With Qantas' multi-million dollar upgrade of its Airbus A380 fleet underway, many passengers on the red-tailed superjumbo are understandably keen to know if they'll be travelling on one of the refurb'd birds.
The appeal is especially strong in business class, which sees the original and past-their-prime Skybed II seats replaced by the highly-regarded Business Suite of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
It's a swap which delivers direct aisle access for every passenger, thanks to a 1-2-1 layout, ample inflight storage and workspace, and a 16-inch HD video screen that's much brighter and sharper than the Skybed II's 12.1-inch panel.
Another drawcard for premium passengers are the new inflight lounges, which sees the narrow nook of the original A380s 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.
"Our lounge should be something where people are able to sit and face each other and discuss and talk," Qantas designer David Caon tells Executive Traveller, "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), with additional seating and a self-serve minibar for drinks and snacks.
The notion of stepping out of your comfortable business class seat to while away some inflight hours in the lounge is now much more enticing, especially on longer legs to London or the USA, where this change of scene really helps to break up the journey.
Those are all reasons why so many business class passengers setting out on the Qantas Airbus A380 are keen to know if they'll be flying on one of the original superjumbos or an upgraded model.
Unfortunately, there's no easy answer. At the time of writing only three of Qantas' twelve A380s have been refurbished, and they've not been locked into any one route.
The flagship QF1/QF2 route tends to see the revamped A380s every few days, but these spruced-up superjumbos also takes turns in flying to Los Angeles and Dallas/Forth Worth.
Qantas plans to have all of its A380s upgraded by the end of 2020, so as the year marches on, you'll have a much greater chance of scoring a revamped superjumbo.
For now, the best indicator is the seatmap available on the Manage My Booking screen of the Qantas website or app. Here are a few quick give-aways that you're on a refurbished A380:
- the business class seating layout is 1-2-1 instead of 2-2-2
- there are five rows in the front cabin, instead of three
- the last row of business class is row 28
Here's the official Qantas seating map for business class on the upgraded Airbus A380s, which also shows the two lounges on either side of the staircase leading down to the lower deck.
Of course, as this rolling upgrade is very much a work in progress, you might be booked onto a flight in the later part of this year and currently be seeing the older A380 seatmap. This could well change as your departure date gets closer.
By the same token, your seating allocation for a flight next month could indicate you're on an upgraded A380 but change back to the 'classic' config owing to a last-minute aircraft swap, which typically happens due to necessary maintenance. If you're caught by this superjumbo shuffle, there's naught to do but take it in your stride: there are still worse places to be than in business class on an Airbus A380.