Super Arrival: Emirates brings first scheduled A380 to Boston

As Emirates flight 237 approached Logan on the afternoon of January 26, 2017, it was evident that there was something different about this particular sector. In fact, it was an arrival that had air traffic controllers correcting themselves.

“Emirates 237 heavy…erm, correction, Emirates 237 super,” said the voice from Boston Approach after the Airbus A380 from Dubai made initial contact with the controller. A few minutes later, a Boston Tower controller had a similar exchange with the crew of the plane, which will return to DXB tonight as EK238.

These verbal stumbles were understandable. After all, Boston Logan has seen plenty of regularly-scheduled “heavy” arrivals and departures – a designation which is normally assigned to wide body aircraft like the Boeing 747 – over the years. However, this was the first time that the “super” designation, used by ATC for the very largest aircraft, had been used by a scheduled BOS arrival. And while the A380 operating in the place of the 777-300ER that normally operates this on this route is a one-off that was likely done to ensure that the recent upgrades to Logan’s Terminal E are A380-compatible, it was nevertheless an exciting event.

Fortunate Spotters Capture the Event

This wasn’t a significant media event by any means, but a number of fortunate spotters snapped pictures of the A380. The landing on Runway 22L was even caught on video by Instagram user nesam_sherovala, which allowed those of us who weren’t able to see the big bird touch down (such as myself) to enjoy the event virtually.

What it Means

I’ve said many times that I’ll always prefer the 747-400 to the A380, and today doesn’t change that. That said, this momentous arrival is exciting for the Boston aviation community, and – with British Airways scheduled to start flying the A380 on its BOS-LHR route alongside 747-400s, 777s, and 787-900s – signals the beginning of a new era at Logan.

Next Big Trip Up: England in the Spring

My trip to England in Fall 2014 was my first across the pond in more than 10 years. Given that England is my favorite foreign country, I knew that I didn’t want the next one to be 10 years down the road. Back then, as a gift for my graduation from college, my parents were nice enough to pay for my airfare. The base fare was $952 on British Airways, which was pretty cheap for non stop BOS-LHR flights at the time (it ended up being $1,034 altogether with window seat reservations both ways). More importantly, I was able to fly on the Boeing 747-400 both ways, which was an incredible experience. All told, I was extremely happy with that trip. That said, I’m similarly excited for my upcoming trip to England.

Pricing

This time, I myself paid for the trip. It was $504.89 base fare, and came out to a total of $576.89 with window seat reservations both ways. As good as that base fare is, it’s not even the lowest that it’s been – British Airways was selling $460 BOS-LHR round trips in November. Regardless, the fact that there has been a $447 reduction in the base fare on the BOS-LHR route from the last time I went to this time – from $952 to $505 – is insane.

Aircraft

You might well know that I am partial to the 747 over the Airbus A380, the latter of which BA is scheduled to begin flying to BOS at the end of March. However, having enjoyed my flight on a China Southern A380 during my trip last month, I decided that I did want to fly on the A380 at least one of the legs of this trip. Since I enjoy the flight home more than the flight over, I figured I would take the 747 on my favored leg of the trip and the A380 on the other leg.

The Itinerary:

  • 04/09/2017 – BA212 – 7:20 p.m. departure (spring schedule) – A380-800
  • 04/17/2017 – BA203 – 4:45 p.m. departure – 747-400

I am seated on the World Traveller upper deck section of the A380, in 82K, and the World Traveller main deck section of the 747, in 49A. Both are window seats – the first on the right, the second on the left.

Other Factoids

Flights I’ve Taken Between U.S. and U.K.:

  • 11/25/2014 – BA212 – 5:55 p.m. departure (fall schedule) – 747-400
  • 12/02/2014 – BA213 – 11:20 a.m. departure – 747-400
  • 11/10/2004 – BA238 – 8:10 a.m. departure – 777-200ER
  • 11/16/2014 – BA213 – 11:20 a.m. departure – 777-200ER

So, to this point, I’ve taken BA213 twice, BA212 once, and BA238 once.

