Qantas Adding Seats On A380 By Deactivating Exit Doors

Filed Under: Qantas

Qantas was one of the world’s first airlines to receive the Airbus A380 aircraft over 10 years ago. It has been a workhorse on their US routes ever since.

At the time their hard product was industry-leading, but in the years since, innovation in all classes by competing airlines (and even Qantas on their 787) has meant their A380 product has fallen behind.

I’ve flown this business class product before and while there was plenty of legroom and space for your feet while sleeping, there’s no privacy and very little storage.

Last year they finally announced a long-overdue 2019 upgrade program to (at least) refresh all cabins, the most notable being replacing their outdated 2-2-2 Skybed MK2 business class product with their much improved Business Suite product, as found on their Airbus A330s and Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

This refurbishment cannot come soon enough.

Qantas outdated A380 business class

‘Cabin Flex’

Like many airlines, Qantas are always looking for ways to maximise revenue by adding as many seats as they can. This isn’t actually the first time they’ve squeezed some more seats onto their A380s. But now are trying something truly different.

As announced by Airbus today, Qantas are the launch customer for an unusual A380 fit-out/refit option known as ‘cabin-flex.’ As Airbus describe it:

A380 Cabin-Flex makes available the extra space for additional seats by allowing the upper-deck at “Doors-3” to be deactivated. Compared with current A380 layouts, A380 Cabin-Flex can bring up to 11 more premium economy seats or seven business class seats.

In Qantas’ case, ‘Doors-3’ are towards the back of the upper deck, behind premium economy. For this reason Qantas have chosen the option of adding more premium economy seats, rather than more business class seats (and shift the layout around).

How this will work

I’m still trying to picture in my mind exactly how this will look, but from what I can gather they will be installing seats in front of/blocking a set of existing doors that won’t be used.

If Qantas were taking new deliveries of A380s like Emirates continue to, they could presumably have the aircraft built without these doors to begin with, so it would not be so noticeable for passengers that their seats seem to be blocking an exit. Qantas have no plans to receive any more new A380s beyond the 12 they already operate, so time will tell whether they just install the seats in front of the doors or what. Surely they should cover up those doors, at least from the inside so there’s no confusion for passengers in an emergency?

Qantas Business Suite to be installed on the refurbished A380

The glaring omission from Airbus’ press release

Airbus have today proudly promoted how the densification initiative can add more seats, and thus increase revenue for their valued A380 customers. But not once does it mention that this will have no impact on the safety and evacuation times of the aircraft.

The Australian public are very proud of Qantas’ excellent safety record and absolutely crucify them if there is any hint that safety is ever compromised. For this reason I’m surprised Airbus were not much clearer that this change will presumably have absolutely no impact on the safety of the aircraft, and the ability for passengers to be able to exit through fewer doors in an emergency just as quickly as before.

Although the boarding doors differ depending on the aerobridge capabilities of the airport being used, presumably the A380 has more doors than it actually needs?

Qantas A380 upper deck refurbishment (pre cabin-flex)

Bottom line

Both Qantas and Airbus would not be allowing this refit if there was any compromise to safety, and it appears to simply be a more efficient use of unused and unneeded space on the aircraft. But gosh I don’t think they’ll put everyone’s minds at ease with the profit-focused way they have announced it.

And why has it taken Airbus and every A380 operator more than 10 years to realise they don’t need those doors anyway?

What do you make of this ‘cabin flex’ idea?

  1. “To fit more seats, we will now follow this 1700s slave ship diagram for economy class passengers”

  2. Oh dear Young Blood

    You are aware British Airways flew the B747-236 around with deactivated doors 3 for years safely to increase seat capacity, don’t you?

  3. Wow this is interesting. Firstly the Qantas skybed seats they are thankfully getting rid of were among the worst hard products out there in business class – good riddance!

    The blocking of an exit door seems to be licensed from a specific layout/density perspective, which may be why it hasn’t been done before. BA received permission from the CAA to seal the overwing exit doors on their 747-200 series back in the 80s, from my understanding based on a specific demonstration that their cabin layout was less dense, and able to accommodate full evacuation from 8 doors in the required time.

    Here’s a photo:

  4. Wow this is interesting. Firstly the Qantas skybed seats they are thankfully getting rid of were among the worst hard products out there in business class – good riddance!

    The blocking of an exit door seems to be licensed from a specific layout/density perspective, which may be why it hasn’t been done before. BA received permission from the CAA to seal the overwing exit doors on their 747-200 series back in the 80s, from my understanding based on a specific demonstration that their cabin layout was less dense, and able to accommodate full evacuation from 8 doors in the required time.

