A380 vs 747: comparing all the things passengers care about most

A380 vs 747

A proper A380 vs 747 comparison is something that I should’ve done a long time ago. These are the sunset years for both of these fine (albeit portly) commercial transports, and it’s a dang shame how the legacies of both came to an abrupt end during the course of 2020.

Even though many will never to fly on either of these two aircraft ever again, there’s nothing wrong with doing some deep-dive reminiscing about how both of these mega-airplanes are different from one another.

Asiana A380 LAX
This right here was the very first A380 that I ever flew on. It was also my first ever Asiana First Class experience. I still can’t believe that I didn’t pop any blood vessels in my brain due to over-excitement this day!

I’m going to base this A380 vs 747 comparison on my own personal experiences. This will be a breakdown of the two aircraft from a passengers perspective, with a deeper look into how both of them excelled (and failed) in all areas related to passenger experience. I’m going to try my best to prevent this from being just an AvGeek’s wet dream, but I’ve been known to venture wildly off track before…

A brief history of both aircraft

As much as I want to say that both the 747 and the A380 have a long and glamorous history, that isn’t exactly the case. At least for the A380. The Boeing 747 has been around for a much longer time than the A380, and the aircraft it evolved into towards the end of its life was very much different than the original one launched in 1969. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…

An oversimplified history of the Boeing 747

Launched into service in 1970 with Pan American World Airways, the Boeing 747 had actually started out as a concept for a military transport aircraft in the early 1960s. Boeing was in competition with Douglas, General Dynamics, Lockheed, and Martin Marietta for this government contract but ultimately lost. Realizing the potential capabilities of their design concept for commercial applications, the 747 was born.

British Airways 747 wing and engines
This British Airways Club World flight from San Diego to London in October 2016 would have never happened if Boeing would have thrown in the towel on their failed military transport concept back in the 1960’s. Although…not having to experience the dreadful meal I had on this flight would have been nice.

It was the world’s first twin-aisle airliner, although not the the first to feature a double-decker design. Flying boats such as the Boeing 314 Clipper and Dornier Do-X preceded it.

The Boeing 747 became one of the best selling airliners in history, with a total of 1,571 built and 1,557 delivered to customers.

An oversimplified history of the Airbus A380

Launched on October 25, 2007 with Singapore Airlines, the Airbus A380 is the worlds largest airliner. Most notably, there were only three aircraft that came before it featuring a full-length upper deck: the Breguet 761, 763, and 765. A total of 253 Airbus A380s have been built and delivered.

Many have criticized the A380 for being the “wrong aircraft at the wrong time”. I personally disagree, thinking that it’s the perfect aircraft for large airlines who have hubs in severely slot-restricted airports (British Airways and London Heathrow airport comes to mind). There aren’t many other airports in the world with slot restrictions as severe as LHR, but given enough time, that’s the direction this world is going. Population growth is exploding everywhere.

Korean Air A380
I know this is a comparison of the A380 and 747, but…can I just take a moment to tell you how good Korean Air Prestige Class on the A380 is? The seats were “meh”, but…the service from the cabin crew had me thinking how fun it would be if I were Korean (and I got to fly this airline all the time). It’d never work though. I still can’t figure out how to pronounce “bibimbap” properly.

I consider the A380 to be ahead of its time. Unfortunately, because of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 in early 2020, the demand for travel was completely reset and the need for ultra-large aircraft such as the A380 had been eliminated. At least for the next 10 to 20 years.

The A380 was a very good solution to a growing problem. It was also (unfortunately) the victim of a once in a lifetime pandemic which temporarily halted global travel.

Stepping onto (and off) the 747 vs the A380

If there’s one thing that both the 747 to A380 have in common, it’s the ability to fill passengers with excitement just before boarding. I hate to admit this, but I get so excited before boarding at 747 or A380 that I’m on the brink of blacking out (and I may have even forgotten my name a time or two). Yeah, these are special airplanes that invoke feelings that no 737 0r A320 ever could.

Emirates A380 economy class
Stepping into Emirates A380 economy class for the long 15hr flight from Dubai to Los Angeles. I wonder how many of these people are on the brink of blacking out from excitement as well? I know I wasn’t the only one!

In terms of A380 vs 747 boarding processes, they were a little different. Let me explain…

  • There were usually two jet bridges attached to the 747 during the boarding process. Even though the 747 is a double-decker aircraft, upper deck passengers still had to board via the main deck since there were no boarding doors on the upper deck. However, there were nearly always separate jet bridges for premium passengers vs economy passengers.
  • The A380 boarding process is a lot more rowdy (and I mean that in the most respectfully fun way of course). There can be up to 3 jet bridges attached to an Airbus A380 during the boarding process (one on the upper deck and two on the lower). However, in my experience, there are usually just two. The third one (when it happens) is usually reserved for premium passengers only.

