The first Qantas Airbus A380 to be refitted with the airline’s latest seat products, including a new upper deck passenger lounge, has now re-entered service. It will be progressively flying on the airline’s three superjumbo routes from Singapore starting with QF2 to Sydney this evening, 1st October 2019.
All 12 of the airline’s A380 fleet are due to have the upgraded cabins fitted by the end of 2020, for a consistent long-haul Business Class product across the airline.
The mid-life upgrade of these jets allows Qantas to keep the total capacity of the aircraft almost identical, but with a more premium-heavy configuration boasting additional seats in Business Class and Premium Economy.
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It’s good news if you’re due to travel on one of the older aircraft over the next year or so and your flight is substituted for one with the new configuration, as that will mean more chance of an upgrade on flights booked close to capacity, especially for Economy Class passengers.
Let’s start by looking at the main enhancement on these newly refitted A380s, which is in the enlarged Business Class cabin.
Gone are the older Skybeds in a 2-2-2 configuration, replaced with the latest Thompson Vantage XL Business Class seats, also found on the airline’s Airbus A330s and Boeing 787s.
These seats provide direct aisle access for all passengers in a staggered, forward facing, 1-2-1 arrangement.
Like many Business Class seats offered today, they are ‘space efficient’ with your legs being accommodated under the console of the seat in front when in bed mode. This has allowed Qantas to up the Business Class seat count from 64 to 70 on these refitted aircraft, in the same physical cabin space.
More good news is that the press images appear to suggest that the large side storage compartments on the upper deck, including in the Business Class cabin, have not been removed. These are very useful, especially for storing your shoes, and provide a great deal of extra space for window seat passengers.
Singapore Airlines removed these compartments when it introduced its new Business Class cabin product on the A380.
Qantas promised a refresh of the 14 First Class seats on its refitted A380s, incorporating a larger high-definition IFE screen and re-cushioned seats with new contoured fabrics.
Seats now feature a cream leather headrest, the wood appears to have been replaced with a darker hue and a smart dark trim has been incorporated around the seat shell and privacy dividers.
The Qantas First Class product already had a soft refresh in late 2017 with new bedding, a pillow menu and memory foam mattress. We can attest to the comfort of the bed having tried it in March 2018 between Sydney and Singapore, see our full review to get an idea about the Qantas A380 First Class experience.
Upper deck lounge
Another major part of the cabin upgrade is a redesigned upper deck passenger lounge by creative designer David Caon, for First and Business Class passengers to dine and relax.
This lounge, located where Singapore Airlines fits its large Suites lavatories on the newer and refitted A380s and where Emirates offers shower suites, now provides a seating area for 10 passengers.
Two tables on the right side of the aircraft are set up for dining in a booth format, while on the left side the space is better suited for drinks and light snacks with a smaller table and more sociable L-shaped sofa arrangement.
The top of the staircase has been opened up at the sides for a feeling of increased space, a nice touch as these ‘corridors’ could feel a little claustrophobic otherwise.
A bar area remains in its former location for self-serve drinks and snacks.
Qantas has promised more details of the onboard service on these newly fitted jets at a hangar event in Sydney on 2nd October 2019, and it will be interesting to see what they will offer regarding the dining options in the upper deck lounge.
The remainder of the aircraft’s upper deck is dedicated to the enlarged Premium Economy cabin, with a total of 60 seats made possible through removal of the small Economy Class section in this area and deactivation of the final set of exit doors on this level.
The seats themselves are in a 2-3-2 configuration, with 18 ‘couple pair’ options. As with Business Class, the A and K seats benefit from the large side storage compartments. Those familiar with the Premium Economy cabin on the Qantas Boeing 787 will feel immediately at home here – as the same seat design is being used.
On the main deck behind the First Class section the Economy Class cabin remains largely unchanged, with the exception of new cushioning, fabrics and a revised colour scheme. There is also a self-service snack bar and an enhanced, faster inflight entertainment system.
