Comparing A350s, 787s and A380s

Editor’s note: We don’t typically do “trip reports;” this isn’t the scope of LNC. But occasionally one crosses our desk that we find of interest. One of our readers, William Bain, provided the following to us and we thought it interesting to share.

By William Bain

Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 business class. Photo by William Bain.

I flew Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350 service from Singapore to Amsterdam.  The outbound flight was operated by 9V SMD and the inbound flight by 9V SME.  I was seated in the premium economy cabin.

By way of starting, I think people spend too much time say this or that model is better, as such, than that model.  There’s been a fair bit of that in relation to the A350 and Boeing 787.  But in my view much, if not most, of the comfort factor is down to the configuration used by specific airlines.  For example, I was underwhelmed by the Qatar Airways 787 but very much liked the ANA 787.

Favourable impressions, niggling issues

My initial impressions of the A350 are generally favourable, and I suspect that most people will like the aircraft.  But there were what I would describe as some niggling issues to note, which took some of the sheen off what was otherwise a highly anticipated flight.

My overall impression is that, while there is nothing to truly dislike, I did not experience a wow factor.  I say that because I remember the first time I boarded a 787 I did have that ‘wow’ moment.

Spacious feelings

I did not think the A350 imparted the same sense of spaciousness as the 787.  I realise that the A350 has a larger cross section, but from a perception standpoint the cabin didn’t feel as open and airy.

I cannot say too much about one of the competitive claims that Airbus makes for the A350 in relation to the 787, namely wider seats, because I was in premium economy (most of my flying is in economy).  In any case, I am not as sensitive to that issue as perhaps others are: while I am six feet tall, I’m pretty slim.

Quietness

Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 premium economy class. Photo by William Bain,

Perhaps I was expecting too much in terms of cabin quietness (from what I’ve read) but there were times when the engine noise was greater than expected.  I certainly do not mean to suggest that the cabin was loud, but (and leaving aside technical data) I would not describe it as quieter than the 787, and perhaps not much more than the upper deck economy cabin on the SQ A380.

No handles

If there was one genuine design issue that I did not like it was the overhead bins.  They do not have a good handle or latch to hold on to, which means that I had to push on the curved surface to stow the bin.  I found this to be slippery, and with a fully loaded bin (mine wasn’t), I suspect some people might struggle to get the bin closed easily.  There is a horizontal groove on the bin but it is too low to be of any use.

Fit and finish

The final observation relates to the complaints about standard of finish on the A350, mainly from Qatar (it is hard to know what to make of those complaints because CEO Akbar Al-Baker complains about everything).  I mention this because there were several niggling issues with 9V SMD.  The tray in my armrest was misaligned, so a fair bit of force had to be used to deploy and stow it.  Also, two drawers in one of the toilets kept coming open, which was annoying.

I was surprised by these admittedly minor issues, but it was a brand new aircraft.  But, these issues aside, no one who is serious is going to say that this is a bad aircraft.

IFE use

One final note, although one that is more of a Business Traveler issue than a Leeham News issue, is that I really liked the new SQ entertainment system.  You can access what is on offer on the SQ app before flying and select what you want to watch and listen to; then it is a matter of linking your phone to the onboard entertainment system via the wifi system and everything you want to watch is there ready to go.  The system can also be controlled from your phone and it allows a degree of multitasking.  If there was anything that did impress me on the flight, it was that.

A350 vs 787

Comparisons?  It really does depend on the operating airline I think.  On the noise issue, there isn’t enough in it to say that someone would or should choose the A350 over the 787, or vice versa.

I did sneak a check of the economy seats on the A350 and I would prefer the SQ A350 over the Qatar 787.  The QR 787 seats are too thin and hard, and worse, some engineer thought it a good idea to put an entertainment box under the seat at every window and aisle position.

I will be flying the Qatar A350 in four weeks, so that will make for an interesting comparison.  If forced to choose, I would probably opt for the ANA 787 over the SQ A350 (but always with the excellent SQ flight crew!), mainly due to the aesthetics of the cabin.

