It’s been a long, long final scene for the Queen of the Skies. Over the past few years, airlines have celebrated their “final” Boeing 747 flights with a continuous goodbye tour, much like an aging rocker does before he finally hangs up his guitar. But now, a more final ending is just two years away, when Boeing is set to stop production of the latest version of the jumbo, the 747-8. Recently, the aircraft had a brief reprise of its former glory when it was pulled out of mothballs and became a savior by delivering medical supplies in a flurry of emergency flights over the globe.
Bloomberg issued a report that while not mentioning any formal announcement from Boeing, made it clear that the legendary family of aircraft will no longer be a “line-item” on their financial statements.
The last order for a passenger version of the Boeing 747 was three years ago, in 2017, from the U.S. military for two jets to serve as Air Force One. Since then, Boeing has only sold the jet as a freighter, and built only six of them per year.
On a more sentimental note, it’s a sad day indeed for aviation enthusiasts, to see the end of an era that began in 1970, when the big four-engine bubble-tops made their debut. These days, airlines are more interested in buying smaller, lighter more efficient two-engine jets like the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350.
At San Francisco International Airport, the most recent 747 send-off was by Qantas, which in December sent its 747-400 back to Sydney. It was not just the final 747 flight from SFO, but the final Qantas 747 flight from the United States. Qantas switched to the sleeker, smaller Boeing 787 Dreamliner for its SFO-Sydney flights, which are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. Qantas recently announced that it would retire all remaining 747s in its fleet this month.
Before that, United put on a big event for its final Boeing 747 flight in November 2017 – a special voyage from San Francisco to Honolulu. The airline threw a big party at the airport and on the plane, and when it landed in Honolulu, airport officials draped it with a giant floral lei.
United spent about a year saying goodbye to the 747 throughout 2017, with several “final” flights to its various hubs, and an appearance at San Francisco’s Fleet Week celebrations in the fall.
One of my favorite 747 stories was my first flight on a 747; it was a regularly scheduled over-nighter from JFK to Heathrow in the fall of 1973. We frequent flyers called these late-night to sunrise flights, red-eye specials. When I got to the gate, I imagined that I was looking at an apartment building with wings. That was also the trip that made me aware at how incredibly loud the 707 used to be because several times I awoke during the night. I believed the engines had cut out. But the single most memorable event was opening the shade during our final descent, and having the sensation that I was landing in a hot air balloon. Not only no noise, but not a vibration or tossing about as I was used to on previous aircraft.
After that trip, I enjoyed a continuous honeymoon on that aircraft; for the next 20 or so years, flying all over the globe on my favorite aeroplane as the Brits like to call it. I consider myself lucky to have flown her for as long, and today, I feel a bit of sympathy for those unfortunate travelers who now have to be wedged into their seats.