Emirates plans to bring its flagship Airbus A380s back to Australia as travel restrictions ease, borders re-open and demand returns, although this might take until late 2021.
The Gulf carrier and Qantas partner has downsized its Australian flights to the Boeing 777 and still runs on a limited schedule due to strict caps on the number of arriving passengers, which sees many flights carrying fewer than 50 passengers.
"The 777s are the right size aircraft for us at the moment," Emirates Australasia vice-president Barry Brown told The Australian, but the more the borders open up, the more you’ll see the 380s returning."
Airlines expect a slow and uneven recovery for air travel over the coming years.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has suggested that with the exception of 'bubbles' to selected countries which have brought Covid-19 under control, international travel is likely "to remain largely closed off until late next year and then gradually return over time," even allowing for availability of a vaccine "around the end of 2021."
Gulf neighbour and rival Etihad says the fate of its own A380s remains in the balance, while Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker says his airline's ten superjumbos "will not return for at least a year, maybe never."
However, Emirates has already put some of its A380s back into the air, and outgoing President Sir Tim Clark hopes to have all 115 of them flying by 2022.
With their first class shower suites and a business class cocktail bar, those superjumbos represent a golden era of modern air travel.
The latest A380s awaiting delivery to Emirates include the airlines' all-new premium economy product, which Clark has described as a railway-style "sleeperette" design nestled in its own cabin at the front of the lower deck.
Clark has previously told Executive Traveller that the seat will fully cradle the legs and feet in "something like lazy-Z" configuration with a 10-inch recline, rather than going fully flat – a trait which will remain the exclusive domain of business and first class.
"It's probably where business class used to be, and in some cases where first used to be in the old days, 30 years ago," Clark reflected.
Before the pandemic hit, Emirates was also planning a third generation of its signature A380 bar, which was launched in 2008 with the airline's first superjumbo and redesigned in 2017 to provide more communal seating in a lighter, brighter and more modern environment.
Speaking with Executive Traveller in December 2019, as the first strains of Covid-19 were stirring half a world away, Clark said the new design would "be a step change in what we're doing", with the airline “enlarging the seating area again” and sprinkling clusters of AC and USB power outlets around the tables.
This would create somewhat of an alternative working environment for business travellers taking a break from their regular seat, but could just as easily be used to top-up a smartphone while enjoying both a bartender-mixed beverage and the company of others.
But “what we tend to find is that people (usually) leave their PDAs, laptops, mobiles etc. at their seat, and just go back and get stuck into what we always used to do, which was talk to each other,” Clark recalled.
It’s an experience that drives many passengers to “go out of their way to travel on us, because they have this superb product,” which has “more than paid for itself” over the years, he assures, even though the floor space occupied by the lounge could otherwise have accommodated eight extra business class seats on every flight.