    Tried to post a link to a photo but it gets sidelined for moderation…

  5. Great post James and welcome to [email protected] Time
    I have flown exclusively Qantas First since they launched the A380 but wouldn’t fly their business class.I’ve seen Qantas slip a bit in premium cabin service across the board more recently
    At this point while I still like the airline its not what it once was sadly
    My last two flights with dining was poor overall with too much evident cost cutting
    And that’s coming from someone that is a huge fan typically of what Neil Perry has done for the airline over the past years
    Just asking for a soft drink was to much for the crew to handle correctly 🙁
    I hope they make a comeback in time from seat quality and a true premium product in all regards.Still better than anything United Delta and American offer though!
    My next trip I will try out Singapore Airlines and Emirates.Love the Perrier sitting right next to me.Love that let me book the complimentary limo pick up and drop off online.
    Have to see how the rest goes!

  6. Deactivation of exits is actually very common – look at most (all?) 737-900’s flying in the US. From the outside you can see the outline of a small door behind the wing on each side. Inside the cabin this is covered over with normal sidewalls/overhead bins, so there is no indication of the deactivated door and no break in the cabin. Seat density in each particular area of the aircraft dictates the number and type of exits required. An all-economy class operator of the 737-900 likely requires this exit to be active. There are some other esoteric rules (which vary by country) like max distance between doors, etc.

  7. Both Qantas and Airbus would not be allowing this refit if there was any compromise to safety
    Not true. Can compromise safety if there is a fire. Fewer doors = more chance of death.

    KLM did this with the 747-200 but the FAA changed the rules to ban future tricks by requiring no more than 50 feet between exits.

    Air Canada’s DC-9 from DFW that landed in CVG was a case where half of the passengers died because they couldn’t get out in time.

    The old DC-8-61 had so many doors. Was it 12? That was when they valued life over “enhancements”.

    As far as the door being sealed, likely they will replace the door with a lighter plug and put a newly created interior sidewall so that it looks from the inside like no trickery was done. On the outside, if you look closely, you’d see an outline of a door but it will blend it so that you might not see it.

  8. Why not just do NEW safety/evacuation tests featuring updated, 21st century (as in 2018) criteria and REAL WORLD simulations with real people representing the wide range of ages and reduced mobility passengers, plus typical cabin conditions with devices, their charging cables/cords stretching across rows, and the many carry on bags stuffed under seats and crammed into overhead bins that will be strewn about in most sudden emergencies to determine if the deactivated AND additional passengers results in a meaningful difference in evacuation times?

    If it does NOT, then great – why NOT do it?

    But if it does result in a meaningful difference in time, where seconds count, well, then we have the answer to the wisdom of this densification “plan”.

    In fact, why are we even speculating instead of simply getting the needed parameters defined, conducting live evacuations (NOT computer simulations/animations) using a modified test aircraft with the new configuration and deactivated doors, and finding out the answer to this vital, perhaps even life and death question?

    Doesn’t basic common sense require we find this out anyway?

    Or are we content to just roll the dice, hope for the best, and risk a catastrophe to answer this question?

  9. @ derek – that’s what I mean. It would have been a huge safety decision to reduce the exits hence my astonishment at why Airbus and Qantas haven’t tried to reassure the general public!

  10. The old DC-8-61 had so many doors. Was it 12? That was when they valued life over “enhancements”.

    AMEN @derek. AMEN!

  11. It is incorrect grammar to say “Qantas are”. Qantas is a single entity, so the correct way of describing them would be “Qantas is”

  12. Great to see an Aussie onboard James. Looking forward to your take on Credit Card and Mileage offers from a local perspective.

    You are absolutely correct that we would crucify Qantas if they did anything to compromise their safety record, we see it as “our” safety record.

    Given that the entire upper deck is premium classes with far fewer passengers than the lower deck I am not surprised they have been given permission to close off those doors. Problem only arises if they are the only accessible exits in the case of an emergency. I’m wondering if someone is working on a system of seats that foldaway to clear the exit should it need to be used in an emergency. I reckon there are engineers out there working on that!

  13. @Howard Miller:

    >If it does NOT, then great – why NOT do it?

    Because when Airbus certified the A380 the first time at max pax, 33 people were injured.

    I believe a participant on another aircraft’s evac test actually died.

    Think of it like a medical test, say a CT scan with contrast, to which some people are (perhaps unknowingly) allergic. You don’t do it unless you really need it.

    Given that the QF upper deck is a lot less dense than the max pax configuration, while it’s true that it’s not *as* safe, it’s clearly still able to be evacuated in the required time period, so don’t do the dangerous test.

  14. Hmm 33 people injured in what was just a practice evacuation, hate to think what might happen in a real situation. And this does not constitute an excuse to dodge running the practice evacuation on the new airframe with its locked-shut emergency exits.

