Airbus’s next-generation A350 is coming to an airport near you.
Some say the golden age of travel is behind us. But now is actually the most exciting time in decades to fly thanks to the next-generation jets debuting now — and the creature comforts they provide passengers.
Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner has gotten the lion’s share of attention because of the revolutionary new technologies the plane features, as well as the fact that American Airlines and United have these planes in their fleets. However, there's also the Airbus A350, which passengers in North America are going to see a lot more of in the coming days and years.
Hong Kong Airlines began flying an A350 from its hub in Hong Kong to Los Angeles on December 18, with service to San Francisco beginning in March, and the airline is just the latest to put Airbus’s newest long-haul plane on its U.S. routes.
Delta began flying the A350 from Detroit to Asia back in October, with more planned services to Europe and beyond scheduled to begin this year. Cathay Pacific is using the A350 on its routes from Hong Kong to San Francisco and Newark, and Qatar Airways flies the A350 to several U.S. airports.
Airbus A350 Cabin Comfort
What makes the A350 so special? Like the Dreamliner, the A350 incorporates a range of technological touchstones that improve both aircraft operation and the passenger experience aboard the long-haul routes for which the plane was designed.
The A350 is constructed from plastic composites that are 25-percent lighter than the metal used in conventional planes, so it is much more fuel-efficient than older planes. Composites are also stronger and more durable than metal, which enables a host of other benefits that impact passenger comfort.
The cabin can be pressurized to the equivalent of 6,000 feet in altitude, compared with the 8,000-foot mark on most jets, which can alleviate symptoms including fatigue and light-headedness. Composites do not corrode from moisture the same way metals do, so cabin humidity can be kept at around 20 percent — versus the 8-10 percent normally experienced on planes, leaving passengers feeling less exhausted after flights. The A350-900 has seven cabin temperature zones (there are eight on the forthcoming A350-1000) for more precise climate control aboard.
To help combat jetlag, the A350 has LED ambient lighting with up to 16.7 million settings and sequencing that can be customized over the course of a flight, plus larger windows to let in more natural light.
The A350 carries hospital-grade HEPA H13 air filters, which circulates air in the entire passenger cabin within two to three minutes, so all those other passengers’ germs are less likely to reach you.
Even the plane’s physical dimensions play a role. The A350 is 220 inches wide, a full five inches wider than the 787. That incremental difference means economy seats in a typical nine-abreast 3–3–3 configuration can remain a relatively roomy 18 inches wide. The plane’s overhead bins are also among the largest flying today, with space for two roller bags per person in business class.
Airbus uses a high-bandwidth fiber-optic cable for in-flight entertainment systems that does not require those bulky individual boxes under seats, so passengers have more legroom. The manufacturer can also install Wi-Fi systems on the jet at its own factory, making it easier for airlines to offer in-flight internet.
The A350 is quieter than comparable long-haul jets thanks to Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, which are the most fuel-efficient engines in service today. The average cabin noise level is just 57 decibels, which Airbus claims is 75-percent less than conventional aircraft, and up to 6 decibels lower than on the 787.
Finally, for the #avgeeks out there, the A350 has one thing the Boeing 787 does not: A tail camera, so you can watch your flight’s progress from takeoff to landing.
A350 Planes, New Seats
While none of the Airbus A350s currently in service offer first-class cabins, the airlines that use the jet have installed the latest versions of business, premium economy and economy seats on their new aircraft.
The plane was the first to feature Delta’s new all-suites business class and international premium economy seats. “Delta’s A350 is the culmination of many years of product and service investments all coming together to enhance the customer experience inflight,” said Delta’s Manager of On-Board Product, Robbie Schaefer.
Schaefer detailed design evolutions in the Delta One suite that include closing doors for privacy, personalized ambient lighting controls, new stowage areas and new 18-inch in-flight entertainment monitors. He also noted the A350 is the first international aircraft to offer high-speed 2Ku Wi-Fi, and that Delta was able to install a 6TB server aboard, which is six times larger than its previous largest server, to provide more entertainment content for passengers in all cabins.
“A new aircraft like the A350 represents the opportunity for evolution,” said Cathay Pacific’s Senior Vice President of the Americas, Philippe Lacamp. “We completely redesigned all our cabins’ seats.” In addition to improved business-class seats with extra stowage space and service features like “Do Not Disturb” and “Wake-up Call” functions, Cathay Pacific’s A350 has new economy seats with six-way headrests, “Whose proprietary design providing better support and sleeping comfort,” said Lacamp.
A350 Airlines and Routes
Thanks to its size and fuel efficiency – it is smaller than other long-haul jets like the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A380 – airlines can employ the A350 on routes that are seasonal or between cities that might not otherwise be economically viable.
Sixteen commercial airlines currently operate A350s, including Air Mauritius, Finnair, THAI and Vietnam Airlines. Here are the ones flying them to North America now or in the near future.
Asiana A350: The South Korea-based airline already flies an A350 on its route from Seoul Incheon to San Francisco and will put another A350 into service from Seoul to Los Angeles starting in August 2018.
Cathay Pacific A350: The airline flies A350-900s from its hub in Hong Kong to Newark, San Francisco and Vancouver, and will put the first of its A350-1000s into use on a new route from Hong Kong to Washington Dulles launching September 16, 2018.
China Airlines A350: Taiwanese carrier China Airlines flies A350s from its base in Taipei to Honolulu and Vancouver.
Delta A350: The airline’s main A350 airport is its hub in Detroit, from which it flies to Tokyo Narita, Seoul Incheon, Beijing starting January 17, Amsterdam Schipol starting March 31 and Shanghai Pudong starting April 19. It will also fly from Atlanta to Seoul starting March 24 and from Los Angeles to Shanghai beginning July 2.
Hong Kong Airlines A350: In direct competition with Cathay Pacific, upstart Hong Kong Airlines has begun flying the A350 to Los Angeles and will begin flights with the jet to San Francisco in March.
LATAM A350: South American carrier LATAM flies the A350 from São Paulo to New York JFK, and to Orlando from January 1 – February 19 and then March 25 onward.
Lufthansa A350: The German giant’s sole U.S. route using an A350 is from Munich to Boston.
Philippine Airlines A350: Starting sometime in 2018, the carrier will begin flying from Manila to New York JFK and Toronto Pearson using A350s.
Qatar Airways A350: The launch customer of both the A350-900 and A350-1000, this Middle Eastern carrier flies the jet from Doha to Boston, Miami (beginning again in February 16, 2018), New York JFK and Philadelphia.
Singapore Airlines A350: This Southeast Asian carrier flies from Singapore to San Francisco using an A350, and has plans to use an ultra-long-range version of the jet to begin flights to Los Angeles and New York JFK as well.
But one final, important note on booking: These airlines operate multiple daily flights on several of these routes using different aircraft types. For instance, one of Cathay Pacific’s flights to San Francisco is aboard an A350 while the other is on a Boeing 777.