I also really liked the ANA seat.  I also think the A380 upper deck is really nice, but I actively avoid flights that would have me on the main deck—the cabin floor at the window seats is narrower than the space and shoulder height, the result being that those seats are more cramped than you might think.

 

48 Comments on “Comparing A350s, 787s and A380s

  1. It would be interesting for Leeham to analyze the economics of the A350 vs the 787 on the SFO-SIN route, one of the world’s longest, which is flown only by these two aircraft. My understanding is that this route is near the limit of each aircraft’s range, and while the A350 is larger, in the SIA configuation it has only one more seat than United’s 787. Since the A350 can carry more fuel, does this mean that the 787 is more fuel efficient per passenger than the A350 on this route?

  2. Seriously? One misaligned premium economy table is enough to write off the whole A350 build quality? Or was it the draws in the toilets that tipped the scales? Is it Airbus at fault or SQ for accepting that particular aircraft or, perhaps, a bit of both? Maybe they need QR’s acceptance team with them at delivery.
    Oh by the way, tell William not to fly Virgin’s 787. One of the seats broke. In flight, apparently. Imagine that?

  3. Sheese, I thought it was reasonable and balanced.

    Your flying off the handle is exactly whey Leeham doesn’t do this and its a shame.

    If you can’t interpret the reality and what he is saying I simply don’t know what.

    I think its worth noting that ANA flies their 787 in a low seat count (on the long distance flights, not inter Japan as well, obviously they are interested in the customers comfort aspect and keeping them.

    I thought the A380 comment was worth a note.

    Also worth a note that Boeing made the smaller 787 more spacious, Kudos to them.

    All in all the reality is its seat comfort that counts not the aircraft.

    they are all going to pretty much get you there.

    • @TransWorld

      I thought the A380 comment was worth a note.

      I don’t. It’s laughable.

      • Yeah, I don’t get that at all either – I was very pleased with my main deck economy window seat in a Lufthansa A380… the only thing is that you can’t easily lean against the side for napping – but I can never sleep on a flight anyway.

        • Did you find the legroom cramped at all due to the presence of an outside seat support?

          • Don’t remember that – I see what you mean though… that kind of thing would usually annoy me.

            I’ll see how it is on Malaysia in January…

          • I’m interested in hearing about what you find out.
            Thanks.

          • Bumping this thread to reply about the A380 legroom question – so I’ve been on my third A380 window seat and this time paid attention… the legroom was fine.

            The wall does slope in, but it comes down just next to where I put my foot. In contrast to the coach trip to Heathrow where I was uncomfortable for the whole two hours die to a heating duct being right where I needed to rest my foot!

            The seat bracket in front is located in the same line, but in fact due to its angle away from me it proved to be quite a good footrest rather than getting in my way too much. And since there was plenty of room all around my feet and under the seat in front, I could quite comfortably shift positions all the time. Again, unlike the coach where I could never find a comfortable position.

            So all in all, really not too bad.

    • ANA is the only airline I know to fly a few 787 with just 8-abreast in economy. All other airlines fly 9-abreast on their 787s. So it would be nice to know which seatings Mr. Bain is comparing.

      Noise levels are very hard to compare by ear. Therefore instruments are used just like a thermometer to measure temperature. The higher the noise level the higher is adrenalin production of the body. Adrenalin keeps your body awake and detains also from relaxing. So you might not hear the difference but the body can feel it.

      • I can see why Scott stays away from this stuff. I’m completely in agreement with TransWorld.

        Get a grip, Ebbuk

        @mHalblaub:

        Oh you mean those same instruments I tell people are needed when they say “the 777 is the noisier inside than the A330! I can’t stand it!” Those same instruments? Hmmm…

        • I know what you mean, measuring the unmeasurable as it depends so much on where you are in the cabin and the age and quality of maintenance on the aircraft in question. I flew a virtually brand new B773ER and a tired B772 in quick Succession and from that I came to the conclusion that the B777 was both the best and worst flying experience re noise….

