Passenger jet being moved using an aircraft tractor at Heathrow London Airport

Has the Queen actually flown on the Queen of the skies?

In late 2018, the Boeing 747 celebrated its golden, 50th anniversary. In reality, the plane didn’t enter commercial service until January, 1970, so it’s been around for 50 years as of this year.

Considering the internet is only 28 years old, it’s incredible to think that something could make such a lasting impact on the world during such a transformative time.

Long before Facebook, mobile phones or Netflix, Boeing pushed the boundaries of flight with the 747, and years later it’s still the Queen of the skies. Here are 10 fascinating facts about the 747…

Sydney Opera House with pointed roof and stairsIt Actually Did London To Sydney Decades Ago

Qantas has the aviation world in a stir as it teases plans for 20 hour nonstop London to Sydney flights. The airline is waiting on “the perfect aircraft”. But truth be told, this has already been done. In fact, the Boeing 747-400 completed a one off London-Sydney journey in 1989, when Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister.

It Was Originally Designed With Two Full Length Decks

The A380 before the A380! It’s true, Joe Sutter, the lead designer of the Boeing 747, and Pan Am’s Juan Trippe, initially hoped to create an aircraft with two decks the entire length, much like the Airbus A380 you see in the skies today.

There were two reasons that didn’t happen. One: the lower ceiling height of each deck made cargo less effective. Two: At the time, two decks couldn’t be evacuated in the mandatory 90 seconds or less for airworthiness certification.

Surprise, It’s Still The Fastest Commercial Plane

There’s so much buzz regarding the new generation of Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 aircraft, which are changing passenger experience via better cabin pressure, reduced noise and greater fuel efficiency, but when it comes to getting somewhere fast – they’re no match for the Queen.

The Boeing 747 is the fastest commercial airplane, with a top speed of Mach .86, just over 650MPH, and its only fitting that on its 50th anniversary in 2020, it set a transatlantic flight record between New York and London, making it in under 5 hours!

It Once Carried 1,088 People On A Single Flight

In 1991, an El Al Boeing 747-400 carried 1,088 people on a single flight, breaking the world record. The historic flight was part of Operation Solomon, which helped to evacuate Ethiopian Jews from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

To this day, it’s the highest number of people ever on a flight and it was critical to helping 14,000 people flee the country.

Some Passengers Are Closer To The Front Than Pilots

There’s an incredible novelty to passenger experience on the Boeing 747. It’s the only plane where passengers can either sit in a miniature upstairs bubble, or directly in the nose, in front of the pilots!

Sitting in the downstairs nose of the Boeing 747 puts lucky passengers both lower and closer to the front of the plane than the pilots – and this provides incredible views during takeoff and landing. It’s a bucket list experience, without a doubt…

Passenger jet being moved using an aircraft tractor at Heathrow London AirportThere’s Not One, But Two Air Force Ones

Air Force One is the most famous global symbol of the Boeing 747. The highly customized, super secretive birds are the subject of constant speculation and intrigue, but there’s one thing many people forget. There are actually two of them.

This exists for a variety of reasons, such as using one as a decoy, but also having one as a back up in case one is out of commission and someone, aka the President of The United States, needs to get somewhere… fast.

The Boeing 747 Has Flown 3.5 Billion People

Ok, sure, it’s been around a while, but with a world population of 7.53 billion people, that means roughly half the planet has at some point set foot on a Boeing 747. Putting that into perspective, it’s estimated that 5 billion people have access to mobile phones.

The plane has survived from the so called “golden age” of Pan Am right through to today, which not many planes can lay claim to.

The Upper Deck Is About As Wide As A Boeing 737

The Boeing 737 is the most widely used passenger plane in the world. It’s the one Ryanair flies and you can see it on every continent around the world. While the 747 upper deck may feel like an exclusive and tiny space, which in contrast to the main deck it is, it’s actually about the same size as an entire Boeing 737.

If you haven’t gone upper deck, you must. There aren’t that many years remaining to experience it, particularly with airlines pulling the plane out of the skies due to hard times…

The 747 Is The Reason For The World’s Largest Building

The Boeing Factory in Everett, Washington USA, is the world’s largest building by volume at over 13,000,000 cubic meters. It’s so large, it has its own weather systems inside, and clouds form inside the building.

That’s a fact. Unbeknownst to many, the Boeing 747 project was the reason for building this record breaking facility, because at the time Boeing didn’t have anywhere large enough to build. The roof wasn’t even finished when these birds started to appear…

There Are 12 Airlines Still Flying The 747, At Least For Now

Asiana, Air China, British Airways, China Airlines, El Al, Korean, KLM, Lufthansa, Rossiya, Saudia, Thai, Virgin Atlantic and Qantas still fly the Boeing 747-400 on select routes.

Air China, Lufthansa and Korean will likely be the last airlines flying the 747, since they are the only customers of the newer Boeing 747-8i variant, but British Airways will be a close second with a planned retirement date by 2024.

Uncertainty right now means many of these dates will be pushed up significantly, and the 747 is currently on the ground for many airlines.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I can’t wait to fly on the 747 in December with BA from London to LA. It really is a great aircraft and after flying so frequently in the 1990s, it’s going to be my goodbye flight. I’m so sad it’s coming to the end of its journey in the sky

  2. The final point on the airlines that still fly the 747 is not accurate. Air India, KLM are some other airlines that still fly the 747s..

  3. There is only one Air Force One, and it is not necessarily a 747. Air Force One is any plane with the Commander in Chief on board.

    I just had my first flight on a 747-8 courtesy of Korean AIr. Apex “suite” on upper deck. Sweet!