Of course there is no longer any Economy Class option on the upper deck, which was a popular choice among many.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce stated that this drive towards more premium seating on the aircraft will help the airline “[better] match the demand we’re seeing on our long-haul routes”.
The first aircraft to be refitted with the new cabin products is VH-OQK, the second newest A380 in the airline’s fleet at 8.5 years old. The aircraft was refitted by EFW in Dresden, Germany, a joint venture between Airbus and Singapore-based ST Aerospace.
VH-OQK positioned to Dresden empty from London Heathrow on 16th July 2019, following a flight from Sydney via Singapore. It positioned back to London on 30th September 2019, suggesting the first refit took just over two months.
Qantas quotes a refit time of eight weeks per aircraft, so it’s an ambitious plan to have 11 more completed by the end of 2020, as it will require more than one aircraft to undergo the work concurrently at least some of the time.
Nonetheless the airline is promising to stick by the schedule, with two more aircraft refitted by the end of 2019, which will represent 25% of the A380 fleet.
At the time of writing (1st October 2019), VH-OQK is on its way to Singapore from London and will continue to Sydney as QF2 later this evening.
The flight is operating slightly late, as the aircraft did not arrive at Heathrow from Dresden until around an hour before the scheduled departure time.
VH-OQL looks to be the next aircraft set for the refit, it positioned from London to Dresden on 1st October 2019.
The primary way to tell whether your flight is operated by a new or old aircraft is the Business Class seat map, where you’ll see a 1-2-1 configuration on the new planes but a 2-2-2 configuration for the older ones. Here’s how the new Business Class layout looks:
We noticed that no additional lavatories have been provided for the Business Class cabin, meaning a higher passenger-to-toilet ratio of 17.5:1 on the new jets, up from 16:1 currently.
By way of comparison, Singapore Airlines has a lavatory for every 15.6 Business Class passengers on its newest and refitted Airbus A380s, while Qantas’ own Boeing 787-9s boast a 14:1 ratio in this cabin.
Where to sit in Business Class
When you make your seat selection on the Qantas website, it unfortunately does not show which seats are aligned more closely to the aisle or further away from it at the alternate seat rows, nor does the ExpertFlyer seat map help, so it’s a good idea to refer to the seat map above when making your selection.
In summary, those wanting a more private window seat aligned against the window itself, with the console between the seat and the aisle, need to opt for an A or K seat in rows 11, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26 or 28.
Bear in mind however that the retention of the side stowage compartments on the upper deck mean that even the window-aligned A or K seats will still be some distance from the windows themselves.
The five-row mini cabin at the front of the upper deck has the most intimate and quiet experience. Here the window seats are also slightly staggered from the middle seat pairs at each row, further enhancing privacy.
If the new lounge and bar area at the very front of the upper deck proves to be a popular space, bear in mind that sound may protrude into the first couple of rows in this mini cabin.
This newly fitted aircraft will not be dedicated to a specific route and will instead slot into the regular Qantas A380 network, meaning it will be difficult at this stage to guarantee the new seats more than a few days before.
Even then, a last-minute equipment swap can always occur.
According to GDS the aircraft will fly the following flights to or from Singapore over the next few days, starting from today:
- 1/10 QF2 SIN-SYD
- 2/10 QF1 SYD-SIN
- 2/10 QF1 SIN-LHR
- 3/10 QF2 LHR-SIN
- 4/10 QF2 SIN-SYD
- 5/10 QF1 SYD-SIN
- 5/10 QF1 SIN-LHR
- 6/10 QF2 LHR-SIN
- 7/10 QF2 SIN-SYD
- 9/10 QF1 SYD-SIN
- 9/10 QF1 SIN-LHR
- 10/10 QF2 LHR-SIN
- 11/10 QF2 SIN-SYD
If you want to use miles or points to secure an award seat on one of the Qantas A380 routes to or from Singapore, the following rates apply in First Class using some of the more popular programmes.
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