  4. “I also really liked the ANA seat. I also think the A380 upper deck is really nice, but I actively avoid flights that would have me on the main deck—the cabin floor at the window seats is narrower than the space and shoulder height, the result being that those seats are more cramped than you might think.”

    I think A380 maindeck window seats are the most spacious you can get. I even took a picture recently to illustrate.

    http://i191.photobucket.com/albums/z160/keesje_pics/EK%20A380%20economy%20window%20seat_zpsillxz1de.jpg

    • Your picture is illustrating exactly what William is talking about. He is obviously commenting on the available foot space for those seats, not the shoulder space that your picture shows.

      • Here’s a somewhat different view on the comfort of the A380 at 10 abreast in economy class.

        http://www.airreview.com/Emirates/Fleet.htm

        Also, looking at the following image — wouldn’t you agree that the window seats in economy on the main deck of an A380 at 10 abreast doesn’t look too bad, does it? Due to the wider seats, your neighbour is further away, and there’s more room to move your legs around than on a 10 abreast 777.

        http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-passenger-cabin-of-the-airbus-a380-9227863.html

        Of course, at 11 abreast — and without raising the floor by 5″ and resculpturing the fuselage frame frames between the window line an floor (i.e. A380 mk2) — I would agree that the available foot space, at floor level, could be an issue for some passengers.

        https://www.runwaygirlnetwork.com/2015/06/03/airbus-expects-11-abreast-a380-to-attract-new-breed-of-customer/

        • Addendum

          I also think the A380 upper deck is really nice, but I actively avoid flights that would have me on the main deck.

          It seems to me that anyone who’s “actively” avoiding flying in economy on the main deck of an A380 — supposedly because of “some issues” with the window seats — obviously have an axe to grind.

        • “Also, looking at the following image — wouldn’t you agree that the window seats in economy on the main deck of an A380 at 10 abreast doesn’t look too bad, does it?”

          Not necessarily. It depends on ones priority in comfort. It doesn’t look too bad for the hips and the shoulders, and the shoulders get even more room if one doesn’t mind leaning toward the window. However, in my estimation from the photo, the outside support of the triplet is between 1/4 to 1/3 of the way in from the outside edge of the window seat bottom. This means that even if the hips and shoulders were straight, the legs and feet would have to be angled away from the window to avoid the support. William rightly points out that this could be an issue for some people. He says “those seats are more cramped than you might think.” Not that they are horrible. I think this might be an issue for me as well, but I’m not sure because I’ve never flown on an A380.

          • OK, I’ll be sure to factor in your opinion along with the opinion of the author of this article. Neither the pics nor the video you linked are convincing me that I should dismiss the authors opinion.

          • Neither the pics nor the video you linked are convincing me that I should dismiss the authors opinion.

            “If it ain’t a Boeing, you’re not going” — why don’t you just admit it? 😉

            And as for sitting in window seats on either the Emirates 777-300ER or the A380, I’m sure you’ll be enjoying squeezing one of your feet in between the outside support of the seat-triplets and the side wall of EK’s 77Ws***.

            Of course, it’s only logical for the “if-it-ain’t-a-Boeing” crowd, to pay heed to the wisdom of someone who refuses to sit in any of the other 8 seats in the economy class of an A380 due to some perceived “problems” with either of the two window seats.

            ***

          • OV-099,
            Way to keep it classy by lumping me into a crowd I’m not part of, just because I don’t dismiss an opinion you don’t agree with.

          • @Mike Bohnet

            Qui tacet consentit. The opinion that you didn’t dismiss is this (i.e. this is not about the window seats per se.):

            I also think the A380 upper deck is really nice, but I actively avoid flights that would have me on the main deck.

          • OV-099,
            So, now you’re telling me what opinion I didn’t dismiss. Whatever.

