Tonight marks another milestone for Qantas. Earlier in the evening, the first refurbished Qantas A380 flew from the Airbus maintenance facility in Dresden to Heathrow. Right now, the aircraft, VH-OQK, is in the air, operating QF2 from London Heathrow through to Sydney. But it was an inauspicious start – the flight left Heathrow two hours late!
QF2 has a stopover in Singapore and takes the best part of a day to complete – 23 hours. It’s a big effort and passengers will surely appreciate all the creature comforts they can get from the refurbished plane.
And it has been a while coming. The A380 refurbishments were announced back in August 2017. Qantas expects to roll out its refurbished A380s regularly over the next year. With VH-OQK done, they only have 11 A380s to go.
Qantas says they expect to complete two more A380 refurbishments by the end of 2019 and have all done by the end of 2020. Each aircraft takes approximately eight weeks to refurbish. It is unconfirmed, but the next A380 to be refurbished looks set to be VH-OQI.
In a statement provided to Simple Flying, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said;
“The A380 is a crucial part of our long-haul fleet and this upgrade program will see customers enjoy everything the aircraft has to offer for years to come.
“Working with Airbus, we’ve been able to use the cabin space more efficiently and improve the economics of the aircraft while also providing a better experience in every part of the aircraft.”
So, what’s the big deal? What’s new inside the refurbished Qantas A380?
What’s new in economy class
That small economy cabin at the rear of the upper deck that was much favoured by regular fliers and a bit of an insider’s secret – that’s gone. Instead, most of the main deck is now dedicated to the economy class cabin.
The refurbished A380s will carry 30 fewer economy class passengers than the unrefurbished A380s. Qantas is increasing the number of its premium seats – that in itself is interesting. But the fact remains that the bulk of the passengers on the A380, refurbished or otherwise, will be in economy class.
Possibly they shouldn’t get too excited, or too “surprised and delighted” as Alan Joyce said when anticipating passenger reaction to the refurbished A380. Economy class is getting improved seat cushions, better IFE, and a “new colour palette”. Better than nothing, but yeah …
And there’s no WiFi. The idea was thrown around. Qantas has a knack for putting its thought bubbles out into the public domain (inflight gyms, bunks, and cafes for instance) and then scaling back. As Lucky in One Mile At A Time says, lack of WiFi is a bit of a cop-out. Agreed.
Qantas doesn’t increase seat pitch in PE
Premium economy has been moved upstairs to where that nice and cozy economy mini cabin used to be. In the refurbished Qantas A380 there will be 60 premium economy seats in a 2-3-2 layout. These will be the same premium economy seats seen on the Qantas 787-9 Dreamliners.
These seats are approximately 10% wider than the premium economy seats in the unrefurbished A380s.
While the 787-9 premium economy seats are well enough regarded, lack of legroom has been a recurring issue – the pitch is 38”. This is being replicated on the refurbished A380s. This is an interesting decision by Qantas considering the negative feedback on the issue. But having said that, there is an argument that passengers have unrealistically high expectations of the premium economy class concept in general.
Qantas Business Suites installed
Up the front of the upper deck, in business class, passengers will be more cheerful. As one traveller said last week, on discovering he was booked onto a flight in business on VK-OQK, “you bloody beauty”.
Business-class is increasing to 70 seats. They will be the latest Qantas Business Suites as seen on the 787-9s and A330s. The layout is 1-2-1. The Business Suites are a very good product and when you hit the jackpot and score a good cabin crew, it is a lovely way to travel.
There are two business class cabins. In the forward cabin, there are 20 seats. There is a galley and toilet area separating it from the larger 50 seat cabin midway along the aircraft’s upper deck. That forward cabin sounds like the best choice – small, cozy, quiet. Not necessarily so. The redesigned lounge area is right at the front of the upper deck so there could be foot traffic to and noise from the lounge. However, the lounges on the unrefurbished Qantas A380s are not especially well used. It remains to be seen whether these refreshed lounges prove any more popular.
And for the Chairman’s Lounge crowd
Downstairs, down the front, is first class. Qantas’ first class has always had its adoring fans and those who wonder why they aren’t instead on SQ. The 14 seat cabin still doesn’t have sliding privacy doors. Now, some passengers dislike privacy doors, saying they are claustrophobic, but the general trend is towards installing them and it is another odd decision by Qantas to forego this option. For their part, Qantas says their first-class seats already have high levels of privacy.
In fact, Qantas seems pretty confident about the caliber of their first-class product and is not tinkering with the cabin or seats too much. They want to sync the cabin with the look of their new first-class lounges. They’ve got new mattresses, contoured cushioning, a pillow menu, fresh fabrics, a larger IFE screen and a general freshen up.
With the Qantas A380s first coming into service in 2008, they are due for a refresh. Qantas plans to keep flying them for another decade. Maybe they think this will see them through ‘til then. The key improvement is upgrading the business class product – that was needed. On the other hand, declining to add more seat pitch in premium economy in the face of continual criticism is interesting. Perhaps, as with most things, it is a shouty minority who make all the noise while the majority are perfectly okay with the seat pitch.
And it is a shame there aren’t further improvements in the economy cabin, where most people will be. These A380s do long flights and 23 hours in a 3-4-3 layout isn’t fun. But any improvements are better than no improvements at all.
With the first passengers due to step off the plane in 24 hours, we’ll be interested in the feedback. VH-OQK is due to touchdown in Sydney at 05:10 on Wednesday, October 2, 2019.
And a shoutout to Qantas for providing Simple Flying with these photos in time for publication.