The Flying Sardine

The Airbus A380 is a magnificent machine. It is huge and as it lumbered down the runway I admit to wondering if it would take off and fly. With effortless ease the front wheels lifted and then the back wheels and before I knew it it was airborne.

The landing was equally effortless the wheels gently touching the tarmac and slowing down noiselessly. It is a feat of engineering and design.

What is not lekker about this aircraft is what people have done to it. By people I mean the airlines. I am talking about configuring the aircraft to cram as many people as possible into the downstairs area, commonly known as economy class.

The seats were not comfortable with not much leg room for my 5ft frame – I can only imagine how someone taller than me felt. When the seat in front of me was reclined the screen came closer to my face resulting in eye strain. I eventually gave up on the superb entertainment choices the airline offered.


When you cram this many people into a thin sheath things like toilets become important. Aircraft toilets are notorious just for being notorious. On this aircraft sections are smaller with 2 toilets serving each. So there are more toilets and they are pretty much the same as in all other aircraft. The not so pretty part is that they are over-subscribed.

I have never seen a plane loo used so much by so many people. This caused logistical issues – toilet paper and hand soap running out and keeping it clean and dry. No matter how much people flush the loo, if a piece of toilet paper gets stuck to the side wall out of reach of the water sprays no amount of flushing is going to get it unstuck. It just isn’t. I had never before seen a piece of toilet paper stuck on a plane loo until last night. I was not going to be the one to remove it (it was there before I went in). I flushed the toilet and it remained, stuck to the side.


I imagine that the A380 is great for airlines because they can cram more people and make more money. For the economy class passenger, in this aircraft configuration, it is no better than traveling on a much smaller plane.

I’ve travelled economy on many airlines and some get it just right – that sweet spot between comfortable seats with just enough leg room. Not so the airline I used this weekend. I trust this airline, its fleet is modern, the ground and flight crew and service is superb, they were on time every time, but it was a hell of a cramped ride. I felt like the proverbial sardine!

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