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

Nov 10, 2021

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Monday marked a huge day in U.K. aviation with the U.S. opening up again to fully vaccinated international travelers and was celebrated with an epic dual runway takeoff by Virgin Atlantic and British Airways.

Perhaps even more exciting for aviation enthusiasts is that the British Airways A380 superjumbo also finally took to the skies after a pandemic inducted hiatus.

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With TPG senior writer, Ben Smithson, on board BA1 heading to New York-JFK, I assumed the position of head AvGeek and boarded the very special first A380 flight from London Heathrow (LHR) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

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.

Related: Jubilant scenes across the US as travel ban is lifted

On board, things were noticeably different.

Ordinarily, British Airways has 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 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 was 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 “there and back” routes to Asia, 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 six days ago. The aircraft has 469 seats across four cabins, including 14 first-class 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 were 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 its 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 two-minute rest in the most spacious first-class seats in the BA fleet.

Related: The best ways to redeem miles to fly on an 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 Dec. 2 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 a short-haul route.

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

Frankfurt

Sunday to Friday:
BA902 London Heathrow (LHR) 7:10 a.m. departure to Frankfurt (FRA) 9:55 a.m. arrival
BA903 Frankfurt (FRA) 11:25 a.m. departure to London Heathrow (LHR) 12:15 p.m. arrival

Saturday:
BA902 London Heathrow (LHR) 3:55 p.m. departure to Frankfurt (FRA) 6:40 p.m. arrival
BA903 Frankfurt (FRA) 8:10 p.m. departure to London Heathrow (LHR) 9 p.m. arrival

Madrid

Sunday to Friday
BA462 London Heathrow (LHR) 3:15 p.m. departure to Madrid-Barajas (MAD) 6:45 p.m. arrival
BA465 Madrid-Barajas (MAD) 8:15 p.m. departure to London Heathrow (LHR) 9:30 p.m. arrival

Saturday
BA462 London Heathrow (LHR) 6:10 a.m. departure to  Madrid-Barajas (MAD) 9:55 a.m. arrival
BA465 Madrid-Barajas (MAD) 11:25 a.m. departure to London Heathrow (LHR) 12:15 p.m. arrival

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

What really shone through during my trip 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 a 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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