    I contend that the Delta 747-400 upper deck was the best business class cabin (not seat). Fourteen seats arranged 1-1. You’d never know there were 350+ folks below. Felt like a private jet.

  4. Haven’t flown the Airbus A380 yet, and sadly, missed out on the Concorde.

    But, other than those two glorious birds, have flown almost all of the jets made by Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas, Airbus, Lockheed, Bombardier, Embraer, Fokker – heck even a jet called the BAC-111!!!

    And for me, excluding of course, the never flown Concorde and the yet to be flown A380, NOTHING COMPARES to “Her Majesty – The Queen” aka Boeing’s incomparable – and iconic -747!


    First row “ahead of the pilot” a few (lucky) times; the Best Flight Ever on South African Airways’ 747-SP in first class with just three pax for an 18.5 hours all night long party til we all fell asleep for about 5 hours before starting all over again for Champagne Brunch made to order!; Business Class (think: TWA Ambassador Class long before flat beds were ever a thought for ‘2nd class’ or BA circa 2000 before its backwards/forwards seats came along); but really, mostly regular coach/economy in all of the separate cabins the 747 has for its economy sections.

    In every cabin, it was always BETTER – and to me, more of a ‘journey’ – aboard a 747!

    Always will be, too!

    After that, it’s the Lockheed L1011 TriStar as a plane I’d go out of my way to fly whenever possible over anything other than the majestic “Queen”.

    And yeah, some might find this weird, but there was also a special place in my heart for a DC-8-63

    Then comes the Boeing 787 – but ONLY if it’s in a premium class seat since I’ve been aboard Boeing’s it’s so NOT a dream if you’re crammed in a chicken coop sized “densified” 9-abreast economy class seat.

    Otherwise, I AVOID “densified” 787s AND 777s like the disgusting, nasty, shameful, immoral plague that they truly are with 17” wide seats packed into 31-32” no legroom rows and their preposterously narrow aisles that become dangerous obstacle courses filled with impossible to miss dangling limbs, torsos and even tilted/drooping heads clogging those already ridiculously narrow aisles on the long haul flights they’re nearly always going to be flown.

    Nope! No sir-eee if it’s a hideous, “densified” Boeing – I ain’t going…

    …on anything but an Airbus!

  5. Technically there are more than two 747 Air Force One models, if you include the militarized versions. “The E-4 series are specially modified from the Boeing 747-200B for the National Emergency Airborne Command Post (NEACP) program. The E-4 serves as a survivable mobile command post for the National Command Authority, namely the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and successors.” (Wikipedia)

    “When the President travels outside of North America using a VC-25A as Air Force One, an E-4B will deploy to a second airport in the vicinity of the President’s destination, to be readily available in the event of a world crisis or an emergency that renders the VC-25A unusable.” (Wikipedia)

  6. Flown that magnificent piece of machinery called the 747 for the first time in 1971 on a AA transcontinental flight from JFK. And the Concorde and a myriad of other 747’s, and the A380’s First Class. . “Ahead of the Pilot” in the nose first time on a Thai Air 747 in 2012. But the best time was on a Pan Am Clipper in First Class on our honeymoon trip to London in 1976. Pan Am had the best service and food in the international skies in those days. Fine, unlimited Beluga Caviar, foie Gras, and superb filet mignon. Nothing compared. Superb Stewardesses who set the standard for beauty and competence, proud then to by called by that name. And fine stewards too. All so well trained and courteous. Comfortable First Class leather seats with lots of space between rows to allow comfortable service but not flat bed like today. One ordered dinner downstairs in the main First Class section and then climbed the circular stairway to the Upper Deck First Class dining room to eat the extravagant meal, but only when summoned . And the whole time drinking the finest champagnes and wines. 1978 Deregulation drove a stake slowly through Pan Am’s heart, but they did not know it at the time, having gained its illusory savior – transcontinental routes only a year or two year earlier when they acquired National and its unworthy DC 10’s. RIP Pan Am, and long fly on the Queen 747.

  7. There are still four Air India 747-400s flying. The airline is almost dead, but the aircraft are still going strong!

  8. Because of my road warrior job, had priviledge of flying AAs inaugural 747 100 flight April 1970 JFK to SFO first class. Had priviledge of dining in upper deck Pan Am dining room JFK to London often. Flew often from JFK to LAX and SFO on TWA often in rows 1 2 and 3. Special views taking off and landing. Flew TWA SP at 43000 feet higher than any other flight. Flew Northwest Orient ORD to JFK because the has a piano in first class. Flew Concorde G BOAD March 1980 LON To JFK. DUAL livery of Singapore Airlines and BA. And yes, I regularly flew the BAC111 from Providence to JFK. WHAT A FUN PLANE. Those days are gone.Have 2 MM miles. Recently flew east to west on a 737 first class. Was bit more than old coach, and the meal was mac and cheese. On this route TWA would carve chateaubriand. Different world, sadly…I’m glad I had the golden days
    Bob N. NY

  9. I first flew on a Pan Am 747 in 1969 from Paris to JFK. We left at 5:00 pm, about halfway across the pond the captain informed the passengers we were going to do something unique. We arrived in JFK at 4;55 pm. Five minutes before we left Paris. I now work for a company that has a fleet of 747-400s. They may be old but they are the finest in the sky no contest.

  10. I loved reading all these comments about the old days of premium-class 747 trips. Thanks for posting them. My early 1970s 747 experiences were in coach on Pan Am and Air France: backpacking trip with mates to Amsterdam; honeymoon to Paris. But they actually felt premium to me! I’ll miss it, too.

  11. Whether or not the Queen has ever flown on the Queen of the skies was not ever answered…

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