          • I am thinking this is a pointless argument, I am of the opinion that the A380 is the best economy transport there is but never do the window seat so can’t comment. It would be helpful to get someone else’s view on this. The only thing I would say about perceived bias is that the original article focuses on the best ever B787 layout, ANA which reflects less than 5% of the B787 fleet. I think the jury is out on cabin fittings, I have heard questions being asked about the A350 but note the same has been said of a lot of B787 fittings. Weight saving and cost cutting are difficult to hide from consumers.

          • @Mike Bohnet

            As I said, silence implies consent (Qui tacet consentit). By the look of things, you’ve been acting in an obstinately inquisitive manner on the A380 window-seat “issue” — seemingly actively seeking confirming evidence on how “bad” the seat is — while totally glossing over Mr. Bain’s (implied) recommendation, which is that you shouldn’t fly in economy class on the main deck of an A380, because the window seats are not comfortable enough. Thus, by not calling out Mr. Bain on such mindboggling stupidity — while actively seeking confirming evidence on the seat “issue” — one could quite easily draw the conclusion, by default, that you’re part of the “if-it-ain’t-a-Boeing” crowd. Again, this was written with a light-heartedly smiley at the end of the sentence. Hence, there was no need to take offence at what I said (i.e. by you choosing to take the self-righteous high road).

          • OV you really need to take a look at yourself because you are the biggest, most self righteous Airbus homer on this board! 🙂
            You demand respect but give none. You accuse others of being biased yet you are the most biased Airbus lackey I have ever had the displeasure of reading. Your rants are legendary in length yet you accuse others of being self righteous!
            It wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t so quick to attack others with personal insults and questions of character. Take a look in the mirror man! 🙂
            Good luck in improving yourself, I will be rooting for you! 🙂

          • All right, everybody, refresh your memory of Reader Comment rules. No personal attacks.
            Hamilton

          • @Mathis

            Instead of having chosen to enlighten us with an input relevant to the topic in question, you’re going all-out with a barrage of ad hominem attacks — and it looks pretty misplaced and rather silly using three classic smileys when you’re resorting to such a barrage of personal attacks. That is pretty unprecedented, I’d say.

            “OV you really need to take a look at yourself because you are the biggest, most self righteous Airbus homer on this board!”

            🙂
            You demand respect but give none. You accuse others of being biased yet you are the most biased Airbus lackey I have ever had the displeasure of reading. Your rants are legendary in length yet you accuse others of being self righteous!
            It wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t so quick to attack others with personal insults and questions of character. Take a look in the mirror man! 🙂
            Good luck in improving yourself, I will be rooting for you! 🙂

      • I think the wall is not getting under your seat. So floorspace is not smaller. Specially because the seat box is never under the middle seat (maintenance)..

        “There’s been a fair bit of that in relation to the A350 and Boeing 787. But in my view much, if not most, of the comfort factor is down to the configuration used by specific airlines”

        That’s imo a kind of easy escape, because in economy class the number of seats abreast and aisle width is very much determined by cabin design by the aircraft manufacturer. Not by the airline. And it is where most passengers sit.

        • The pic in the link OV-099 posted shows the wall getting significantly under the seat. In the narrow bodies I’ve flown in with United, the wall usually only gets under the outer armrest, more so on the 737 than on the A320.

  5. Zodiac Aerospace is running into multiple production troubles with all OEMs: Reason new aircraft, especially Airbus, are having poor build quality and finish.

    Good to see it from passenger perspective.

  6. Weird review. Seats are by no means standard even the same seat may be configured differently by the same airline (example: zodiac cirrus differently set up by QR in the A350 and B788). The lavs in the A359 may be all supplied by Zodiac but still configured differently.
    The only thing standard/common in 787/350 is indeed the OH bins.

