Skip to content

Every Airbus A380 in the world is grounded — except for one airline

May 8 2020
5 min read
Every Airbus A380 in the world is grounded — except for one airline
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Editor's Note

Since the publication of this story, we've heard from readers telling us that, with China restricting commercial flights to foreign countries to only one airline per week, China Southern is operating A380s to meet demand from Chinese nationals looking to return. 

Editor's note: Since the publication of this story, we've heard from readers telling us that, with China restricting commercial flights to foreign countries to only one airline per week, China Southern is operating A380s to meet demand from Chinese nationals looking to return.

There are 237 Airbus A380s in the fleets of the world's airlines. The biggest passenger jets ever, which can carry more people than any plane, have been a staple of long-haul travel since the late 2000s. But not anymore.

Now they are all grounded, rendered useless by the precipitous drop in travel demand this year due to the coronavirus crisis. The sight of huge double-deckers parked in the desert, dwarfing smaller planes and just as unable to fly profitably, is a perfect visual summation of the airline industry's current troubles.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

An Australian photographer captured poignant sunset images of Singapore Airlines A380s awaiting better days in Alice Springs, and posted them on Facebook.

The world's A380s are all parked for storage — except five, all belonging to China Southern Airlines, the largest airline in Asia.

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more airline news

According to flight-tracking sites, China Southern is still sending A380s to Europe, North America and Australia, on regularly scheduled flights. Since China is barring foreigners from entering the country and leisure travel worldwide has essentially stopped, those A380s may be filled with cargo more than passengers. After all, using passenger jets as freighters is one way that airlines try to make money these days, as revenue has dried up.

That's a somewhat ironic development, since China Southern is not — unlike, say, Emirates — a happy A380 customer, and even before the crisis was finding it hard to turn a profit on its A380 flights. "The A380's large size makes it challenging to profitably fill," an aviation analyst told the South China Morning Post in 2015. "At Emirates you have different economics since you have A380s feeding A380s for transfer traffic - that brings scale."

In fact, when we sent our reviews intern to fly a China Southern A380 from Guangzhou to Los Angeles last year, he had the first-class cabin almost entirely to himself.

That Los Angeles route is one of the few where China Southern is using the double-decker giant. It also appears sporadically on flights from the airline's Guangzhou home base to Amsterdam, Vancouver, Sydney and London. That's a bizarre choice of destinations; China Southern has smaller long-haul aircraft that could cover these routes losing less money than a likely empty A380. Even if used as a cargo carrier, the A380 — built to maximize space for passengers, not freight — can haul less stuff in its cargo holds than a smaller Boeing 777.

But it does have a vast passenger cabin — the biggest around. That could come in handy when carrying boxes that do not need to go in the holds and can simply be fastened to seats, which is often the case with boxes containing masks and other protective equipment shipped from China.

A map from flight-tracking site Flightradar24 showed that on Friday morning, two China Southern flights were the only A380s airborne in the entire world. One was over Russia on the way home from Amsterdam; the other over the Philippines, headed to Australia.

Screenshot from Flightradar24

The A380, for all its wonders like onboard showers and bars, has not been a commercial success, and Airbus has decided to stop making it this year. There will be no more sold to airlines, and certainly not in China, where the big three carriers — Air China, China Eastern and China Southern itself — all went from making a profit to losing lots of money due to the traffic slump. China was never a big market for the A380, despite Airbus' efforts to sell there. China Southern was the only customer to bite, and even then it bought just five.

And yet, today a country where the flagship product of Europe's aircraft industry never made a splash is the only one where it is still flying. It's another bizarre, unforeseen consequence of the pandemic that has turned so much of the world on its head.

Featured photo by Expect more inter-airline investments like American's recent stake in China Southern. Photo by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy

TPG featured card

Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 6X points
6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.

Intro offer

Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points75,000 points
Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

Annual Fee

$125

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best Marriott card for Business Owners
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
3 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

6X6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
4X4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
2X2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Intro Offer
    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.

    Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 points
    75,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $125
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

The Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex is a stacked card with a rewards rate that will help you earn bonus points on everyday and business-related purchases. You'll earn 15 elite night credits each calendar year, and receive automatic Gold elite status. Finally, the free night award certificate with a redemption level of 35,000 points or less can get you hundreds of dollars in potential value each year.

Pros

  • 6x points on eligible purchases at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program
  • 4x points at restaurants worldwide, U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and U.S. shipping
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases
  • Earn a free-night award each card renewal month (up to 35,000 points)
  • Receive 15 elite night credits to jump-start status
  • Transfer Marriott points to 40+ airlines

Cons

  • Airline points transfer ratios are poor
  • Must spend $60,000 in a year for second free-night award
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 100,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months of Card Membership. Offer expires 11/2/22.
  • 6x points at hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy® program.
  • 4x points for purchases made at restaurants worldwide, at U.S. gas stations, on wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping.
  • 2x points on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a 7% discount off standard rates for reservations of standard guest rooms at hotels that participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program when you book directly. Terms and Conditions Apply.
  • Receive 1 Free Night Award every year after your Card renewal month. Plus, earn an additional Free Night Award after you spend $60K in purchases on your Card in a calendar year. Awards can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy® points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy®. Certain hotels have resort fees.
  • Enjoy Complimentary Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status with your Card.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees