Almost every day at Los Angeles International Airport, Korean Airlines turns around the world’s largest passenger jet – the Airbus A380 – in precisely two hours.
In that time, Korean must clear 407 passengers, work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, clean the aircraft, provision it with everything it needs for its return flight to Seoul and board another 407 travelers. The airline, of course, could take longer – China Southern’s A380 from Guangzhou sits at LAX for four hours – but planes can only make money when they’re airborne.
During this frenzied period, I recently toured Korean’s A380 at LAX. Airline officials didn’t want to go into detail about how they move so quickly – they call that proprietary information – but they allowed me to observe the process. Here’s what I saw:
Korean Air flight attendants arrive at LAX 90 minutes before each flight. Above, flight attendants wearing gloves make sure first class seats are ready. Before passengers board, a flight attendant tests every seat in first and business class – there are 12 in first class and 94 in business – to ensure they work properly. During the checks, they put every seat into bed mode, and then back into seat mode. Airline executives know there is nothing passengers hate more than a broken seat.
Flight attendants work hard before passengers board, but it’s the professional LAX-based aircraft cleaners that do the heavy scrubbing. Korean uses a staff of about 30 to clean the double-decker plane, or about twice as many as it employs on the smaller Boeing 777. The result, airline officials hope, is a coach cabin as tidy as the one above.
Before passengers board, flight attendants work the galley to put everything in its proper place. Korean staffs its A380 with 24 flight attendants, meaning the attendant-to-passenger ratio (about 1 to 17) is far better than on most U.S. airlines. The FAA requires U.S. carriers to staff 1 flight attendant for every 50 passengers. Most domestic carriers exceed that minimum, but not by nearly as much as Korean Airlines.
Above, flight attendants sort meals and prepare amenity kits for premium class passengers. The television is part of a special lounge for business class travelers.
Flight attendants also prepare newspapers (lower left) and the duty free cabinets. I was told actual merchandise cannot be displaced under the aircraft is airborne, but the space is readied before the flight. Duty free is a huge money maker for Korean, airline officials tell me.
During flight, the crew takes rest breaks below the passenger cabin. Above is an escape hatch for that rest compartment. In the event of an emergency, flight attendants would come up through this nifty “door” in the coach class cabin.
As the cabin crew readies the A380, agents prepare passengers to board. Korean boards by groups, and passengers queue up behind airline employees holding large signs. An airline official told me Korean staffs each A380 gate with 12 employees. That’s a lot!
An airline official told me Korean can board its A380 in a speedy 20 minutes. Above, a picture after the frenzied push to board. But the process may not have been finished. I’m told the airline often has to grab passengers from the shops in the Tom Bradley International Terminal and beg them to get on the plane. “Koreans love duty free,” one airline employee told me.
Above, a final shot of the A380 before its flight to Seoul. Gate 123 is equipped with three boarding bridges for efficient boarding.