On a warm night in 1950 a four-year-old boy, holding his father’s hand in manly solidarity, walked through the echoing terminal at
Today, the same person is strolling through the endless 21st century souk that is
From the languid Emirates lounge, he is injected – as if intravenously – via the airbridge into the upper deck of an unseen aeroplane the size of a ship. He knows it’s an A380 because it says so on the boarding card. He occupies not just a seat, but his personal space.
The New Aviation experience begins.
The pan’s a long way down outside the window, as far down as the sea is from the deck-rail of a liner.
Within his touching distance is an embarrassment of electronic riches, comfort controls and comestibles. Where to start? He chooses “Flight View” on the inflight entertainment system.
The selected video camera is looking down over the length of the aeroplane from its mount in the tall tail-fin, and on his screen it shows the A380 in its dock surrounded by activity – what the navy would call victualling. The “coaling” had, presumably, been done.
Then, concurrently with his chosen external view, he selects an endless library of touch-screen-navigable musical tracks to be piped to his headset. He creates his own playlist - just because you can. A soundtrack for his trip. Emirates has chosen well and widely.
On the upper deck there is a ship’s company of bustling, attentive cabin crew, no visible pilots at any point, but a captain – sounding reassuringly like a captain – welcomes the passengers via the PA.
Ready to go. Our passenger watches pushback through the nose-mounted camera, then witnesses taxiing progress, nosewheel tracking the yellow centreline, and he can feel the intimate bumps through the seat as the wheels pass over concrete joins. A bit like a simulator. But reality’s available from the window beside him confirming that, yes, it is happening.
Clearance to line up, and he sees a pilot’s-eye view of the runway stretched out ahead on his LED screen. After a momen’t hesitation, just as AC/DC’s “Shoot to thrill” surges into his headset, the take-off roll begins. As if powered by the music, the A380 gathers pace and, after a suitable time, casually shrugs off the ground in favour of its natural environment.
It’s almost better than being in charge of the aeroplane, he thinks: the flightcrew don’t have the musical accompaniment.
The seat belt sign extinguishes and the cabin crew spring to life in an orchestrated preparation for the passengers’ lunch. Their well-drilled activity is hubbed on the kitchen-sized galley at the aft end of the cabin.
In an intimate space ringed by sofas just forward of the galley is a stand-up bar where
Oz Ege (from Turkey), as he spreads a linen cloth upon the table in front of our passenger, describes his task in Emirates’ A380 Business Class as being “like working in a restaurant”, and deftly pours him another glass of Meursault.
To the passengers also it’s like being in a restaurant. The ambient calm has more in common with a civilised eatery than an aircraft cabin. The chink of cutlery on chinaware is the dominant sound. No chatter. The pax are inside their headsets, absorbed in movies, computer games or music.
Meanwhile Flight View’s tailfin-elevated camera shows the big ship sailing the sky with the grace of a galleon, huge wings embracing the cloudscape that’s slip-sliding away beneath. Rod Stewart and Paul Simon provide the appropriate accompaniment.
No pilots. No announcements. No turbulence. No big thrumming radial engines to leave you tooth-chatteringly deaf for days afterwards.
It may not be aviation the way it used to be, but if travelling big distances is what you have to do, this is definitely the way to do it.