My favorite French airport? Tarbes Lourdes Pyrenees, in the deep southwest. The setting is beautiful, with great views south of the serrated mountains that divide France from Spain. With a large number of pilgrims, this is the only airport I know of that sells holy water along with duty-free whiskey. Depending on your time and luggage situation, you can walk to the station from Lourdes through the quiet woods to the airport.
Above all, I love the plane you see at “LDE”.
A glance at the schedule suggests that plane watchers will see less than the usual suspects: Ryanair (with Boeing 737s) and Volotea (Airbus A319) make up most of the airport’s traffic. But on both sides of the runway there are many parked planes, what is the European version of California’s “airport”.
Last time I was there, the herd in the pasture next to the airport had a view of billions of dollars. Airbus A380s from Air France, Etihad and Lufthansa lined up, forced out of the skies by harsh post-Covid economic realities: the double-decker “SuperJumbo” is an aircraft built for the good times. . With passenger numbers still far below pre-pandemic levels, the huge four-engine car is simply too big and too inflexible.
Air France actually began to retire its fleet of A380s before the Covid crisis. Immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic, Air France announced it would no longer fly the world’s largest passenger plane.
However, demand for air travel has rebounded faster than anticipated. On Tuesday, schedule analyst OAG said worldwide weekly seat capacity was still 4% lower than the equivalent week in 2019, but now stands at 104.4 million seats – the highest level since the first week of February 2020. That’s approximately 10,000 people boarding somewhere in the world every minute.
British Airways has just announced its winter 2023-24 plan for its fleet of more than a dozen A380s, which includes Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco and Washington DC. These are the high-yield routes that BA believes will gain a competitive edge, as the only Anglo-American airline with SuperJumbo.
Rhys Jones, of frequent flyer website Head for Points, said: “Flying an A380 is a unique experience that anyone who has flown will know. Due to its huge size it generally handles turbulence much better than smaller single-stage aircraft and therefore feels much smoother, even during landing and take-off – when you barely know it. I have left the earth.
“The larger cabins, with higher, wider ceilings, also feel less cramped and it is generally considered to have the quietest cabin of any wide-body aircraft. There’s no headache-inducing buzz here.
Lufthansa has sold six of its 14 A380s during the pandemic. But the German airline plans to bring back the remaining jumbo jets in June to meet soaring demand; Lufthansa said the remaining eight are “currently parked in Spain and France for long periods known as deep depots” and will begin returning in June on services from Munich to Boston and New York.
For travelers who don’t mind the money, however, the big summer news is Etihad is bringing its big birds back to the London Heathrow-Abu Dhabi route for each of its three daily departures. The ultimate luxury commercial passenger experience, The Residence – “The only three-room complex in the sky” – is now open for booking.
“With a dedicated bedroom, bathroom and lounge, you can relax while wrapped in a secluded world of your own,” said the Gulf carrier.
While you enjoy the ultimate passion for aviation, you may be interested in reflecting that the plane spent the past three years next to a pasture full of cattle. And that the carbon footprint of passengers on a flight in The Residence is probably higher than an entire field of cattle in a year…