Which is the better airplane to board?

It depends. The A380 vs 747 boarding process is vastly different depending on which airlines are involved, because each airline configures their aircraft differently. If I am an economy passenger, I prefer boarding the A380 because of all the different jet bridges involved. It’s a really neat experience to be able to walk down a jet bridge and then have to choose one of up to three doors to get to the airplane.

Qatar Airways A380
I should have been miffed that I couldn’t see much of this A380 before my amazing Qatar Airways business class flight from Paris to Doha last year. But I wasn’t. Just look at all that cool jet bridge action!

On the other hand, I prefer boarding the 747 if I’m a premium passenger on the upper deck. Yes, upper deck passengers have to board the other main deck, but it’s especially fun because you’ll get to use the stairs on the inside of the aircraft to get to the top. I’ve done it a few times, and I can tell you from experience that it’s a special travel moment unlike anything else.

Unlike the A380, this is the only way to get to the upper deck of the 747. The only possible way it could be cooler if it were a motorized escalator-type staircase. Speaking of which, can you imagine how fun it would be to engage in cocky “I’m more important than you” eye contact with lowly economy class passengers as you stand motionless on your ascent to the heavens?

Which is the better airplane to…uh…deplane?

Having to step off a 747 or A380 at the end of a long flight is never fun for true aviation geeks like me. Unless, of course, my seatmate was burping and scratching his balls the entire way to Hong Kong or something.

Anyway, I much prefer the A380 deplaning process over the 747. Yeah, it’s maximum chaos in either situation, but at least it’s more manageable with the additional jet bridges attached to anA380.

747 vs A380 cabin comfort

From a passenger’s perspective, this is potentially the most important component of the 747 vs A380 comparison. Most people don’t care about how an airplane looks or what its legacy holds. They just want to be comfy and arrive at their destination not dead. I can totally sympathize with that.

On a very high level (no pun intended), I find that is far more comfortable to fly on a A380 than a 747. Both are massively huge airplanes, but yet somehow the sheer size of the A380 makes it feel butter-smooth in the air compared to the 747.

747-400 interior from the back
Looking straight down the barrel of a 747-400 from what felt like row 257. In a middle seat no less! See? I ain’t no fancy-pants business class flyer all the time.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of being on an A380 in-flight, but perhaps the best way to describe it is like being on a large cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. It’s a big lumbering aircraft that feels slow and lazy, and that translates very well to overall passenger comfort.

Which aircraft is quieter?

The A380 is the quieter aircraft by far. Due to a combination of quieter engines and better insulation, the A380 is eerily quiet inside. It’s hard to imagine how quiet such a large aircraft can be. Especially one with four massive engines attached to the wings just outside your window.

A380 takeoff from inside
It’s nothing short of eerie that the A380 is as quiet as a CRJ-200 during takeoff (from the inside at least). I personally think it’s more fun to shatter windows when blasting out of town, but…technological progress is technological progress I guess.

The 747 comes from an era when departing aircraft shattered windows in homes surrounding the airport. It was totally normal and par for the course if you chose to live near an airport. However, it never really got away from that despite the advancements in engine technology over the years. It’s a very loud airplane both in and out.

To put all this in slightly better context, I can tell you that it’s not uncommon for me to end up with a ringing headache at the end of a long haul flight. Interestingly enough, I’ve never had that experience on A380. Well, except for that Asiana A380 business class flight from Los Angeles to Seoul a few years ago. The headache I experienced on that flight was 100% the fault of my giddy excitement for being on an A380. Yeah, the wine maybe had a bit to do with it as well.

Which aircraft has better humidity levels?

As you might expect, being a much more modern aircraft, the A380 is far more tolerable than the 747 when it comes to cabin humidity levels. My sinuses have dried up like the Sahara desert on every long-haul 747 flight that I’ve ever been on, but that hasn’t been the case with the A380.

United friend ship 747
Feeling mixed emotions before my United business class flight from SFO to ICN a few years ago. One one hand: Yay! A fun ride on a 747! On the other: Booooo! Dried-snot headaches suck.

It’s only been recently that aircraft engineers have realized the importance of higher humidity levels for overall passenger comfort. Back in the 1960s (when the 747 was being designed) there likely wasn’t enough data to know that arriving at your destination with a head full of dried snot (that remained caked in your head for days afterwards) is an inconvenient feeling.

Can you imagine what it must’ve been like to deal with that along with an annoying guy sitting next to you scratching his balls and burping all the way to Hong Kong? It must’ve been hell.

