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Monday, Sep 25, 2023

The Tall and Short of The World’s Largest Passenger Jet

As any plane on which I am a passenger takes off I instinctively grab hold of the arm rest and urge the plane to leave the runway by thinking, Get up, get up, get up, get up, getupgetupgetupgetup! Not so when aboard the Airbus A380 passenger jet in Los Angeles on Tuesday (Aug. 5) for a demonstration flight for two hundred or so passengers. With the rev of its four engines the jet built for Middle Eastern airline Emirates was up and off the runway with nary a white knuckle or sweaty palm. Before I knew it, the A380 was several hundred feet then several thousand feet above the city and ocean. Granted the aircraft never went above 300 miles per hour during the flight but the engines were so quiet it was like the plane wasn’t moving at all. The airline played up these quiet engines and the fuel economy for this visit. Only when asked did an Emirates official reveal the price to fly. A first class ticket costs a whopping $18,000 for the LAX to Dubai flight; two thousand dollars less from the East Coast. At a time when U.S. air carriers cut flights, raise ticket prices and put a charge on everything short of the oxygen masks, life vests and flotation devices (hello $7 for a blanket and pillow on JetBlue!), Emirates adds flights and modernizes its fleet. The A380 is the largest passenger jet in the world and Emirates has ordered 58 of them. The first flew Aug. 1 from Dubai to New York City to inaugurate daily service between those two cities. Then the jet came westward, landing on a Tuesday morning to a crowd of several hundred invited guests and VIPs but absent a planned water cannon salute as the LAX fire trucks instead responded to an emergency landing of an American Airlines jet. Besides, the Airbus was late. The title of world’s largest passenger plane doesn’t confer immunity from an outdated air traffic control system. A scheduled landing of 9:15 a.m. became 9:41 a.m. and then 10 a.m. The aircraft pulled up outside the Flight Path Museum at 10:03 a.m. While waiting, the crowd consumed coffee and juice and muffins and fruit kabobs and turkey croissant sandwiches while looking over the exhibits in the museum. Then finally the plane lands and what follows are speeches from a member of the governor’s staff (Schwarzenegger stayed in Sacramento to work on a budget); the state’s transportation and housing secretary who stressed that growth and development at LAX meant growth and development for the entire region; and Gina Marie Lindsay, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, who said that LAX has been “re-imagined and reconstructed” to accommodate a new era of international travel as represented by the A380. The jets taking off on the runways make more noise than the idling metal behemoth just a few hundred feet behind the podium with the speakers. After a few questions from reporters to Emirates officials, it’s time to board the plane. The VIPs with business class seats enter through the front door; the economy passengers enter through the rear greeted by a virtual United Nations of crew with accents and names Samantha, Purity, Chiang to match. I’m assigned to a middle seat and as soon as I sit down I know it won’t do. Despite what an Emirates executive vice president had just said outside about the increased pitch of the economy seats, my knees are still wedged up against the back of the seat in front of me. For the thousands of dollars charged for that seat I would find this unacceptable, not to mention uncomfortable especially if faced with a reclining passenger in front of me. “Good thing I’m not flying to Dubai anytime soon,” I said to the woman sitting to my left. “Just keep telling yourself it’s only two hours,” she responded. Just before takeoff I move to a seat in the first row of the middle section that gives ample leg room and I settle in for the flight. One other seat in the row is taken by Fran Kiradjian, CEO of travel and tourism website TravelMole (www.travelmole.com). For my purposes our meeting was fortunate as she is based in the San Fernando Valley (good), is aware of our paper (even better) but subscribed to the L.A. Business Journal. Twenty minutes or so into the flight, as Fran carries a video camera to shoot footage for travelmole.tv, we make our way to the back of the plane and a curved staircase leading to the plane’s upper deck. In this lofty domain the business and first class passengers secrete themselves, with access to a lounge and their individual seats with minibars and snack baskets. The seats convert into beds with a maximum length of 79 inches long enough even to accommodate my height. Fran checked out one of the two showers available in the first class cabin. I declined, knowing what showers looked like. “Would I have been able to fit inside,” I asked Fran, back at our seats. “I think so,” she said. For all the luxury the plane offered, and there was plenty of luxury, none topped the thrill of the white-haired man in business class. In the summer of 1969, he was an American hero, a face recognized around the world as an Apollo 11 astronaut. That day I recognized Buzz Aldrin only because there was a label with his name stuck to what looked like a small, personal calendar. (He also had a red, white and blue “I Voted” sticker. Good for you, Buzz.) There he was, just a foot away, the second man to walk on the moon. Unfortunately Buzz was engaged in conversation and the line was moving toward the front of the plane and there went my chance to meet him. Fran, however, did get to talk to Buzz, asking how it felt to be an icon. What was his answer, I asked her. “He said it felt good,” Fran said. The flight was scheduled to last two hours and it went by fast as the plane went up the coast, then circled west past the Channel Islands before turning south and then headed back to the airport. I missed out on the hot and cold canapes but not the free glasses of champagne. As much as I would have liked to stay in my bulkhead seat or slip back upstairs to lounge in a first class “suite” it was time to get out before an accented flight attendant ordered me to Get up, get up, get up, get up, getupgetupgetupgetup! Staff Reporter Mark R. Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or at mmadler@sfvbj.com.

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