I do like BA213 a lot because it’s a late-morning departure from London and an early-afternoon arrival in Boston, but it’s being operated by an A380 that day, so I decided to take BA203 instead for the 747, which still gets me back around 7 p.m.

Other Notes and Overall Thoughts

While I’m in England, I plan to take a couple of short Euro trips – to Brussels and Amsterdam. Each city was decided somewhat on a whim, but I am confident I’ll enjoy them.

My dad went to Brussels back in 2002, via London. He very much enjoyed taking the Eurostar train through the countryside of France on the way to Belgium. I’ll be taking that train, too, and for less than $90 round trip.

Amsterdam is a fascinating city that I’ve always wanted to see. Also, the easyJet flights were running for around $75 round trip from London Southend, so that should be fun. Two new countries for less than $200 in travel expenses – I’m happy with it.

I’m pretty excited to have finally booked this. The last time I went to England, I was very focused on the excitement of flying on the 747. As a result, the way over was very much a blur (albeit an awesome one). This time, having been on both the 747 and A380, I’ll definitely try to relax and enjoy the flights (and the trip) a lot more.

On Hold: The A380 won’t be coming to Boston in February as previously planned

Just over three weeks ago, I wrote about how British Airways had planned to introduce the Airbus A380 on its BOS-LHR route in February of 2017. However, this morning I was surprised to learn that the A380 is no longer scheduled to arrive in Boston on February 3, 2017.

Though there’s no conclusive information (press release or public-facing memo) from either BA or Massport, thus far, I’ll outline what I do know:

  • Prior to the schedule change, the LHR-LAX and LAX-LHR routes — which normally see two A380s per day each way — were scheduled to have one A380 swapped out for a Boeing 747 Thursday – Sunday between February 2 and March 12.
  • As such, one of the two 747s operating LHR-BOS and BOS-LHR would instead fly LHR-LAX and LAX-LHR between those dates.
  • A Google Flights search revealed that LHR-LAX and LAX-LHR are indeed back to two A380s between February 2 and March 12.

After inquiring further, it appears that the A380-capable gates that are under construction in Terminal E will not be built in time for the scheduled start. While there has been veritable progress made toward building these gates, it appears that the project will take longer to complete than projected. And though I’m tempted to avoid making any premature judgments, I can’t help but think that this bears a lot of similarities to the infamous “Big Dig” construction project, which took twice as long as anticipated and cost twice as much as budgeted.

It’s too early to tell for sure what the real story is. Furthermore, it’s possible that, logistically permitting, BA may still send the A380 at some point next year. And with airline schedules and timetables subject to change quite often, we might even see a few more twists in the plot.

Regardless of who is ultimately responsible, one thing is for sure: this delay is not good press for any of the parties on this side of the pond that are involved.

The A380 is Coming: Boston to be Served by World’s Largest Airliner

Update 2: As of October 12, 2016, Routesonline posted that BA will be implementing the A380 on BOS-LHR starting March 26, 2017. I’ll keep watching this, and will let you know if there is an official announcement from either Massport or BA.

Update 1: As of August 15, 2016, it appears that BA has pulled its planned BOS-LHR A380 service on the dates previously planned. More on that here.

When rumors started making their way around various aviation forums last week that British Airways would be launching Boston’s first Airbus A380 service in early 2017, many of us – myself included – looked to the airline for some sort of verification that this was, indeed, the case. However, the only inkling of any news came from an Airlineroute post without any confirmation or sources, making me hesitant to write anything that would “break” any sort of news.

As of today, though, there is veritable proof: both Google Flights and the official British Airways website have confirmed that the “superjumbo” is, indeed, coming to Boston, starting February 2, 2017 and running until March 12 (to begin). Early afternoon arrival BA213 and early evening departure BA212 will be operated by an A380 Thursday through Sunday, while the 747 will operate the flights Monday through Wednesday. Boston will be the first airport in the Northeastern United States to be served by the BA A380 – even ahead of New York JFK (more on that here).

Bringing the A380 to Logan has long been a goal of both Massport and a number of different airlines, British Airways being one of them. However, the main impediment that both carriers and the airport have faced is the lack of A380-capable gates at Logan.

