The first commercial flight by the world's largest passenger plane, the Airbus A380, will fulfill a rich man's promise to his 91-year-old father and grant a college student's birthday wish.
Outfitted with the most luxurious cabin ever seen on a jetliner, Singapore Airlines flight SQ380 will fly 3,900 miles from Singapore to Sydney on Thursday, carrying travelers ranging from businessmen to college students and aviation enthusiasts.
Most of the places on the 471-seat double-decker plane were auctioned for charity on eBay, raising more than $1.25 million.
"When we were young, we went through hardship and my father had to work extra hard to support us and send us to school," said Singaporean businessman William Leong, who had promised his father, Leong Lou Teck, 91, that he would be on the A380's first flight.
"He took care of us then, and now it's our turn to take care of him," Leong said in an interview before the seven-hour flight that will carry 12 first-class passengers in enclosed suites which the airline calls "A Class Beyond First."
Promising total privacy, each suite - created by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste - is fitted with a leather upholstered seat, a bed, a table and a 23-inch TV screen, plus laptop connections and a range of office software.
Leong is particularly impressed by the suite's sliding doors - "When I snore, it won't disturb my neighbors."
Leong paid $60,000 for eight seats, including three suites for his father, elder brother and himself, as well as four in business class and economy for other relatives.
Two suites can be joined to provide a double bed by lifting a dividing panel for more intimacy under mood lighting, although the carrier's chief executive indicated mile-high behavior should stay grounded.
"I would not encourage it for use for anything other than resting and sleeping," Chew Choon Seng told The Associated Press in Toulouse, France, last week when Airbus handed over the plane to Singapore Airlines. Eighteen more A380s will be delivered over the next four years.
The Singapore Airlines plane has 399 economy class seats on both decks, and on the upper deck 60 business class seats that can turn into flat beds to accommodate an adult and a child comfortably.
It's a far cry from the first flight that the elder Leong took in the 1960s - a seven-hour journey on a four-propeller plane from Singapore to Hong Kong - a flight that today takes less than four hours.
"That ride was bumpy," the elder Leong said, mimicking the spinning propellers with his hands. "Airplanes are so stable now, less noisy, much larger and more comfortable."
Airbus says the A380, powered by four Rolls Royce Trent engines, will be the quietest and most fuel-efficient passenger plane ever produced.
Leong, a Chinese immigrant, turned his watch-repair business into a multimillion-dollar import-export company now run by his son, William. The son promised to get his dad on the A380 three years ago, but Airbus delayed the delivery by nearly two years. Both Singapore Airlines and Leong say the wait was worth it.
The Leong family was not the highest bidder for seats. That title went to Julian Hayward, a 39-year-old Briton based in Sydney who paid $100,380 for two one-way trips in suites.
A normal round-trip ticket to Sydney on the A380 will cost about $7,000, roughly 25 percent more than the ordinary Singapore Airlines first-class fare.
Over in economy class, Francis Wu will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Oct. 25, the day the flight takes off.
A student at City College of San Francisco, he assembles model airplanes and used to spend hours watching planes land and take off in his native Hong Kong.
"I think I will have a memorable birthday because this is the first time so many people will celebrate it with me," said Wu, whose parents paid $1,250 for the fare. "I'm very touched."
Singapore Airlines says Airbus chose it as its first A380 customer because of the airline's world-class reputation.
Australian Tony Elwood, who owns a Perth-based construction equipment company, paid $50,000 for a pair of one-way suites for his wife Julie and himself.
The airline's reputation was the attraction, Elwood said.
"I would think if it were an American airline we wouldn't even go," he said in a telephone interview.
Besides, he added, "I'd like to meet other people silly enough to pay as much as we did."