As soon as an A380 lands and the passengers disembark, it’s time for an army of catering and cleaning staff to carry out a well-coordinated series of operations to get the plane ready for the next flight… it looks like a ballet, mixing rapidity and precision!
When you’re sitting in the airport looking at the departures board, you expect your flight to leave on schedule. Under standard operational procedures at the vast majority of airports accommodating the A380, the turnaround time between flights can be as little as 90 minutes. But you often aren’t aware of the work that has to be done by ground staff and flight attendants to get the plane ready for takeoff… especially considering that it may have only landed from its previous flight a couple of hours ago, if not less.
When the airplane in question is the A380, the world’s largest commercial airplane, the scale of every task is magnified. Replenishing all the food and drink supplies, and even the soap and toilet paper, is a significant task on a plane designed to carry upwards of 500 people on a non-stop intercontinental flight of 15 hours or more. And while the lower deck has to be spotless when the economy-class travelers board, on the upper deck, where business travelers enjoy a more spacious environment and First Class passengers are allocated individual suites, the level of comfort must be worthy of a luxury hotel!
An Armada of CleanersBecause disembarking from the A380 is so quick – one of the advantages of having four aisles is that everybody is out of the plane within fifteen minutes – passengers rarely see the armada of cleaners arrive on the plane. The number of people in the crew depends on the plane’s turnaround time – in certain cases both decks have to be fully cleaned and prepared in 40 minutes, which can require as many as 40 cleaners. But generally it only takes half to do the work in the available time… although it is still far more than the three or four people who clean a conventional plane!
Cleaning the upper level (Business and First Class) requires particular attention. There are sheets and duvets to be stripped and beds to be made up (in some cases double beds), mini-bars to be re-stocked, and flowers and small gifts to be arranged. Each airline decides how many First Class suites to include on the upper level of its fleet, but what is common to all the airlines is that the First Class passengers receive the ultimate level of service… which begins with all the preparations before the passengers come on board.
Food, Glorious Food!On the tarmac, the catering trucks are one of the most spectacular sights during the process of preparing an A380 for its next flight. There are generally four; while two are standard and service the lower deck, two incorporate telescopic platforms and serve the upper deck, loading meals and other supplies at a height of more than 8 meters (26 feet).
In-flight catering is very important for all the airlines that operate the A380. Meals are not just intended to ensure the passengers are properly fed; they form an integral part of the enjoyment of the A380 experience. On a long-haul flight, which usually crosses multiple time zones, several meals are served. But the logistical challenges to be solved on each deck are rather different. In Economy Class, the highest possible level of in-flight catering has to be provided for around 400 passengers. Those traveling Business or First Class, though, can expect gastronomic excellence in the meals they are served (usually on-demand in First Class), with a touch of gourmet personalization. The galley facilities required to serve these meals are top-of-the-line, and all the supplies carried on board at each stopover always have to be transported and stored under perfect conditions… even when it’s against the clock. That’s why they are able to load 25,000 utensils in 10 minutes!
One of the other impressive sights you see when an A380 is on the tarmac is the ballet of the luggage trolleys. There are usually about 100 trolleys per flight which, of course, means 100 to unload the luggage from the flight as soon as it lands and transport it to the carousels. With more trolleys, this process can be completed without adding more time.