Airbus A350 Update: Which Airlines Are Flying Which Routes
Since Qatar Airways became the launch customer of Airbus’s next-generation A350 at the end of 2014, several other airlines have taken delivery of the jet. Today, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen gives us a status update on orders and deliveries of the new aircraft — and how you can get aboard.
Meant to compete with Boeing’s next-generation 787 Dreamliner, the A350 is Airbus’s successor to its long-haul A330 and A340 aircraft — as Airbus delivers more of these to its airline customers, travelers around the world are going to get more chances to experience them. Here's a look at which airlines already have the new jets and where they are flying them.
Just a few notes before we get started: I found current route information on AirportSpotting and RoutesOnline, and corroborated them with news releases directly from the individual airlines and by searching the airlines' websites for available flights. While the information below is current as of this writing, airline routes and schedules change all the time, so if you do book any of these, check and double-check the aircraft to make sure you'll actually fly an A350 on your dates.
The Plane and Specifications
There are actually three versions of the A350 — the A350-800, the A350-900 and the A350-1000 — however, the main version with the most orders by far is the A350-900. Depending on the model and configuration, the aircraft can seat between 250-440 passengers (Airbus is touting standard economy seating with 18 inches of width per seat).
Airbus claims that the jet is up to 25% more fuel efficient compared to its aluminum long-range competitors and can perform flights up to 19 hours. Among the interior-design elements flyers should appreciate are straighter side walls, smoother curves and larger windows and mood lighting, all designed to lessen the impact of flight on the body.
The A350-800 is the smallest of the three at just 60.54 meters long, with a wingspan of 64.75 meters and a range of up to 8,200 nautical miles. It can seat up to 280 passengers in a typical three-class configuration.
The A350-900 seats up to 325 passengers in a typical three-class configuration and can fly up to 8,100 nautical miles. It is 66.89 meters long with the same wingspan. There's also an Ultra Long Range (ULR) variant, which Singapore plans to use on its US nonstops.
The largest of the three, the A350-1000, can seat up to 366 flyers in a typical three-class configuration. It's 73.88 meters long and has the same wingspan of 64.75 meters, with a range of up to 7,900 nautical miles.
Orders and Customers
According to Airbus, the company has received the following order numbers:
- A350-800: 16
- A350-900: 580
- A350-1000: 181
Total: 777 orders (oddly enough) by 41 customers.
Just for a quick contrast, Boeing says it has a total of 1,143 orders for the Dreamliner. Here's a table with the current A350 order (not delivery) totals:
|Aer Cap Aviation Solutions||20||20|
|Air Lease Corporation||21||5||26|
|American Airlines (listed as US Airways)||22||22|
|Hong Kong Airlines||15||15|
Current Airlines and Routes
Though we’re sure to see many more of these aircraft in the skies in the coming years — especially since many of the deliveries are slated for 2017-2018 — according to the latest figures from Airbus, just 16 A350s have been delivered so far, including five to private leasing companies and one to an undisclosed party. Just one has begun in 2016 so far, though more are coming off the line soon. Here’s who's flying the new aircraft (or will be soon), and where you can take it in the next few months.
The Hong Kong-based carrier was supposed to receive its first A350-900s earlier this year, but delivery has been delayed until May. Cathay’s A350-900s will have 38 business-class seats in what has become the airline’s signature reverse-herringbone 1-2-1 configuration with premium economy in a 2-4-2 configuration.
Cathay Pacific plans to use the new A350s on routes within Asia first, including one-month stints from Hong Kong to Manila and Taipei in June and regularly to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore starting in July.
The carrier will use the new aircraft on long-haul routes from Hong Kong to Düsseldorf starting September 1 (CX 379 on the outbound and CX 376 on the return) and to London-Gatwick starting September 2 (CX 349 on the outbound and CX 344 on the return) — I am finding award availability on those routes starting in October, though. Cathay Pacific has also indicated it would put an A350 into service on its route from Hong Kong to Auckland closer to the end of the year — I’m still not seeing it in the schedule through December/January, so I wouldn't try to book it just yet.
