A decade after the Qantas Airbus A380 took to the skies, the airline’s 12-strong superjumbo fleet will soon head into the hangar for a mid-life makeover.
The first red-tailed A380 will get its revamp in March 2019, with the tip-to-tail upgrade being overseen by Airbus.
It’s expected to take until the end of 2020 for all twelve A380s to be refurbished. Here’s what you’ll see in Qantas’ spruced-up superjumbos.
Qantas’ new Airbus A380 first class suites
Don’t expect any major changes to the 14 first class suites on the lower deck, although that’s not a bad thing by any stretch: there's basically nothing wrong with Marc Newson's bespoke design, which Australian Business Traveller rates among the best of the ‘open’ first class suites without sliding privacy doors.
Newson is working with Qantas on a modest refresh of the cabin and its materials, including more comfortable contoured cushioning in each suite. A larger HD video screen will replace the current 17 inch panels.
The end result will leave the A380 first class suites looking the same yet different – at once totally familiar but undeniably fresher.
Qantas’ new Airbus A380 business class seats
The best news in Qantas' superjumbo revamp is that the original Skybed II seats will be replaced by the highly-regarded Business Suite of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
That seat, in turn, is a tweak of Airbus A330 Business Suite with a movable divider between the middle seats so that travellers can choose between privacy and sociability.
It's a substantial improvement for business travellers, with the Business Suites boasting everything that the Skybed II designs lack: direct aisle access for every passenger thanks to a 1-2-1 layout; a bump-free flat bed; ample inflight storage and workspace, plus a 16-inch HD video screen that's much brighter and sharper than the Skybed II's 12.1-inch panel.
The reconfiguration will also see a slight increase in the number of business class seats, from 64 in the current A380s to 70 in the refurb'd birds.
Qantas’ new Airbus A380 lounges
The narrow and little-used lounge at the front of the upper deck will be replaced by two new business class lounges, located either side of the 'grand staircase' which leads down to first class.
David Caon has reimagined the current lounge as a social cafe-inspired design with two tables fitted with soft LED lighting surrounded by comfortable padded benches.
“Today everybody’s sitting along the bench and facing one direction, and that's not necessarily the best layout and the best arrangement for people to be in" Caon tells Australian Business Traveller.
"Our lounge should be something where people are able to sit and face each other and discuss and talk... the kind of space that if there are two people that are travelling together but not necessarily sitting together, they can go (to the lounge) and spend time together."
On the left side of the stairway, where a small cabin crew office is currently tucked away, a second nook will include a self-serve minibar for drinks and snacks plus what appears to be a large video screen for watching inflight movies.
Qantas is also said to be working on ways to damp the lounge’s sound profile so as not to disturb passengers in the front rows of the business class cabin.
Qantas’ new Airbus A380 premium economy seats
The A380 overhaul will also extend to premium economy, using the same seats as the Boeing 787.
These will be installed in a 2-3-2 layout in a dedicated cabin behind business class, where a reconfiguration of the upper deck will allow room for 25 more premium economy seats, bringing the tally to 60.
The seats themselves are quite the leap for business travellers on a budget with a comfortable cradle design, some handy storage space, USB and shared AC power sockets, a decent-sized personal video screen and even a natty tablet holder if you belong to the BYO video set.
However, we hope that Qantas allows more distance between each row of seats than on the Dreamliner, where these otherwise excellent seats are squashed too close together.
Qantas' all-premium Airbus A380 upper deck
Part of the A380 refresh will see the upper deck become an all-premium affair of business class and premium economy – ironically, this is the same as when the Qantas A380 made its debut in 2008 – with the current quiet and cosy economy 'mini-cabin' at the rear of the upper deck taken over by the expanded premium economy cabin.
Qantas’ refreshed Airbus A380 economy seats
There's less change for economy class travellers, who won't even see new seats such as those of the Boeing 787. Instead, they'll need to make do with new seat cushions and what Qantas broadly terms "improved inflight entertainment".