    And OT, if you’re thinking of flying long-haul on Scoot, this airline has recently been taken over by Tiger Airways with its history of being banned for safety violations. You’ll find the 787 cabin configuration very peculiar, there’s no cross-passage between the two aisles so if you’d been looking to reach the emergency exit on the other side of the plane you’d have to crawl across the middle seats. Actually even when boarding the plane, if your seats are over the other side you have to clamber across the middle row.

  15. Airbus announced this ‘cabin Flex’ a long while ago. There’s even the option of making some adjustments to the stairs to add more seats.

    If I’m not wrong i remember Airbus getting approval from the FAA and EASA.

    So yes, i believe that this is an idea that was thought through and certified by the necessary authorities which is why it’s being implemented by Qantas. I don’t think that safety is being compromised at all. Carry on.

  16. @Dave– that’s something we’re going to have to get used to. Although it sounds weird to us, that’s how most of the rest of the world describes single entities composed of individual pieces. Watching soccer always makes my brain itch for that reason.

    James is a really great writer, so let’s just get over that one idiosyncrasy for us.

  17. Qantas has ‘dined out’ on the safety record for decades and has managed the PR of it very well, even getting references to it in Hollywood films. The reality is a bit different: while it’s true that it is fatality free in the jet era, there were a number of fatal crashes prior to that.
    Landing a 747 on a golf course at BKK was perhaps the nearest miss in recent years and the positive outcome was pure luck ( the A380 incident over Singapore , on the other hand, did reflect the very best of pilot skill and training).

  18. Like both your articles so far James I had a strong feeling OMAAT would add a token Aussie thats lives offshore (hence why i applied but didnt make the cut)
    But congratulations I like your work so far 🙂
    This article reminds me of a little while back when the Emirates aircraft full of Indians caught fire in Dubai (The incident where a firefighter was killed I think?)
    Apparently not all pax listened to the part of “In case of an emergency leave your belongings behind”
    Causing dangerous delays to the evacuation of the aircraft.
    Which reminds me when I fly to Asia from Australia every few weeks its not uncommon for me to frequently notice these people standing up and sitting down, going through their bags 3-4x before the flight even takes off…. nothing is more annoying than being in an economy aisle seat when people do this I have seen SQ and TG staff numerous times sternly tell these pax to sit down as some like to do it during taxi/takeoff…
    Personally I think they should lock overhead bins in the case of an emergency to ever stop evacuation delays from happening. Lives are more important than possessions and surely passengers get compensated well if their belongings were to perish.
    Really surprised Qantas will deactivate a safety component of an aircraft to increase capacity, but even more surprised about how they announced it. On one hand Majority of Aussies need to be convinced overwhelmingly in situations like this to assure that safety will not be compromised and on the other hand you have the people that say we(Aussies) are “over the top” when it comes to safety anyway..

  19. *When I mean lock the overhead bins. I Mean only when there is an emergency. Have somesort of mechanism that the pilot or cabin crew to activate locking them if an event was to happen.

  20. just wait at the liability lawsuit if there is just one person injured from a fluke/minor Qantas A380 evacuation…

  21. Airbus and Qantas were smart not to say anything about safety. Logic dictates that decreasing the number of available exits decreases (if only slightly) the ability to evacuate the cabin. Saying there is absolutely no/zero impact to safety would be a false claim and likely open them up to lawsuits, especially in the event of a future incident.

  22. I’m sorry for trolling but the poor grammar in this article made it difficult to read. Despite ending in ‘s’ both Qantas and Airbus are singular companies and not plural names.

  23. The number of doors on the A380 as in all commercial aircraft were established based on passenger numbers. Many A380 operators have economy seating in the upper deck as well as premium seating. While Qantas is adding premium seats their overall seating on the upper deck is still much less than airlines that have economy seating in the upper deck. Therefore the ratio of doors to passengers is still within the range established by the FAA and other nations aviation authorities. In fact the A380 was designed for almost 800 passengers if it were used as a high density all economy class.

  24. @Marco in Australia we use are taught in English to spell it like “realise” “utilise” for what reason i dont know.
    There is so many grammar experts on here one might be able to explain why.

  25. @Paolo – Mr Negative!! The jet era did not begin yesterday. And the Bangkok incident you refer to… is 18 years ago.

  26. @keitherson – following the ‘refurb’ Qantas A380 seat count will increase by a grand total of 1 to 485 passengers.

    Emirates A380’s hold between 489 & 615 passengers

  27. @ GrammarFreak

    No. It depends what version of English you’re using. On the specific point you raise here’s a simple explanation from Wikipedia:

    “In British English, it is generally accepted that collective nouns can take either singular or plural verb forms depending on the context and the metonymic shift that it implies. For example, “the team is in the dressing room” (formal agreement) refers to the team as an ensemble, whilst “the team are fighting among themselves” (notional agreement) refers to the team as individuals.”