  7. I am not sure what to make of this, I fully accept that the configuration makes a huge difference. I was surprised to hear the A380 gets a lukewarm review as in my opinion if you are in the back it is the one I prefer by a country mile, noise and space wise. I am looking forward to a veritable feast over the next couple of years trying out multiple routes/ airlines on A350/ B787 hopefully mostly in premium economy but inevitably sometimes in the back. I have had the basic aim of avoiding the B787 if possible before but will try it again. I am not sure if I was ‘blown away’ by entering the B787, perhaps I needed more juice before taking off. I am routing all over the place to have to not fly A380 as my home is LHR, to some extent it’s spiritual home. But the new game is what to do on a 6/8 hour layover in Helsinki or Hong Kong or or.

  8. Minor issue with the photo illustration, in particular the one with three seats together by the window. That should be the front row of the SIA economy cabin. Per their own web site, Prem Econ is 2-4-2.

    Overall, I appreciated the information. It may be several years before I get to sample an A350, but I am looking forward the chance some day.

  9. Staying within the Boeing realm to avoid the “Boeing thought police” tones 🙂

    I commuted for 2 years between SFO and IAH, every-week basically – mid 2014 to Q1-2016. Fortunate to be in front 95% of the time. United has a monopoly on that route.

    Strangely, i avoided the 787 pretty quickly despite my urge to fly new kits. The airplane’s route originated from Japan, picked up passengers at SFO and then to IAH. And back.

    I was wowed at first coming in the aircraft. The airplane felt spacious, the lighting quite modern. Noise is better than legacy airplanes, no question. But this was completely ruined by the seating. United’s business class seat was ‘plastic-y’, felt really really cheap, thin, uncomfortable seat, and totally open to the isle (for these) affording a sense of 0% privacy. I understand this was one of the first 5 delivered to United and was probably quite overweight re:original contract. So United possibly decided to do something to counteract such run time cost deviation. Fair enough.

    I ended up switching my routine to a 767 with the older (circa 2008) seating config. Much much more comfortable. Cool angled 20-30 degrees seats with nice privacy. When United removed that model from the 6-9 flights they have per days, i took the regular 737/320s. Avoided the 787 after a couple tries again…

    Says nothing about the airplane hardware itself. The 787 is quite a fine aircraft today. Has all to do with how airlines try to balance their constraints as they decide on every detail. Difficult job as choices made last for years in the ‘hands’ of their customers.

    I have flown 1.8Mmiles on United and 1Mmiles on Delta in the past 25 years. 1/3 domestic. 2/3 international.

  10. Over the last two years I’ve been actively avoiding 787 9 abreast and 777 10 abreast for long haul. That has resulted in extra stops in SIN, DBX, Seoul but saved many hundreds of Euro’s in the process & those are fine airports. Some might prefer the 787 or 777 interior they feel is more spacious, stylish or what ever. I prefer the wider seats of 3-3-3 777s, 2-4-2 A330s and A380 comfort and schedule accordingly.

  11. By far the worst article EVER published on Leeham.

    There is not a single word about the plane only about supplier or airline minor inside equipment.

    Such an article should not be in a serious press.

  12. Interesting comment on the IFE boxes in Qatar’s 787’s. The design is very industrial and they have very sharp edges to such an extent that I had to use the airline pillow at my ankle to avoid being cut. They also get very hot, again the cushion helped to stop me from having cut and burned feet. Qatar’s 787 configuration gets my vote (seats, leg and shoulder room) for the worst passenger experience available today. Their other planes are configured much better.

  13. ” and perhaps not much more than the upper deck economy cabin on the SQ A380.”

    No shit Sherlock, did anyone expect it to be quieter than the upperdeck (which is above the engines) of a plane that’s already pretty quiet even sitting next to the engine on the LD?

  14. Great example of why not to publish seat reviews. If it can’t be agreed upon, there can’t be much difference.
    I have managed to to avoid sardine spec 10 abreast A350s and 777s and 9 abreast 787s so far so I can’t say how bad they are, but I can’t believe Quantas will put its customers through 17hours of that on the London Perth route. As I only ever get to fly economy I quite like the 767.

