Airbus wants airlines to put first class on the A380's upper deck

By David Flynn, March 6 2017
Airbus wants airlines to put first class on the A380's upper deck

Think of it as an airborne equivalent of UK drama series Upstairs, Downstairs: the huge Airbus A380 soaring through the skies, with well-heeled passengers enjoying spacious suites and seats on the upper deck while hundreds of economy class travellers are jammed together on the lower deck.

At least that's how airlines would fit out their superjumbo fleet if Airbus had its way.

As it happened, many airlines to adopt the superjumbo – including early customers Singapore Airlines and Qantas – opted to place their exclusive first class cabin onto the lower deck, with business class stretching along the upper deck.

Many other airlines followed their lead: only a handful – Emirates, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Thai – bucked the trend and nestled their first class suites into the upstairs nose of the A380.

Upper decks for the upper classes?

Airbus believes that many airlines' decision to park first class on the A380's lower deck was made partly out of their experience with the Boeing 747, where the pointy end of the jumbo's hump suffered from higher noise levels than the main deck.

Additionally, Airbus says that the early days of the A380 saw relatively few boarding gates where passengers could directly board the superjumbo's upper deck.

If airlines wanted an exclusive boarding channel where their most valued passengers could walk straight from the departure gate into their plush suite, that meant first class had to sit downstairs.

However, Airbus argues that a decade of airlines flying the A380 has seen airports upgrade their facilities.

The superjumbo's narrower upper deck is also better suited to a more efficient use of space for first class suites in a four-across (1-2-1) layout, while the wider lower deck provides more room for more economy and premium economy seating.

How much more? Airbus estimates that 74 economy seats could fit into the front section of the lower deck in a 10-across (3-4-3) arrangement.

Airbus' new floorplan for the 558-seat superjumbo
Airbus' new floorplan for the 558-seat superjumbo

But it allows that airlines could "further optimise" their layout by moving to an 11-across grid of 3-5-3 seating, in what it terms 'budget economy' mode.

Airbus' A380 budget economy seating. Airbus
Airbus' A380 budget economy seating

Meanwhile, with new first class and business class suites due this year from the likes of Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways, life upstairs just keeps getting better...

Also read: The Airbus A380 first class concept cabins you never saw


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1378

I wonder whether in an aircraft like the A380 we might see deliniation in Y to help fill it and compete against cheaper CASM aircraft.

With cheaper Y seats in 3x5x3 and some more expensive ones 3x4x3

The way it's going the A380 will be the only aircraft with F in a few years.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2015

Total posts 122

I dont like the narrow first on Emirates... so Emirates is 4 across in the upper deck which is note as wide however Qantas is 3 accross in the wider lower deck....and with a lot less plastic wood :)


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1501

Generally speaking it does make sense. So we coming back to old days when at the belly of the ship there was 3-rd class and 1-st class was located in upped deck with 2-nd somewhere in between. Thus we coming back to segregation and we make canyon between economy and business deeper and deeper. Especially considering that we yet "Capable to further optimize cabin with an 11 abreast option". Key word here "optimize" :-))) And why not 12? Though many know my POV - I do not blame airlines, but rather blaming greedy and stupid herd that happy to seat even 13 abreast as long as it save them a dollar. Airlines just deliver.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2551

Guys, once again, a reminder to keep on topic - this isn't an article about the business model of the Airbus A380 and point-to-point travel.

Asiana Airlines - Asiana Club

09 Feb 2017

Total posts 41

I wouldn't exactly think you're 'incorporating latest trends' with a 2-2-2 business class configuration ...


Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 50

I have been fortunate enough in recent months to travel both Business and First on several airlines on the A380. In general the airports attach the air bridges to the lower deck first. This is fine when F disembark first but I have also seen many economy passengers disembarking way before the business cabin is empty (a pet hate)


14 Jun 2013

Total posts 353

I always found it odd that Qantas first class is directly in front of economy on the A380. It just seems to make sense to me to have an 'all-premium' upper deck, but I think the best layout is Etihad with first and business and the lounge area between them. Glad this is not a full-on Emirates-style bar though because that could be a bit noisy for first class passengers at the very rear of the F cabin.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Feb 2017

Total posts 24

I always travel business, and I agree with Mal above that premium classes need to go together. I'm sick of Y pax trying to use J toilets, or luggage space, or boarding priorities... that's the reason I pay more for J, to have the extras... I don't fly F but I do think they too would want their own space and luxuries that go with F class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Nov 2016

Total posts 24

It is really off putting to see someone trying to control the direction of the discussion - if people want to talk about P2P, let them please. No more comment from me, as I just dislike "controlled discussion", a total turn off in fact.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2551

This is why we set up the community area, so that readers can talk about pretty much anything, including subjects which are off-topic and not relevant to the article (eg the 'P2P' opinions above). 

Or AUSBT can always edit it out.

11 Dec 2015

Total posts 85

Makes sense. With the trend towards 1-2-1 for business class and with first already there with various suite types, airlines would want to have them in the narrowest cabin so space isn't wasted. 

Then the downstairs cabin becomes an economy/premium economy only zone making full use of the extra width.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Feb 2013

Total posts 15

Does make sense but is that Premium Economy I spy at the back of the upper deck in your diagram? Enjoyed a QF flight there some years ago when F amusingly was downstairs I think. Given how cramped so called budget economy will be perhaps the back of plane but on the upper deck may be the new go to zone for those of us not able to make it to J or even F?!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 685

This was the one smart decision QF made with the A380-800, IMHO. It follows the operational usage seen on the B747-400/400ER's - where First is able to exit the lower level cabin with other classes held back.

The B747-400 then allowed a natural, crew-controlled exit of J Class immediately after First .. and then followed PE and Y. The A380 is a little more complex, but still somewhat similar for QF.

The problem that Airbus face with their 'preferred' option of F and J upstairs is one f how to control the exit flow of premium F and J passengers (upstairs) and a surging horde of Y downstairs. This is evident especially on the newer EK A380's where the bar is located further down towards the middle of the upper deck.

Whilst Airbus may 'prefer' the stratification of F&J on upper and Y on lower levels, it is airlines that know what works for them (and their passengers) best.

Just in the same vein that Airbus suggests a minimum load of 525 pax per A380. Certainly doesn't suit the low density configurations of KE (420pax) or QF (484 pax) where ultra long-haul comfort is a consideration.

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