If you want to use miles to fly the new jet, American Airlines would require 35,000 AAdvantage miles each way in economy or 75,000 each way in business class from Asia 2 to Europe on one of those routes to London or Düsseldorf.
So far, this Nordic Oneworld member has taken delivery of three of its total order of 19 A350s. Finnair currently flies it from its hub in Helsinki to Beijing (though this looks like it’s being serviced by another aircraft until May 9), Hong Kong, London and Shanghai. It also plans to use the aircraft on a route to Singapore beginning in October and Ho Chi Minh starting in November.
Finnair’s A350s have 297 seats in three classes. The business-class cabin has 46 seats in a 1-2-1 reverse-herringbone layout with fully lie-flat beds. Premium economy has just 43 seats while economy has 208 seats — both are in a 3-3-3 configuration.
If you want to book that Helsinki-Beijing route using your American AAdvantage miles, each way in economy will cost you 35,000 miles plus $17 in taxes and fees, while business class would require 75,000 miles each way and the same amount of taxes and fees. What’s interesting is that British Airways would charge you just 20,000 Avios and $159 from Helsinki-Beijing in economy or 60,000 Avios in business class with about the same taxes and fees.
Just a note: While searching for awards on AA.com to verify these flights, I noticed that there seems to be a lot of business-class availability in the award calendar, but when you actually select the Finnair flight you want, the page refreshes with just British Airways flights displayed. When I called to check on a few of the dates where this had happened, the American AAdvantage reps could not see the Finnair award space that I had initially found, so I am guessing that there's a glitch with the AAdvantage award search and it's displaying phantom space.
South America’s largest carrier took delivery of the first of 27 A350s it has on order back in December 2015. The A350s are actually for the TAM part of LATAM, so you’ll find them mostly on the carrier’s Brazil routes.
TAM’s A350s have a total of 348 seats — 30 in the airline’s Premium Business class and 318 in economy — and the cabins look much like LAN’s 787s, with the front-facing lie-flat business-class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, and economy seats in a 3-3-3 layout.
After flying it domestically within Brazil, the airline put the new jet into service on its routes from São Paulo to Miami (as of March 17) and will add it to its São Paulo-Madrid route starting May 2.
If you want to fly the São Paulo-Miami route, your best bet is using American AAdvantage miles: 30,000 each way in economy or 57,500 in business. That São Paulo-Madrid flight will cost you 50,000 miles each way in economy or 87,500 in business.
This A350 launch customer has a total of 80 A350s on order and has taken delivery of seven of them so far, making it the largest operator of the new aircraft at the moment. TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig had the chance to fly it (despite a mishap) back in December, and was pretty impressed.
The business-class cabin has 36 seats configured in a reverse-herringbone 1-2-1 layout, while the economy cabin has 247 seats in a 3-3-3 layout.
Flyers looking to experience Qatar’s new planes are spoiled for choice, since the carrier operates them on a variety of long- and short-haul routes from its hub in Doha to Adelaide (beginning in May), Boston, Dubai, Frankfurt (this was the original route), Munich, New York (JFK), Philadelphia and Singapore.
Qatar is part of Oneworld, so you'll probably want to redeem American AAdvantage miles. Flights from the US to Doha will run you 40,000 AAdvantage miles each way in economy or 70,000 each way in business class. One-way flights from Doha to Europe are a bit more reasonable at 20,000 miles in economy or 42,500 miles in business, while flying one-way from Doha to Singapore will cost you 25,000 miles in economy or 40,000 miles in business class — a relative bargain.
This Southeast Asian carrier and Star Alliance member has ordered a total of 67 A350-900s, making it the largest customer for that particular model — it just took delivery of the first of them at the beginning of March.
Singapore’s A350 has 253 seats total, with 42 in business class, 24 in premium economy and 187 in economy. The plane has the airline’s newest business-class product, configured in a 1-2-1 layout, while premium economy is 2-4-2 and economy is 3-3-3.