  15. “If forced to choose, I would probably opt for the ANA 787 over the SQ A350”

    I think referencing the single 787 decent width economy class (2-4-2, ANA, part of fleet?), and trying to generalize it, without lying, is something we increasingly see in the industry. Deceiving without lying, just leave out the context & you’re formally fine. You can’t be blamed for not mentioning something, however vital it may be..

  16. I think there are some items Scott needs to post without comments being activated.

    I flew that Air Canada 787 from Toronto to Munich last year. Despite all the trash talk about space, I don’t remember it being particularly cramped. But I have more issues with legroom rather than waist room, unless the neighbours are such that they cannot stay within the confines of their seats.

    By the way, and I know I am bringing up a really controversial issue, but I have to understand how some people go about with the arm rests. Now I can work with other people in sharing arm rests or I can even pull my elbows into the confines of my seat. BUUUUT, what really gets my goat are people who seem to believe they have the right to hog the armrests and still extend their big old elbows beyond the armrests into my seating area. That’s when I strike back by squeezing back with my own elbows. Some seem to get it then and some don’t seem to care.

    • Here here! to the above comment!

      Great to have a good knock down drag out AB vs B wrestling match. Talking only about coach seating, seat comfort width and pitch could simply be up to the airline(s) but in reality is driven by economics (earnings for the airline and desire for a low price for the passenger.

      B seems to have designed the 77 and 87 around 9 and 8 abreast respectively at which they are (were) very generous width wise. The 77, having no real competition stayed that way for a long time but has now largely gone to 10 abreast to be cost competitive with the 9 abreast A-350 (which is 10 in. (about half a seat) narrower). The 77 – 8/9 is being carved out to add 4 in, at shoulder (?) level to slightly improve this but it must stay 10 abreast to be cost competitive.

      Interestingly the 47 is 10 in. wider than the current 77 and thus a more legit 10 abreast aircraft as it was planned from the start.

      The 87 is 8 in wider than than the 300/310/330/340 (and actually more like 10 or 12 in. when you account for the in sloping sidewall in these due to the high floor placement. (Which is to accommodate the cargo containers.) So at 8 abreast the 87 was to be very generous in width (including a WIDE armrest in the middle of the 4 wide middle section). I think only ANA took 87s this way. Economics pushed it to 9 abreast where it is modestly tighter than the 350 which is 5 in. wider and tighter than the 8 abreast 330 (and the 7 abreast 67).

      Maybe B should have just copied the size of the 330 and beat it on efficiency and range but they opted for an 8 1/2 seat wide craft instead. Ironic (or great if it had stayed 8 abreast) given the increasing size and weight of U.S. residents (and others).

      The biggest plus to the 87 and 77 (especially the 77-8/9) to this 66 year old kid is the big windows which is also a plus on the 37 vs 320 (though not so much).

      They are all stuck as they are for a generation now. If B eventually makes a NSA that is 6 abreast but equal to or somewhat wider than the 320 it will ironically be their widest aircraft per seat/aisle. Yet another reason to stick with the MAX.

  17. Most of these comments, and the last 1/3 of William’s “trip report” discuss airplane interior features installed (or selected) by the various airlines, and are not valid Airbus-Boeing model-by-model comparisons.

    I have flown on most every model airplane, except Russian models, all the way back to 707s. The only substantial model-by-model comparisons applicable to the airplane manufacturer are interior spaciousness “feeling,” noise, pressurisation, & humidity.

    The only recent changes in pressurisation & humidity are the 787 and A350, both of which have pressurisation of appx 6000 feet, vs 8000 in everything else, and some actual humidity.

    My recent flights across the Pacific on an ANA 787 and an SIA A350 were substantially noticeably more comfortable, due to this greater pressurisation and humidity. Much much less tiring, and even seemingly less jet lag. Both airplane models “felt” about the same.

    There are, of course, model-by-model differences in interior spaciousness “feeling” and noise, but by & large the later the airplane model the better both are. The only substantial model-by-model difference is pressurisation & humidity, and the 787s and A350s beat all the other models hands down.

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