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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Tour the Airbus 380 with 500 on board

The giant Airbus 380 flies between Washington D.C. and Paris with 500 people aboard.

I chose to fly from Dulles International on my recent trip to France so I could again travel with Air France on its giant Airbus 380. On my return the flight it carried 500 people - 450 passengers and a staff of 50 and I got a tour..
At takeoff, the aircraft almost seems to lumber into the sky, becoming graceful as a giant butterfly at reaching its five mile high cruising altitude.  Earth’s human landscape grows smaller as aloft becomes its own place and we’re immersed in  clouds. Frequent flyers know they’re  not always soft and fluffy as they appear from  below, but this huge plane conquers them into insignificance.

A camera mounted on the aircraft's tail gives passengers real time views on the screen mounted on the back of seats. Watching from the pilot's point of view is especially interesting at landing.
Captain of the clouds is the aircraft itself which has cameras mounted above the flight deck, beneath its body and on the tail with a view facing forward. On the return flight it’s still light so when Halifax Nova Scotia comes into view it’s worthwhile to choose it on the touch screen mounted to the back of the seat in front. In addition to films, TV shows, game and other features, the screen also has an interactive map that permits zooming in on places below and regular updates on arrival time, the time in Paris and the time in Washington, our destination.

Meet Laurence, the Air France flight attendant who gave me a tour of the giant, two-level aircraft.
on the return flight. She's one of the 25 flight attendants serving this huge population.

Laurence took me upstairs to see the upper level, a rather intimate space where many passengers were sound asleep, despite traveling by day.. As we moved  forward toward business class the seats reclined into near beds, with privacy separations between them, not unlike the cubicles I and my colleagues inhabit during days at work.
This is one of the bars where passengers can help themselves.
 Business and premium economy class passengers have the use of a pair of stand up bars and a small lounge area with four screens and seating.


I couldn’t visit first class since privacy is one of the things those folks pay dearly for -- several thousand dollars depending largely on when the flight is booked.

There are a pair of changing rooms there for first class passengers to change into night clothes and back again into business attire when they arrive at their destination.  Most of them spend the flight  sleeping in real beds with plans to hit the ground running when  they arrive.
This changing room allows first class passengers to change for sleep in flat bed like seats.

  I met Francois, the purser, who runs things from an office between the first class cabin and the flight decks where several pilots preside. He is surrounded by several screens which allow him to

monitor everything on the flight from water levels aboard the aircraft to meal service.

 Several different meal categories are available according to which of four classes of service are booked. My meal in economy class included a choice between mustard chicken and a risotto,complete with salad,  bread, cheese course  and dessert.
Purser Francois constantly monitors  screens that tell him  what's going on in all parts of the plane.

As purser, Francois is like a mayor, in charge of this 500 person town as it flies  between France and America.
 The flight crew, which stays overnight in the DC district of  Georgetown, heads back to Paris at 4 the next day.  “Although we’re really tired, we try not to sleep right away so we can get a full night’s sleep at night, Laurence told me.
“But there’s plenty to do in Washington  for a couple of hours.”

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