The carrier plans to fly its new jets on routes around Asia for the first few months, with its first long-haul flight scheduled to be from Singapore-Amsterdam on May 9, after which point it will take over the airline’s daily service on this route. The airline also plans to launch a nonstop flight from Singapore-Düsseldorf three times weekly starting July 21, which will also be serviced by the new aircraft.
Singapore Airlines appears to be operating one of these aircraft on certain flights (not every day) between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (SQ 118 and SQ 119) through the beginning of May. It looks like the carrier will be moving that aircraft to its Singapore-Jakarta flight as of May 10.
Availability on the Amsterdam route is limited to waitlisted awards for the first few weeks, but I did find one available in economy on May 17:
It’ll cost you 29,750 Singapore KrisFlyer miles and SG$245.60 ($182 USD) for an economy award. To be honest, I searched through several months of dates and I still couldn’t find a saver-level business-class award for this route. But if Singapore Airlines starts loading them into the award inventory, it should cost you about 51,000 miles and the same amount in taxes and fees.
By contrast, United would charge you 55,000 MileagePlus miles each way in economy and 85,00 each way for business class. If you have Aeroplan miles, you’ll need 40,000 each way for economy or 75,000 each way for business class.
Remember that Singapore KrisFlyer is also a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, so you have lots of options to top up your KrisFlyer account.
Thailand’s flagship carrier has a total order of 12 A350s (four are direct from Airbus and 8 will be leased), and should be taking delivery of the first of them in the next few months. Interestingly, the airline seems to have deferred delivery of the leased ones until 2018, so we might not see them flying anytime soon.
The planes the airline still plans to take will carry just 321 passengers, with 289 in economy and 32 in business class. There are no images yet of the interior, but chances are it will look something like the airline’s 787s — that means flyers can expect a configuration of 2-2-2 lie-flat seats in business class, and a 3-3-3 layout in economy.
The airline plans to start flying one of its three daily frequencies from Bangkok to Melbourne with the new aircraft starting July 1 (it’s the overnight flight on the outbound, returning in the afternoon, if you’re interested), with a second daily flight on this route by the new aircraft scheduled to begin August 1.
For now, it looks like the new A350 services (both the first one in July and the second one in August) are loaded into the schedule and I was even able to find lots of award availability both in economy and business class on United.com. Awards between Southeast Asia and Australia were one of the silver linings to United’s massive award-chart devaluation back in 2014, with redemption levels actually going down between these two regions.
As you can see from the screenshot above, it’ll cost you 17,500 United MileagePlus miles each way in economy or just 30,000 in business class to fly the new aircraft on this route, plus about $36 in taxes and fees.
Vietnam Airlines, a member of SkyTeam, has ordered 10 A350s directly from Airbus and also plans to lease four more — its first A350 was leased from AerCap and went into service back in July 2015. TPG actually got a chance to fly it from Paris-Hanoi late last year.
Vietnam Airlines' aircraft has 29 business-class seats in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration, 45 seats in premium economy in a 3-3-3 layout, and 231 economy seats in a 3-3-3 pattern.
The airline uses its A350s on routes from Hanoi to Paris and Seoul-Incheon (ICN).
If you wanted to fly the Paris-Hanoi route, you could use either Delta miles or Flying Blue (Air France/KLM) miles since both programs are 1:1 transfer partners of both American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, while Flying Blue is also a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Rewards. Flying Blue would charge you 40,000 miles each way in economy or 100,000 miles each way in business class, while Delta would require 50,000 miles each way in economy or 80,000 each way in business class.
If you wanted to fly the Hanoi-Incheon route, you would need 22,500 Delta miles each way in economy or 40,000 miles each way in business class. Flying Blue would charge you 20,000 miles each way in economy or 50,000 each way in business class.
Do you plan to fly the A350 soon? Let us know your plans in the comments below!