The multimillion-dollar upgrade of Qantas' fleet or Airbus A380s is underway, bringing travellers a fresh take on first class, new business class and premium economy seats, and two new lounge spaces on the upper deck.
At the time of writing the first of the spruced-up superjumbos is already flying, with two more to be refurbished by the end of 2019 and the rest by the end of 2020 – just in time for Qantas' 100th birthday celebrations.
“The A380 is a crucial part of our long-haul fleet and this upgrade program will see customers enjoy everything the aircraft has to offer for years to come,” predicts Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce. “It also provides an increase in Business and Premium Economy seating to help match the demand we’re seeing on our long-haul routes.
“Working with Airbus, we’ve been able to use the cabin space more efficiently and improve the economics of the aircraft while also providing a better experience in every part of the aircraft. By the end of this upgrade, we’ll have next-generation seating across our entire long-haul fleet of A380s, A330s and 787s.”
Following their facelift, the Qantas superjumbos are expected to be flying through to the end of the next decade, by which time Qantas expects to have fully developed its Project Sunrise network with non-stop flights from the likes of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to London, Paris and New York.
Here's a look inside the new-look Qantas Airbus A380.
Qantas’ new Airbus A380 first class suites
No major changes have been made to the 14 first class suites on the lower deck, which retain the same design as when the red-tailed A380s made their debut in 2008,.
That's not a bad thing by any stretch: there's basically nothing wrong with this bespoke Marc Newson design, which Executive Traveller rates among the best of the ‘open’ first class suites without sliding privacy doors.
This measured touch-up has seen the seat fitted with new contoured cushioning, some improved finishes and a larger, higher resolution entertainment screen.
The end result leaves the Qantas A380 first class suites looking the same yet a little different – totally familiar but undeniably a bit 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.
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.
The prize spot for most frequent travellers will be the first five rows of business class, which will sit in their own small cabin with a more exclusive vibe; behind this, and separated by the galley kitchen and toilets, will be the larger main cabin with 50 seats across 13 rows.
Qantas’ new Airbus A380 business class lounges
Qantas' original Airbus A380 layout designated one side of the 'grand staircase' between decks to a narrow and little-used lounge. The refurbished A380s sees this space reimagined as a social cafe-inspired design with two tables fitted with soft LED lighting surrounded by comfortable padded benches and room for five passengers.
This is quite a leap forward from the original lounge, which was more of a long low bench where everyone faced the same direction.
"That's not necessarily the best layout and the best arrangement for people to be in," Qantas designer David Caon tells Executive 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."
There's also a second lounge on the other side of the stairway, where a small cabin crew office used to be found. Caon has repurposed this nook with seating for three people and, based on these concept images, a self-serve minibar for drinks and snacks.
Across the two lounge areas there's seating for up to 10 business and first class passengers, and there's a massive flat-screen video panel visible from both lounge areas where passengers can enjoy a selection from the inflight entertasinment system.
This floorplan shows the layout of both lounges at the nose of the A380's upper deck, so you'll have a better idea of their relationship to one another.
Qantas’ new Airbus A380 premium economy seats
The A380 overhaul will also extend to premium economy, which inherits the same seats as on the Boeing 787.
With a 2-3-2 layout in a dedicated cabin behind business class, a reconfiguration of the upper deck allows 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' brigade.
However, one thing the A380 premium economy seats won't have is more legroom than their Boeing 787 counterparts.
Qantas has confirmed to Executive Traveller that the pitch - or distance between the seats - will be the same as on the Dreamliners, which means these otherwise excellent seats will remain squashed too close together. That proximity has been the most common criticism of premium economy passengers on the Qantas Boeing 787s.
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, with almost a third more premium seating than the current layout, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce tells Executive Traveller.
"It’s going to have 30% more premium seats – new business class product, new premium economy product – and that shows you how well the premium market is going."
Ironically, this 'all premium upper deck' layout is the same as when the Qantas A380 made its debut in 2008. This change will also mean an end to the quiet and cosy economy 'mini-cabin' at the rear of the today's Qantas A80 upper deck.
Anybody stuck in economy will see minimal change, with Qantas citing only new seat cushions and "improved inflight entertainment".