Arriving at Heathrow airport on a drizzly Autumn morning did nothing to dampen the spirits in what has been a truly uplifting week for aviation.
AeroTime’s Alec Wignall before boarding the British Airways A380
On Monday morning, we saw Virgin Atlantic and British Airways perform parallel departures to JFK with its flagship A350s to mark the reopening of US transatlantic travel. This special moment of unity came after 18 months of border closures due to the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Monday also marked another hugely significant aviation event, with the return of the British Airways A380 Superjumbo, the largest commercial aircraft in the world. This beast of the skies is currently flying short-haul routes from LHR to FRA and MAD for crew familiarization and training, ahead of its redeployment on select long-haul flights, including LA, Miami, and Dubai.
Fortunately, I was about to board one of its first flights and could not wait to take it all in. On a more personal note, this flight was a special day for me, marking my first commercial flight in over a year. It also brought back memories of my last flight on an Emirates A380 as I returned to the U.K after completing the penultimate stage of my flight training in New Zealand.
As I made my way through the busy Heathrow terminal and toward my aircraft, G-XLEF, I realized just how much I had missed this. Taking the escalator up to the gate and catching my first glimpse of the distinctive A380 was a truly magical moment. Other travelers around me had also stopped to admire the aircraft, taking photographs, and commenting on its gargantuan form, its size even more striking alongside two smaller company 777-200s.
As I arrived on board, the atmosphere was one of huge excitement, despite there only being an A320 payload (in the event of any last-minute aircraft switches).
The A380 delivers a certain magical feeling to flying. The entire cabin boasts a luxury and comfort that leaves passengers and crew in awe, whether it’s their first or 100th flight. For the two-hour journey, I booked seat 22K located on the main deck in the World Traveller cabin (a window seat, of course!) overlooking the enormous wing, which provided some serious condensation on takeoff.
As always with BA, the crew were spectacular. Their welcoming, bubbly personalities made everyone feel right at home. But the best part was still to come, when the crew took the time to show some of my fellow avgeeks and me the closed upper deck, which features BA’s Club World, World Traveller Plus and World Traveller products. Here, the crew, many of whom had not flown for the duration of the A380’s grounding, were familiarizing themselves with the aircraft and inflight services.
In perfect flying conditions, our flight path took us over the Channel Islands and the Bay of Biscay before commencing the descent into Madrid, where the cabin filled with the golden glow of the Spanish sunset. On arrival onto the stand, I had the fortune of heading up to the flight deck and meeting the captain of the flight, who, in his initial announcement to the passengers, perfectly summed up the experience when he said, “Welcome aboard the amazing Airbus A380”.
In total, there were five pilots on board. Two were flying, with a further two observing ahead of their own flight the following day, as well as a training captain to provide a sign-off.
It is remarkable how things have changed since my last flight in October 2020. Today, and largely owing to the success of COVID-19 vaccinations, we can be positively optimistic about the future of aviation. Once again, we can all enjoy the freedom and global connectivity brought to our lives by such an awesome industry, something that we have all missed for so long.
So, whether your next trip via the skies is to reunite with family and friends, seek some warm winter weather, or even jet off on that bucket list adventure, if you fly by A380, you certainly won’t be disappointed.