to try and ruin the travel experience.

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Our “Elite Class” (premium economy) cabin for the EVA Airways flight from San Francisco to Taipei. Since it was a daylight departure, I gave Jenn and Kevin the window seats so they could enjoy the view as we climbed out of San Francisco.