I’m a mom with two school-age kids. I work and I volunteer (when I can) at school-related activities. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for reading the newspaper and keeping up with what’s happening in the world. I try to read the Economist to catch up – even if I’m reading the magazine a few weeks after the publication date. For most articles, that’s OK. This recent article on the launch of Airbus A380 caught my eye.
The premise of the article is a brief summary on the development of Airbus’s A380 and Boeing’s 787-Dreamliner, the pains and risks that the development of each has caused for both companies and how these new airplanes will affect the way you & I fly. My inital reaction was that this last part was just hogwash. Whoever chooses a route or trip based on the actual plane which will be used ? At best, as a flying consumer, we search for fares at the right price, departures at the desired times and try to use an airline with which we might accumulate airmiles. The model of airplane used for the given flight is information provided by the airline which we might not even look at. But then I realized: I do book some trips based on what I know about the model of airplane used on the route! And when I make those considerations, it’s usually because I’m planning a long-haul flight with my family.
There doesn’t seem to be an (airline) industry definition for what a long haul flight is. Taking the definitions used by a UK charter airline, long-haul is anything over 7 hours e.g. Seattle – London (10hrs). Hmm, maybe the launching of these two new aircraft is indeed the beginning of “the next stage in the battle for the future of air travel”.
So why do I care about what type of airplane is in use on a long-haul flight ? And does it matter more or less if I’m flying with kids ? It turns out that this is something we’ve experimented with quite a lot over the past 12 years. My first flight as a Mom (with an infant from Seattle – Dublin via Atlanta) was horrendous. Primarily because lay-overs with small kids are hell. You think that two shorter flights will be easier on the kids, give them time between flights to stretch their legs. But really, all it does is make the journey time longer. Secondly, if you’re returning into the US you have to clear customs at your first port of call – which means you may have to pick up & drop off baggage more than once before you finally arrive at your destination airport. Thirdly, the lines (queues) associated with processing (check-in, boarding, etc) 400 people on a 747 are much worse than the lines required for a smaller, 250-passenger plane like an Airbus A340. So, when we travel from the US to Europe, we try to follow a “long flight + short hop” model. Also, we try to avoid the airline/route using a 747. (For us, this means using SAS from Seattle to Copenhagen). I highly recommend this approach if you’re traveling with kids. There is the added bonus that by avoiding flying on a 747, we avoid the larger airports (For us, the hell that is Heathrow).
In comparison: I recently flew to Dublin on my own. For that trip, I traveled with Zoom Airlines, a budget airline from Vancouver BC, via Manchester. I paid a rock-bottom price for the flight. I have no idea what model aircraft was used – I think it may have been a Boeing 767-400. The airplane was certainly an older aircraft: no video monitor in the seat in front of me, no choice of movies, music and video games – all of which can be vital to keeping kids amused on a long flight. The baggage restrictions were pretty severe. But none of that mattered: I was traveling alone.Â Â
Which brings me back to the article on the A380. Based on my actions, it would appear that for most of our family’s flying, we vote with our feet for Boeing’s hypothesis that “passengers now want the convenience of flying point-to-point and that smaller long-haul planes make it both possible and economical for them to do so”. Time will tell whether or not that’s the strategy which gains the upper hand in the business of making aircraft. Certainly it’s the strategy I intend to use whenever possible when I take a long-haul flight with my kids.