Super Size My Seat!
By Luke Clark
Wednesday, 2nd November 2005
What implications might the battles between Airbus and Boeing have for our travel destinations?

Luke Clark goes from point to point, in search of the hub of the argument. Watching the first flight of the Airbus A380 recently, you could be forgiven for thinking that this young plane needs a diet.

The world's first true double-decker in the sky is not actually longer, but he is fatter, heavier and has much longer wings than his older relatives. It makes you wonder what they're feeding young planes these days.

The important thing though for those in tourism is that the A380 will be able to carry at least thirty percent more people per flight than previous "super-sized" planes like Boeing's 747-400.

What does this mean exactly? Well, say the spin doctors, one great repercussion will be a more environmentally-friendly plane!

Huh? How does loading a third more passengers on board a plane make it any greener? The answer: if you take more people for the same (or less) gas, then you effectively cut fuel emissions per person.

Fair enough. But won't the other emissions such as the fuel use, noise, garbage and human waste of those extra people onboard will rise per-plane with bigger planes? The strains on our biggest cities to cope with up to a third more arrivals per day (depending on demand) would surely show themselves over time.

I digress. The heart of the argument currently under way from Boeing and Airbus over the future of our longhaul flying is a more interesting one. The extremes of this battle are the "Point-to-Pointers" in one corner, versus the "Hub-and-Spokers" in another.

The "Point-to-Pointers", led by the likes of Boeing, argue that most longhaul travellers in future will want to fly directly from one place to another, rather than going via a large hub city first. Therefore, they argue, there is really no need for Super-sized planes like the A380 - better to just fly more smaller planes to more different ports.

In the other corner is Airbus, who actually have a euro each way. They argue that, with the A380 on one hand, and the A340 and its next-generation A350 on the other, Airbus is offering a solution for both eventualities – and a bet on each of these happening at once.

But the level of investment and belief in the A380 indicates that the company believes firmly in the future of "mega hub-and-spoke".

Hub-and-spokers argue the world's mega-cities will continue to be mega. They argue that if London, New York, Los Angeles, and Paris have restrictions as to how many planes they can take per day, then to grow, we had better fill each plane with more passengers.

Travel industry: Take note. The winner of the argument is important for you.

Those with the most to gain from a point-to-point future are secondary and tertiary cities, or major tourist destinations. Ports like Melbourne, Chicago, Guangzhou, Bali, Manchester, Chiang Mai, Bangalore, Munich and Penang traditionally benefit more from direct flights to-and-from longhaul destinations than from hub-and-spoke flights via their larger neighbours. The reason is, lower cost and greater convenience.

Should countries allow one city to dominate so much over others? For Visit Britain, which has so long fought for greater equality for ports outside London, potentially sending up to a third more people per day into Heathrow might represent a backward step.

But for those that love big cities, love the buzz of downtown Manhattan or the new shows of the West End, the idea of keeping the bloodlines flowing into our cities is a happy thought. And if it means putting in another half dozen W Hotels into New York, or four more Sheratons into Shanghai, then so be it.

Watch this space. The answer likely lies somewhere between the lines. But what nobody has yet told me is why a bigger plane in the sky should not mean a bigger seat under my behind. That answer, like thousands of planes, is still up in the air tonight. 

Luke Clark

From the mountains to the sea, Luke Clark has been talking and travelling all his life, so it was a natural career choice. A born performer when not at the monitor, Luke has branched out recently – which when you're as tall as him, is always a little dangerous.

Seizing on the urge to branch out after seven years, Luke went solo in 2004, launching WriteNow Asia, with the tag "Words That Work". WriteNow is based on the conviction that quality writing is borderless – and should be infused with energy, intelligence and fun. Since setting out, Luke has travelled through the Mekong, Thailand, Germany and Maldives, and been involved in writing, consultancy, editing, research, copywriting and web development for: Lufthansa German Airlines, Silver Kris Magazine, SC Magazine, East West Siam, Singapore Tourism Board, NATAS Singapore, Timberland, Garuda Magazine, HSBC Insurance, Samsung.

Luke was a contributor to the book Confessions of a Travel Agent; a speaker at the Asia Pacific Ecotourism Conference 2004; and a panellist for the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation's Low Cost Airline Symposium 2005. He has taken part in a debate at WIRED 2005.

Printed from www.shy-connection.com

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