November 2009 | Last Friday (October 30), Air France became the first European airline to take delivery of the Airbus A380. Air France will operate the aircraft – of which it has 12 on firm order – in a three-class 538-seat layout (9 seats in first, 80 in business and 449 in economy), the highest density A380 configuration sofar. Air France’s A380 won’t have the carrier’s new premium economy class installed, which Air France will roll-out to its entire long-haul fleet by the end of 2010, because retrofitting the A380 might have upsetted Airbus’ tight production schedule.
Compared with Singapore Airlines (First Class suites, extra-wide business seats, USB in all seats), Emirates (suites, showers, staffed lounge bar in First), and Qantas (upgraded First, full-flat business beds, slim-line economy seats), Air France has taken a relatively modest outfit for its A380 flagship. This may have been a wise decision given the current economic recession and the expected post-crisis ‘New Normal’. At the other hand, surprisingly little upgrades in seat design have been made, other than improved seat covers in First, a larger IFE screen in Business, wider armrests in Economy, and USB sockets in all classes. Most notably, Air France has chosen not to install full-flat beds in its A380 flagship, at a time when even U.S carriers are going ‘horizontal’.
There is still some ‘inflight extravaganza’ featured on Air France’s A380 though. A private changing cabin is installed at the front of the First Class cabin, a seating area on the upper deck, named ‘the Gallery’, shows artwork from the Louvre on digital screens, passengers in First and Business are provided with Sennheiser noise-canceling headphones, and all cabins have mood lighting and self-service bars (although the economy class bar is basically a tiny space on the side of the galley). The IFE system also has an instant messaging service that allows passengers to chat live with other passengers, for example a colleague seated a few rows away. Passengers can participate in discussion forums as well.
Air France A380’s is the 20th A380 delivered by Airbus – 10 are already flying with Singapore, five with Emirates and four with Qantas. Air France will start operating the A380 on November 20 on the Paris to New York route, followed by Johanessburg in March 2010, when it will receive two more A380’s. Lufthansa will be the next carrier to receive its first A380 in May 2010.
Update 5 January 2010: Air France has made maps of the public transportation system in Paris available on the download section of its A380 inflight entertainment system. The maps can be downloaded via the USB socket in each seat, so airline passengers that carry a laptop can use their time on board to prepare for their stay in Paris.
Update 17 May 2010: From 12 June until 30 August 2010, Air France will operate an A380 between Paris and London-Heathrow in order to fill the hours between the aircraft’s long-haul flights. The carrier’s A380 service from Johannesburg arrives in Paris Charles de Gaulle at 06:05, but does not depart again until 23:20 (17 hours later). Air France believes it can capitalise on the downtime by flying a short return hop to London, which makes it the only airline to operate an A380 on short haul routes. Fares start at just EUR80 return (including taxes) in Economy Class, and EUR380 return in Business Class. First Class will not be available.