Double Decker Airplane Seats – The Return of the A380

2023 sees the return of the double-decker A380

A Double decker Airplane Seat aircraft should have worked. It didn’t. And for reasons that will surprise you. It certainly surprised the A380 operators.

But not Airbus.

In 2023 the Double-Decker A380 is making a comeback! – with both Boeing and Airbus experiencing supply-chain issues that is slowing delivery of the B787 and A350. 

Airbus never lied about the performance of the A380. They have rooms full of lawyers that will confirm this. But like electric car manufacturers, they market and sell within certain guidelines.

A380 flying

Double Decker Airplane Seats

You need to read the fine print. And do your homework. An electric car can travel from point “A” to point “B”, 450 miles away. Sound good? Sure, I’ll take one. But wait… What were the environmental conditions? Who was driving?

What other demands were placed on the battery during this trip? You see, that’s just too much variation for marketers. And manufacturers of two-story airplanes, like Airbus, cannot be expected to satisfy this level of variation. Variation in the form of British Airways, Korean or Emirates and their endless classes and bars. 

A380 Market

Airbus knew the A380 could deliver on its economy promises. If those promises matched airline requirements exactly and there were no annoying dual-level variations or passenger capacity requests. It also depended on certain market factors. And load factors. Especially in business class and premium economy, where the lion’s share of revenues is seated. 

Come with us, as we give you the Shakespearean tragedy that is the Airbus A380 Double Decker. And why a fantastic aviation tool can sometimes be used to hammer a nail. Or fly with a Spa and a Jacuzzi. 

Upper and Lower Deck Seats

Picture the scene. It’s a dark alleyway. On one side you have the Capulets (also called “House Boeing”). On the other the Montagues (or House “Airbus”). Complete with their very own Romeo and Juliet, but without death by poison. Just death by seating types. But everything else would have made the bard proud.

Making Commercial Aircraft is easy. Once you’ve done all the annoying design, certification, and development work, that is. What you really don’t want to do, and we mean really, is to start from nothing. Starting with a blank “design” sheet. To give everyone carte blanche on something heretofore not yet seen.

Why? Risk. And this is the love portion of our story. You see what Risk loves the most, is time. If Risk can get enough time, it will do anything and everything it wants to.  All of it bad. And there is nothing you can do.


A380 Double-Decker

Boeing dominated with Jumbo Jet double-deck airplane. The B747 at a time when airlines used the “hub and spoke” model. What that meant was one group of airlines would serve these major cities and other airlines, or divisions within airlines, did the spoke flying with smaller aircraft. Bringing these passengers to regional airports.

But these big cities like London, Paris and New York had significant airport congestion. So, in 1988, in secret, Airbus decided to out-Jumbo the Jumbo. But not any old jumbo. A Superjumbo giant of the skies. The A380 would be a double-decker airplane seat aircraft where 500-600 people would fly in style. Or 450, depending on Flat bed business class seats. 

A380 Superjumbo

The Airbus bottom line KPI (Key performance indicator) was that the A380 would be 20% cheaper to operate – per each passenger each mile – than Boeing’s B747. This was the marketers’ silver bullet. But years later, on analysis, the A380 was 25% more expensive.

As for the total project costs, they were estimated at $10 billion but would eventually cost $25 billion. With the maiden flight taking place in 2007, almost 20 years later. Yes, projects get delayed. Especially industry disrupting projects. But this was a Shakespearean delay. 

When you understand why the A380 double-decker failed, you will also learn key issues around the commercial business of flying people for profit. And as an education channel, that’s what we want to do. Others, like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Qantas had real-world educations on the Airbus A380 of their own. 

Dual-Level Seating

The A380 (and the B747) have two-story plane seating. But also four engines, not two. Four “smaller” engines versus two larger engines on newer long-haul aircraft like the B787 and A350. It’s an important plot twist in this story. There is also an upper and lower-level seat LOPA. What we call the cabin lay-out plan. See one here. 


 And this two-tier seating is up to each Airline!. And as you can imagine it can differ wildly, depending on whether you are Emirates and need a cinema and a shower for each first-class cabin, or Air France where you want five separate classes.

