$11,000 airfare to Europe: Massive A380's return has airlines touting first-class suites again

Think of it as an indulgence that allows you to stretch out in luxury while other airline passengers are crammed into economy seats at a time when coronavirus spread remains a top concern. But that extra breathing room comes at an eye-popping price.

It’s a semi-private suite aboard the largest passenger jet in the sky. Nestled in your cabin shut off by partitions, you can nap in bed or kick back in a recliner while savoring meals served on fine china and sipping Dom Perignon.

It’s made possible by the spaciousness of the Airbus A380, the twin-decker gradually being returned to the skies by the handful of international airlines that still operate the super jumbo jet. Among the developments:

• Australian carrier Qantas plans to reintroduce an A380 with 14 first-class suites on the Los Angeles to Sydney this week. Its A380s haven’t flown on commercial routes in nearly two years, but one is needed to replace some Boeing 787s. The A380 has nearly twice as many seats overall as a 787.

• Singapore Airlines plans to launch A380 service from New York to Frankfurt, Germany, on March 28 with the flight continuing on to Singapore.

“After nearly two years of restrictions, we are seeing tremendous demand for international travel and that includes premium cabins,” said Joey Seow, Singapore Airlines' regional vice president for the Americas, in a statement.

• The world’s largest A380 operator, Emirates, has been unabashed in its enthusiasm for the four-engine jet even as other airlines have dropped it in favor of more fuel-miserly twin-engine airliners like the 787. It celebrated the delivery of its 123rd and final A380 last month, though it was operating only about 60 of them as 2021 came to a close.

• British Airways resumed A380 service from London Heathrow to Dallas, Los Angeles and Miami last month.

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Pandemic decimated US A380 routes

All told, airlines have scheduled 519 flights to U.S. destinations in the first quarter of 2022, down 78% from 2,327 in the same period in 2019 before the pandemic struck, according to an analysis for USA TODAY by Juliett Alpha, an aviation marketing and communications firm.

Back then, 11 airlines were flying A380s to the U.S. In the first quarter, the bulk of A380 flights are coming from just three – Emirates, British Airways and China Southern. U.S.-based carriers don't fly the A380.

Airlines have different motivations for returning A380s to the air, said Brett Snyder, who closely follows airline developments at the Cranky Flier website. British Airways can move more passengers into its congested Heathrow hub with an A380 than it can with smaller jets. Qantas is using its one to compensate for a 787 crew staffing shortage.

Overall, the outlook for the A380 is looking slightly brighter, Snyder said, even as their future is dim at carriers like Air France and Germany’s Lufthansa.

“If you look elsewhere in the world, there were a lot of airlines that said ‘we are going to retire these’ that are having second thoughts as traffic comes back,” he said.

And that’s good for passengers since the A380 is known for being comfortable, quiet and of course, roomy.

Those characteristics help make the giant plane a favorite when it comes to premium seating, especially dreamy first-class cabins. Carriers have competed with each other to provide the cushiest amenities.

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Shower spas and caviar at 40,000 feet

Dubai-based Emirates touts its shower spas and private bar lounge for first-class passengers. China Southern points to its private closet space in its suites. And Qantas says it has bedtime turn-down service and in-seat massage units.

For its part, Singapore reduced the number of semi-private cabins on board from 12 to six, making them about 50% larger on its A380s. While the larger cabins have been available in other markets since 2017, this is the first time the updated version has come to the U.S.

“Having more personal space is always the ultimate luxury aboard an aircraft,” said Betty Wong, Singapore's divisional vice president for inflight service and design.

Emirates takes delivery of its 123rd – and final – A380, the world's largest passenger jet.
Emirates takes delivery of its 123rd – and final – A380, the world's largest passenger jet.

The suites for two include a double bed and two swivel chairs. If Dom Perignon champagne doesn’t suit a passenger's taste, there’s also Krug. Meals, which include delicacies like caviar, are served on linens with Wedgewood china plates.

Sounds great but for all but an elite few, the airfare will be a shocker: For a sample April roundtrip from New York’s John F. Kennedy International to Frankfurt, Germany, first-class cabins on the A380 go for $11,783 compared to $663 for economy on the same flights.

Sometimes, however, there’s a chance to catch a break: Qantas said as it restarts its A380 service to the U.S., it will upgrade some top-tier frequent fliers who have booked business-class passengers seats to suites.

No question about it, it’s “a great airplane to fly,” Snyder said.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Airbus A380 returns to US skies with its plush first class suites