The whale is back! On board the first post-pandemic British Airways A380 flight

Nov 8, 2021

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Today marks a huge day in U.K. aviation with the U.S. opening up again to vaccinated Brits, celebrated with an epic dual runway takeoff by Virgin Atlantic and British Airways (stay tuned for more coverage of that event. Perhaps even more excitingly for aviation enthusiasts, the British Airways A380 superjumbo also finally took to the skies after a pandemic induced hiatus.

With TPG Senior Writer, Ben Smithson, onboard BA1 heading to New York’s JFK, I assumed the position of head AvGeek and boarded the very special first A380 flight from London Heathrow (LHR) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

Further reading: Everything Brits need to know about travelling Stateside right now

Much of the fanfare was reserved for the flights to New York and at the boarding gate, there was very little to mark the return to service of this aircraft, although the A380 parked up at Heathrow’s C gates was still a sight to behold.

Onboard, things were noticeably different. Ordinarily British Airways have one ‘Inflight Manager’ on each flight, denoted by the silver replacing the usual red markings of flight staffs’ ties and cravats but on this flight there was silver everywhere you looked. There were a total of two Inflight Managers and many more additional supervisors on board amongst the 22 crew.

Half of the crew operated the flight out, servicing passengers on the lower deck. The upper deck was closed to passengers and so the remaining crew were able to spend their time upstairs reacquainting  themselves with the aircraft.

For the return flight from Frankfurt to London, the crew swapped over so that both sets of 11 crew members had the full experience of both decks.

Inflight Manager Aiden was clearly excited by the A380’s return. He had flown throughout the pandemic including on the taxing Asian “there and back” routes mainly carrying cargo. This flight, he said, felt like a true return to normality.

It was not just the crew that were excited. There were a number of bloggers and vloggers on board, including prolific aviation vlogger Josh Cahill.

This four-class aircraft, registration G-XLEF, flew in from Shannon (SNN) to Heathrow just 6 days ago. The aircraft has 469 seats across four cabins, including 14 First seats, 97 older style business class Club World seats (rather than the newer Club Suite), 55 premium economy and 303 economy seats.

On the outbound leg from London to Frankfurt, I enjoyed the Club Europe experience. It was European business class in terms of service, but of course the seat and cabin was far more impressive than what is usually expected on an intra-European flight.

During the flight I was lucky enough to briefly check out the First cabin, right at the front of the lower deck. The last time I flew in this cabin was when British Airways launched it’s new soft product in First and I was one of the very first people to experience it on a hop over to Chicago. The memories of that wonderful flight came flooding back as I took a 2 minute rest in the most spacious first class seats in the BA fleet.

Further reading: In Love All Over Again: A Review of British Airways First Class on the A380 

I also couldn’t resist checking out the two unique staircases on this double decker aircraft.

On the return flight to London, I headed down the back of the plane to economy. Even in this cabin, it was an incredibly comfortable way to spend an hour in the sky. BA offered complimentary crisps and water on this hop.

My view from seat 28A included the stunning approach over central London.

If you want to enjoy a similar experience, British Airways will continue to fly the A380 to Frankfurt and Madrid daily for the next few weeks until 2 December and provides a great option for those looking to burn some Avios on something fun. Buying or redeeming a business class ticket will net you a lie flat bed on short haul route.

Here are the flights you are looking for (ensure you check the aircraft type states A380 before booking):

Frankfurt

Sunday – Friday:
BA902 London Heathrow (LHR) 7:10am Departure → Frankfurt (FRA) 9:55am Arrival
BA903 Frankfurt (FRA) 11:25am Departure → London Heathrow (LHR) 12:15pm Arrival

Saturday:
BA902 London Heathrow (LHR) 3:55pm Departure → Frankfurt (FRA) 6:40pm Arrival
BA903 Frankfurt (FRA) 8:10pm Departure → London Heathrow (LHR) 9:00pm Arrival

Madrid

Sunday-Friday
BA462 London Heathrow (LHR) 3:15pm Departure → Madrid-Barajas (MAD) 6:45pm Arrival
BA465 Madrid-Barajas (MAD) 8:15pm Departure → London Heathrow (LHR) 9:30pm Arrival

Saturday
BA462 London Heathrow (LHR) 6:10am Departure → Madrid-Barajas (MAD) 9:55am Arrival
BA465 Madrid-Barajas (MAD) 11:25am Departure → London Heathrow (LHR) 12:15pm Arrival

Related: Here’s what it takes to get planes back in service after they’ve been in storage

What really shone through today was the excitement of the passengers and the crew on this return flight for the superjumbo. While flying on this aircraft is always a special experience, it was todays vote of confidence and commitment to the future of travel provided by British Airways in reviving such a large passenger jet that made this flight so meaningful for everyone on board.

Featured image by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy

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