But first let’s meet our double decker airplane seat “Romeo”. Jean Roeder led the Airbus team that developed the A380 and in a love letter to management he swore he could deliver 15-20% savings over the B747 operating costs, but with more available seats. He wasn’t wrong. On paper. 

A380 & The Airport

Now the A380 had problems, and we suggest reading this Article at the NYT, if you would like to dive into the technical. This article is only interested in why the final product wasn’t delivered. If you prefer to read about the endless wiring loom issues, they had for years that cost them 2x CEO’s knock yourself out.

When the Aircraft finally entered service, the CEOs of both Singapore Airlines and Emirates spoke publicly about how the dual-level aircraft were indeed performing as sold. And delivering on expectations. All had been worth it. Jump forward to 2022 and the last production A380 leaves the line at Toulouse for Dubai.

Rolls Royce Trent 900

Lesson number 1 – These big airports are controlled by slots. A slot is your time to arrive and depart the airport. A slot on Monday morning is great for business travel to Paris, a slot on a Saturday afternoon is unbelievably valuable to a charter airline flying to Greece.

Slots are “owned” by the airline and sometimes the value of these slots can even exceed the value of the airline that operates them. If you heard of “Ghost flights”, this is proof. 

Upper and Lower Deck A380

Because they are a license to print money for an airline. This is where the passengers want to go – they want to fly to London Heathrow at 09:30 and they will pay top dollar and there’s an endless stream of them. Now imagine you have a 09:30 slot and normally use a 225 seat B767. Now there is an A380 with 550 upper and lower deak seats. One slot, 100% revenue increase. See how that works? Hub and spoke. An easy decision. 

But between 2019 and 2022, more than 50% of the A380 operators had retired their aircraft due to unprofitability. Lufthansa being the most notable. Germans are good at a lot of things. Engineering being one of them. Business being another.

In the aircraft trading game, if you buy or trade a Lufthansa Aircraft, engine, or even part, you pay top dollar. And you pay with a smile on your face because that’s the best kept and recorded piece of metal you will ever own. These guys know what they are doing. So does the market. 

A380 Airplane

Ultimately, however, it was the aircraft’s “Giant of the Skies” size (as well as timing) that crippled it. Four smaller engines were quickly replaced by two larger turbofan engines that delivered better economics and newer non-bleed technology. But mostly it was the scalability that killed the Double Decker A380.

When you have a huge aircraft that can carry all these people, it cannot easily be modified, upgraded, or changed. For example, a moderate wide-body (like the A330 or the B777), if you want to change the LOPA from 3-class to all economy, say when a pandemic hits and your business call traveler is happy with zoom, that cabin modification is $10m million dollars and takes about 6 months once you have permission from the OEM.

Aircraft Type

There is also the issue of the flexibility of the aircraft for other routes. New Twin-engined wide bodies can be used on routes one or two tiers below or above their optimum tier and still be profitable. Using the double decker airplane seat A380 on non-premium routes and with load factors under 80% was lunacy.

To make money with aircraft you need two key ingredients, frequency, and load factor. This is what Southwest does with abandon. The more routes your aircraft flies in a day, with as many people, is divided into the money you spent to operate these flights.

B787 roll out

Bad Double Decker Seat

The more passengers/routes on the same daily operating costs, the more money. One A380 flying one route per day (or 1.5 days) needs those passengers to pay for everything. It’s just math. Or maths as the brits call it.

So, if your first-class passenger and Business class cabin is full on that Qantas flight to Heathrow, we can see how that will work. But the 20% fuel economy costs are utterly irrelevant to day-to-day operations unless you have a perfect route network with the right passenger profiles. 

Magically the Superjumbo Jet A380 story continues in 2023, some carriers like Korean Air, Nippon Airways and others do have the routes and do have the configuration that matches. And many other carriers are taking their two-tier A380 behemoths out of the desert and back into the skies. 

Will we ever see another large aircraft? Not likely. Our sustainability goals are not more concerned with SAF, Electric and UAS products. And right so. Supersonic on the other hand, could be happening soon, thanks to United and Boom!

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