Since Terminal E was first built in 1974, there has not been any addition to or modification of the international gates at Logan. And while the existing infrastructure has been enough to handle the variety of large aircraft that have served the people of Greater Boston, the A380 poses a number of quandaries that necessitates a number of modifications.

Case in point: the A380 requires specially-constructed gates. While Boston does see “double deckers” in the form of the Boeing 747-400s operated year-round by British Airways and Lufthansa and the Boeing 747-800s flown seasonally by Lufthansa, the number of seats on a 747’s upper level – regardless of variation – pales in comparison to the number of “upstairs” seats that the A380 has. As such, the A380 necessitates bi-level gates, something that Logan doesn’t have. However, construction of the gates is currently in progress, and should be completed by the end of 2016. With that in mind, it makes sense that the first A380 flights are slated to arrive in February.

British Airways’ status as the first carrier planning to bring the A380 to Boston is somewhat of a surprise. After all, BA’s fleet currently has just 12 A380s. Emirates, meanwhile, operates 82, nearly seven times the number that BA possesses, flying them to a number of “smaller” cities such as Copenhagen, Manchester, Mexico City, and Toronto. All that said, it seemed to be logical that Boston – a city of approximately 600,000 – would see an Emirates A380 far before one from British Airways, whose A380s operate between London and a number of large “global” cities, including Johannesburg, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Singapore.

Yet there are a number of reasons that BA would be interested in flying the A380 to Boston. For one, Boston to London is the ninth-largest transatlantic sector between North America and Europe, as nearly a million people fly between the two cities every year. BA flies three flights per day year-round on the BOS-LHR route, four in the summer, and at least one of those flights is operated by the 747.

Furthermore, load factors (% of seats filled) are quite good, normally well north of 70% – my flight to LHR on a 747 in November of 2014 was completely full, for the record. If BA can post solid load factors on two 747s per day, then it can certainly do well with an A380.

The A380 is markedly larger than the 747s that British Airways has flown to Boston for decades, and can carry around 40% more passengers. As such, many are tempted to say that the A380 will be replacing the 747 on BOS-LHR routes, as it will be able to hold more passengers and, thus, allow BA to decrease frequency.

Anything is possible, to be sure. However, I think this is an oversimplification of BA’s strategic thinking; while I definitely see BA increasing the number of A380s it sends to New England, I also don’t see it looking to stop flying the 747 to Boston anytime soon for a few reasons.

For one, the 747 isn’t as efficient as the other long-haul aircraft that BA has in its fleet. Built in the 1990s, the 747-400s that the carrier flies are “gas guzzlers,” and the airline would rather use it on shorter flights where it can be filled rather than longer flights where its comparative inefficiency will be exposed (in the form of higher fuel costs). Believe it or not, BOS-LHR is one of the shortest long-haul flights that BA operates; routes like LHR-LAX and LHR-JNB – historically served by the 747 – are markedly longer. For that reason, I believe BA would rather utilize newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft – such as the A380 and the Boeing 777 – than the 747 on those routes.

Additionally, BOS-LHR is a route that is largely dependent on frequency. Unlike some flights between the US and the UK, BOS-LHR flights feature a number of business travelers who demand options, so taking away a flight per day isn’t likely to sit well with those travelers. As such, if BA can still fill a 747 in addition to an A380 and the other Boeing aircraft it will fly between Boston and London – the 777 and 787 – then the carrier is likely to do it.

Finally, there are the operational aspects to consider. BA – who is the world’s largest offer of the 747 – likely won’t retire the plane until well after 2020, as they’ve recently been retrofitted, which required a huge investment from the carrier. As a result of that, as well as my belief that BOS-LHR will likely be one of the last 747 routes to go, I think we can expect to see the A380 alongside 747s in Boston – rather the instead of them – until around that time.

I’ve been contemplating taking a trip to London next year. And while I’m still firmly a British Airways 747 loyalist, and would plan to take said aircraft home (I prefer westbound 747 flights, for some reason), I wouldn’t say no to taking the A380 on one of the two legs. If nothing else, it’d be a great experience, and one that I would certainly enjoy.