Airbus A380 interior
Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a picture of Airbus A380 cabin humidity? This’ll have to do I guess. Trust me. It’s there.

For those of you looking for more information, I recommend reading this article about aircraft cabin humidity from Aviation Business News. It does a pretty good job of explaining how humidity makes a huge difference in terms of overall passenger comfort.

A380 vs 747 turbulence

As I mentioned earlier, one of the best characteristics of the Airbus A380 is its size. It’s so big and heavy that it can cut through choppy air with far more ease than a 747 can. Just like how a 747 is far smoother than 737 because of its size, the A380 takes it to a whole new level. There’s a pun in that last sentence, I’m sure…

747 turbulence characteristics

I’m not a rocket scientist, but I do know one thing from experience: sitting in the back of a 747 in extremely choppy air over the North Pacific ocean in the middle of the night is an incredibly scary experience.

I don’t have any hard facts and figures to back this up, but if I rely on my long history of flying all different types of aircraft all over the world, I can tell you that the 747 doesn’t feel as solid as the A380 does. Whereas the 747 feels like a machine built from many parts and pieces, the A380 feels like one solid chunk of metal.

boeing 747 economy cabin
Welcome to the butt-end of the Boeing 747! Kinda hard to believe I was able to get a sharp pic with all the bouncing around that was going on back here…

The 747 has a tendency to bend and flex in rough air. This is the especially apparent if you’re in the rear section of the aircraft (in choppy air over the North Pacific Ocean in the middle of the night). The wings and the 747 are very far forward, leaving the tail end of the bird hanging out exposed to the wind to be whipped around like a cat’s toy.

A380 turbulence characteristics

Yes, that’s exactly right. I referred to the A380 as a “solid chunk of metal” in that last paragraph. We all know that it’s built for millions of parts and pieces just like a 747 of course, but it just feels more solid and stable in turbulent air.

A380 tail camera
The A380 may not be the prettiest bird in the sky, but she’s solid as a rock. Or, at the very least, a very fat bird.

The “middle of the night / North North Pacific Ocean” reference I noted above is my gauge for this comparison. I’ve been in that situation multiple times on both of these aircraft, and the A380 was far more stable each time.

In the 747, I was clenching the armrests in fear that death was imminent (and this whole SANspotter gig was up). On the A380, it was more like a gentle rocking feeling which only encouraged me to like back, let go, and fall asleep.

Which of these two aircraft do flight attendants and cabin crew prefer?

It’s one thing to do an A380 vs 747 comparison for a passengers perspective. However, it doesn’t get serious until you get flight attendants and cabin crew involved. What do they think? Which aircraft do they prefer to work on? Because I’m not a flight attendant (and I couldn’t even begin to guess what they would say), I reached out to a handful of my cabin crew friends on Instagram:

  • The vast majority far preferred the A380. This is because of the more modern and computerized infrastructure for controlling things like cabin lighting and temperature.
  • In terms of galley layout and meal processing, the A380 has the edge as well. A380 galleys are much larger and better equipped than their 747 counterparts, and it’s far easier for them to work.
  • The 747 had a slight advantage when it comes to serving passengers. The 747 is a smaller aircraft than the A380, which means having to spend less time in the aisles serving passengers. Interesting to note is that two of the cabin crew members I asked said that they prefer the A380 since cabin sections on the 747 are much larger.

The winner

Even though I’ve given the advantage to the Airbus A380 in this competition, it’s actually the 747 that I prefer. Yeah, she was getting old and crusty in her later years, but I didn’t mind a bit.

The 747 was the original jumbo jet. It was the largest and grandest of them all as I was just starting to explore the world in my younger years. I have many fond memories of the 747 – even the ones where I arrived at my destination with a head full of dried snot after sitting next to a guy burping and scratching his nuts for 14 hours straight.

united airlines 747-400 economy cabin
*Insert sound of breathing through dried snot and a complete stranger scratching his balls*

As much as I admire the A380, I just feel like it hasn’t been around long enough for me to build any sentimental attachment to. Yes, it’s a big and beautiful aircraft that fills me with giddy child-like excitement every time that I step onto one. However, it just doesn’t quite invoke the same feelings that I get when stepping onto a 747.

And with the 747 pretty much gone from the commercial aviation world, those memories will have to remain just that: happy, soul-stiring, snot-filled memories.

I wonder if the A380 will be around long enough to build up some sentimental attachment to? They are disappearing fast, so there’s no telling what the future will hold…

Comments (4)

  1. Ryan

    November 11, 2020
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      November 11, 2020
  2. Dennis

    November 13, 2020
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      November 18, 2020

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