Emirates A380s to Establish New Airliner Seat Record
Emirates Airlines will operate some of its Airbus A380s in 644-seat configuration but for longer flights it will also operate A380s fitted with 514 and 489 seats.
Credit: Emirates Airlines

Emirates Airlines will set a new record for passenger seats fitted in an airliner when it starts operating some of its Airbus A380 superjumbos with 644 seats.

Although the A380 has been reported as seating 555 passengers in typical three-class service, this is 8-13 seats short of the 563-568 that Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have long provided in specially configured, single-class Boeing 747SRs and 747-400Ds. For 33 years JAL has operated these 747s on short-haul domestic trunk routes ? Tokyo-Sapporo being the busiest ? and on 3-hour Japan-Guam flights.

It has always been clear that if an airline were to operate an A380 in all-economy-class service, the aircraft could seat as many as 850 people. No airline has confirmed yet that it will do so. But now Maurice Flanagan, vice chairman and president of the Emirates Group, has revealed some of the 47 A380s that his airline has ordered will operate with two-class cabin layouts seating 644 passengers.

Emirates hasn?t yet confirmed whether these two-class A380s will feature first-class or business-class cabins along with economy-class seating, said Nigel Page, the airline?s senior vice president of commercial operations for the Americas.

However, in an article filed from the International Air Transport Association annual meeting in Vancouver at which Flanagan revealed Emirates? A380 plans, Gulf News reported the carrier?s two-class A380s would only have business-class and economy-class seats installed.

The airline will operate these A380s within the Middle East ? on high-traffic routes such as Dubai-Jeddah ? and on routes to the Indian subcontinent, said Page. They won?t operate on flights lasting much longer than 3 hours.

Economy-class passengers in Emirates? 644-seat A380s will be just as comfortable as in any of the carrier?s other aircraft, added Page. ?We?re not trying to cram people in. We?re a high-quality airline and we wouldn?t do anything less than the standard we have now,? he said.

?I don?t think, given the size of the airplane, that it?s going to be an unreasonable accommodation,? said Perry Flint, editor-in-chief of airline industry trade magazine Air Transport World.

?It?s going to be a little cozy,? added Flint. ?But if the price is right, people will fly it ? it?s that simple. You know what they say: If you can?t knock the price, don?t knock the service.?

Emirates hasn?t said yet how many seats it will install in each row of its A380s? economy-class cabins. The A380?s maximum cabin width is 21 feet 7 inches, some 20 inches wider than its nearest competitor, the Boeing 747.

The Boeing 747 commonly seats 10-abreast in economy class, each seat being 18.5 inches wide and each row of seats configured in a three-four-three layout around the two passenger aisles. Some A380 operators might choose to use the aircraft?s extra cabin width to install an 11th economy seat in each row, configuring each seat row in a three-five-three layout. Today?s Boeing 777s often two-five-two seat configurations in their economy-class cabins.

Increasing the maximum seating inside an airliner from the 434 seats that Emirates offers today in some of its Boeing 777-300s to 644 in some of its A380s represents much less of a capacity leap than when the first Boeing 747s began operating in 1969, said Page, a veteran of British Airways? predecessor BOAC.

Then, capacity made a ?huge leap? from the approximately 150 seats installed in each Boeing 707, Douglas DC-8 and Vickers VC-10 that previously represented the standard equipment on long-haul routes to the 325-350 seats with which each 747 was fitted, said Page.

But when Emirates introduces its two-class A380s, the capacity increase compared with its next-largest aircraft will be less than 50 percent, he said.

Most of Emirates? A380s are likely to feature far fewer seats than the 644-passenger aircraft it will use on shorter, high-density routes. Flanagan revealed in Vancouver that the airline will offer two other seat configurations in its A380 aircraft, which Emirates bought primarily for long-haul and very-long-haul services.

On very long nonstop flights, such as services linking Dubai with New York, Melbourne and Sydney, Emirates will operate three-class A380s seating 489 passengers, said Page. On flights linking Dubai with destinations such as London, it will operate A380s seating 514 passengers in three classes. The carrier hasn?t yet revealed the numerical breakdown of first-class, business-class and economy-class seats for each of these A380 configurations.

Emirates is easily the biggest customer to date for the A380. Next is Australia?s Qantas, which so far has confirmed orders for 20 aircraft. Not coincidentally, Qantas regards Emirates as a very serious competitor on its key ?kangaroo route? one-stop services linking Australia?s three largest cities with London and major Western European destinations. Both carriers are certain to operate A380s on these routes.