Qantas is giving its Airbus A380 a multi-million dollar makeover

Qantas' sleek new Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets enjoy most of the airline's corporate love these days, but the Airbus A380 – that hulking decade-old double-decker – still does the heavy lifting on flagship routes to the USA, Asia and London.

Fortunately, from next year, the superjumbos will see a tip-to-tail upgrade including new business class seats plus a revamped lounge on the upper deck. Here's what high flyers can look forward to in Qantas' multi-million dollar makeover.

A much better business class

The superjumbo's original Skybed II seats – launched with the first Qantas Airbus A380 in 2008 – will be ripped out and replaced by the same highly-regarded Business Suite already flying on the airline's Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

This is a refined version of the Business Suite which debuted on the Airbus A330s seen on Australia's east-west and Asian routes, with a movable divider between the middle seats so that travellers can choose between privacy and sociability.

It's a substantial improvement for business travellers, with the Business Suites boasting everything that the Skybed II designs lack: direct aisle access for every passenger through a 1-2-1 layout, a large video screen, a bump-free flat bed and ample inflight storage and workspace.

A competitive zone

The refit comes as Qantas faces growing competition on popular routes to the USA and London from the likes of Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways.

However, it's not yet known if the gussied-up A380s will get inflight Internet – which most competing airlines offer on international routes, including local challenger Virgin Australia on its flights between Australia and Los Angeles.

Lounging around

There'll also be a more spacious business class lounge on the upper deck, with designer David Caon reshaping the upstairs lounge to create more of a social space for the superjumbo's first class and business class travellers

This will ditch the long red banquette and magazine rack for what early concept sketches  teased as more 'cafe-style' seating where passengers can mix and mingle, work or even hold impromptu meetings above the clouds.


Dampening the lounge's sound profile so as not to disturb passengers in the front rows of the business class cabin is also being looked at.

First class refresh

The 14 first class suites on the lower deck will receive a more modest refresh including contoured cushioning and larger HD video screens to replace the current 17 inch panels.

That's not is a bad thing by any stretch: there's basically nothing wrong with Marc Newson's bespoke design for Qantas' A380 suites, which I rate among the best of the 'open' first class suites sans sliding privacy doors.

Qantas' decisions fall into the safe realm of not fixing what ain't broke.

Premium economy pick-me up

The A380 overhaul will also extend to premium economy, with the same seats as on the Boeing 787 installed in a 2-3-2 layout.

This is quite the leap for business travellers on a budget: the Dreamliner's premium economy seats have a comfortable cradle design, some handy storage space, USB and shared AC power sockets, a decent-sized personal video screen and even a natty tablet holder if you belong to the BYO video set.

A reconfiguration of the upper deck will also see room for 25 more premium economy seats, bringing the tally to 60.

Let's just hope that Qantas allows more distance between each row of seats than on the Dreamliner, where these otherwise excellent seats are squashed too close together.

Meanwhile, in economy…

If you're really flying on the cheap, in economy class, you won't even have the pleasure of choosing a seat in that quiet and cosy 'mini-cabin' at the very rear of the A380's upper deck.

Qantas' revised layout will see the entire upper deck given over to business class and premium economy, with economy punted back down to the lower deck and passengers having to make do with new seat cushions on the old seats rather than the all-new economy seat of the Boeing 787.

The first of Qantas' 12-strong superjumbo fleet is expected to go under the knife by June 2019, although a rapid refresh will see the entire fleet upgraded by the end of 2020.

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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