Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Covering the Coverage

This was what they call a media event. The best mainstream media may have been Richard Quest's CNN stuff. The man is as entertaining in person as he is on TV. But for the rest of us, the best coverage may be the fan sites, the best of which has got to be www.sq380.net, sort of a perpetual virtual first flight shrine set up by Tim Goodwin and Ian Spahr, a couple of flight buffs from Australia. Its intro page is graced with a beefy photo of the A380, almost snorting and pawing the runway as it lifts off from Changi Airport. And inside is a seat map with info on all the passengers, including Yours Truly, in 54H.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Now you can relive the whole flight -- along with me

I've posted a wrap-up video on youtube that's pretty much the ultimate story of this amazing trip, from start to finish, with commentary. Enjoy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh, My Darling

Here's a bit of a left turn: I had dinner with some miners last night. That's right, miners, as in bauxite miners. Alcoa miners who work in the Darling Range of Western Australia, one of the world's richest and largest deposits of bauxite, the ore from which we get aluminum.

So I found myself tagging along at a dinner meeting with some of Alcoa's (actually the world's) best authorities on mining and refining bauxite, and on reclaiming land and restoring biodiversity in Australia's unique and fragile ecosystem (see the photo). Naturally, the question came up, did the A380 come from here?

Aluminum doesn't grow on trees. It doesn't fall from the sky. It either comes from recycled aluminum or it comes from the ground. And if it's Alcoa aluminum, there are just a few places in the world it could come from: West Africa, Suriname, Jamaica, Brazil, or here, the Darling Range. Alcoa's system of mines, refineries and smelters is big and vast, and it's not always easy to trace a particular piece of metal back to its origin. But still, we figured there's a strong possibility that some of the A380's aluminum is from the Darling range.

I liked the poetry of this: that my historic plane ride could have circled back and ended in the very spot on Earth that the A380's elemental parts were born.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Just how cushy? Readers want to know

Mike C of Round Rock, Texas writes:

"My son wants to know if the seats are more comfortable. What's your opinion?"

Mike: Tell your son that the A380's seats, even in coach, are indeed more comfortable than what you're used to. I asked Singapore Air that same question and they told me that there are a couple of big improvements: first, the seats are spaced a little farther apart to add some legroom. Second, when you recline the seatback, the seat bottom slides forward. This gives you some extra back comfort. And there's a third improvement that your son especially will find cool: the video screen is much, much bigger. So all your movies and online games will be more fun. If you're lucky enough to get an exit row (see the photo) you'll find your self with more leg room and space than you know what to do with. My advice? Pack a poker table and get social.

That's just the economy section. In the Singapore Airlines A380, Business Class and 'Suite' First Class are a whole different proposition. When you walk into the Business Class section, you'll feel a little like you're back in the office. That's because the business class seats are so high-walled that they have the private feeling of office cubicles. But no cube farm at Alcoa was ever set up like this, with large roomy leather wrapped seats, mini-desks with great computer and video hookups, and of course the ability to fold flat into beds for long-range travel.

And Suites Class is indeed what the name implies -- separate little cabins with single or double beds for the ultimate in comfort and luxury.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Film at 11

I've posted some video clips from the flight on YouTube. Here's a link to the playlist. Alcoans who want to see these may have to view them from home, depending on firewall security. We will post these inside the system soon.

One thing I realized after watching these videos over again: the people from Singapore Airlines, from the gregarious Chairman Seng on down to the steward who sat opposite us in the jump seat, looked and acted like they were having fun doing this.

Yet they had to be going through the service scenario from hell: they couldn't get their carts through the aisles because of the non-stop Mardi Gras. They hadn't had 'live' training on the A380 for cabin service. And, like any great party, everybody was hanging out in the kitchens! My hat's off to them for smiling, heck, laughing their way through one of the most high-pressure events of their careers, doing an incredible job, with international network news cams all over them. A truly amazing group.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Big event

Well, now I know. There are no bowling alleys. No pool tables. If there was a cocktail bar, I was unable to find it. Just lots and lots of airplane enthusiasts packed into the freshly appointed cabin of an incredible aircraft. Four hundred seventy one of us, cheek by jowl with what seemed like half again as many media people. The area in front of my exit row seat served as a studio for news crews ranging from CNN to a Swiss air buff blog. The media frenzy was so intense that the overworked and ever-smiling service staff almost didn't make the second serving -- a delicious nasi goreng satay served over cold spicy buckwheat noodles. But it didn't matter, nobody was hungry by that time. For six brief hours, this planeload of people became a community talking about just one thing: this revolutionary aircraft and its impact on the future of travel.

We got to pose with celebrities too, including the chairman of SIA Chew Choon Seng (above).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How Big is it, anyway?

I'm filing one more post before the Big Event tomorrow morning. And it has to be the one about Big-ness.

There are few aircraft in history that have an edge in size over the A380. One is the so-called Hughes H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" built during World War II. It’s a little wider than the A380. It has the distinction not only of being huge, but also being built entirely out of plywood.
The other record holder is the Soviet Antonov An-225 designed during the Cold War to a) be bigger and more intimidating than any puny American aircraft and b) if that’s not intimidating enough, to carry spacecraft on its back. The AN-225 is both longer and wider than the A380.

Only one of each of these monsters was ever built, which makes the A380 a different proposition altogether. For one thing, neither of these aircraft had individual gaming consoles. And for another, there will be hundreds of A380s plying the skies soon.

If you want to wallow in statistical superlatives, you can visit the Airbus web site, which has all the best data; or the Singapore Airlines site, where you’ll discover that if you stack five giraffes on top of each other, they won’t quite reach the top of the A380’s massive tailfin.

I have asked Singapore Airlines if we’ll be able to see this demonstration live on the tarmac when we board the plane. Fingers crossed.