I've always regarded the Airbus A380 with both awe and anxiety. I'm in awe of the technological achievement of producing the world's biggest airliner, even if it lacks the graceful lines of a 747. And though I'd fly on it if I had to sit on a cardboard box, I'm still anxious about spending 14 hours crammed into a coach seat hurtling through the air with the population of a small town. But according to an Airbus exec, 500 passengers is just a drop in the bucket compared with what the behemoth place could really carry.
Speaking yesterday in Australia, Chief Commercial Officer John Leahy suggested that the A380 could be a viable option for budget airlines looking to fill hundreds of seats on the cheap. "We can do 11 abreast in coach," Leahy said. "Some have said we could split the cabins and have a high-density coach and full-service coach."
Though the plane currently is certified to carry up to 852 people (the average will be 400 to 525), stretched versions of the A380 that are currently on the drawing board could carry a mind-blowing 1,000 passengers. Wow.
Now just to give you some perspective, the 747-400 (the long-time gorilla of the sky) carries about 415 people, give or take a few. And that's in 10-abreast seating in coach. Just think about one airplane carrying double the number of bodies with each row having three seats on either side and five seats in the middle. Even with the A380's larger size, it absolutely would have a crowded feel. And here I thought Southwest Airlines was bad.
I'm not about to get alarmist about how the A380 would overwhelm airports. The 747 had its critics when it made its first commercial flight in 1970 but airports adapted to it in time. Yet, 1,000 people will no doubt be a logistical challenge and airports have made adjustments for the the plane already. Just think about that security line. And in any case, I'd much prefer this concept of an A380 first class with individual cabins.