    I know American English is more dogmatic on this point, while I’m guessing Australian English is closer to British English.

    Similarly, to other commenters who have complained about -ise versus -ize endings; different conventions.

  28. Remember that the original A380 door configuration was designed for up to 853 passenger – way more than any current operator actually transports on board. That being said, this may well enlarge the distance to the nearest exit in case of emergency.
    Then again, we live in an imperfect world. I don’t see escaping from a fairly spacious premium economy cabin being any worse than clambering out of the sardine can that is a 10-abreast 777.

  29. I’m cabin crew who works on the A380 and as part of my A380 training course watched the video of the A380 evacuation trials by airbus. The cabin crew were from LH and the requirement set was to evacuate a full A380 in (if I recall) 90 seconds with half the doors inoperative. It’s probably online somewhere and is an impressive feat to watch.

    As others have said, a ‘full’ load on an A380 can be c800 passengers yet most A380 operators are operating their aircraft in far less dense configurations especially on the upper deck with some airlines being premium only.

    In the case of the A380 space flex config I don’t think it would have an implication on safety where airlines only have premium seating.

    @keitherson – oh what all airlines would give to be given an unlimited credit card by their national government to spend spend spend. Unfortunately most have to worry about the bottom line and maximising the available space on board the aircraft.

  30. Let’s not forget that for the original certification of the aircraft, 873 people were able to evacuate the aircraft in less than 80 seconds.

    Looking at the configuration of the aircraft, even with only 4 doors on the upper deck, they only need to accommodate 31 passengers each in an emergency evacuation; vs 44 passengers in each of the 8 doors on the main deck.

    This was a good article but I think you went a bit overboard in trying to over-sensationalize the “safety aspect” of this configuration change.

  31. Did anyone else read about Airbus putting sleeping berths in the cargo hold of the A330 and / or A350? Qantas and AF could potentially be launch customers in 2019. I’m very curious to see how this will play out…

  32. A few years ago now (ok maybe back in 2012!) Qantas cabin crew were telling me that Premium Economy was going to be phased out of the Upper Deck in favour of more Economy seats. How times change!

    Very pleased to see those old skybeds are going… but in terms of blocking exits, beyond the necessary safety questions, what does this mean aesthetically? Will they put in proper windows? Creating new rows only for them to be windowless sounds positively ghastly!

  33. The A380 is certified for up to 853 passengers using an all-economy layout. On a premium class upper deck like QFs, there’s plenty of room until the 90 second evacuation limit would be reached.

    They do not say anything about safety because all certification requirements are still met. If that’s the case, an aircraft is inherently considered safe. That’s the exact same reason why no aircraft manufacturer advertises any of their products by safety. All civil aircraft flying meet the certification requirements, hence they are safe.
    As was mentioned by others, plugged doors are not uncommon and will be standard practice on the upcoming A321ACF (Airbus Cabin Flex). Sealing a door is relatively easy but building the same aircraft without one door as you suggested in your article would be incredibly expensive for design and manufacturing.

  34. @ Emily – no word from Qantas or Airbus about what it will actually look like. Given my comments about the lack of safety assurances I’m guessing Qantas will keeping VERY quiet about this. My guess is that they will cover over the interior of the door without cutting out new windows – that seems quite costly to do just for a window or two.

  35. In the past; BA and CX did the same thing on their 747s. They deactivated the over wing exits and put more eco seats in.

  36. @TheNicePaul / @GrammarFreak,

    yes, Aussie English is closer to British English in spelling, grammar and idiosyncrasies, although there is a fair amount of American English used as well. Those of us Aussies who have worked globally tend at adapt to local language use fairly quickly, so Aussies in the US will tend to more American usage, and those in Europe will tend towards British usage.

    After 3 months back home, a Polish friend commented that my enunciation and speed had reverted back to “full native”, and that she could no longer understand me, but a couple of weeks back in London had me “back to normal”.

    It is natural for Aussies to refer to Qantas as a collective noun, for example “Qantas are a pack of ba%£*ds”.


    congrats on landing the gig. Looking forward to articles about utilising QF LTG status privileges whilst trying to build BA Exec status.

  37. @ Hutch
    Well, of course I believe that Qantas safety is important and that their record is good. It is central to their marketing\image. Why else would they have paid $145m to repair the 747 in the Bangkok accident ( worth far less than the repair cost)? From their perspective it was an investment to be able to continue to claim “ no hull loss”, given that the plane was assessed as a write-off.
    I don’t believe that blocking off the couple of doors on the 380 is a safety issue.

  38. I’m delighted to see so many of you remember both BA & CX blocking doors 3 on their 747-200s, and for providing the photos. This was my initial thought when I started reading this story, so no biggie really.

    Can anyone name any other airlines which have done the same to their 747-200s, or other equipment?

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