a large airplane on a runway

Long live the Queen…

A couple years ago, I wrote an alarmist piece, stating that the 747 was on borrowed time, and if there were any bucket list experiences with the iconic aircraft you were still seeking, it’d be good to expedite those plans. Now, the British Airways 747 is dead, and many didn’t even get a chance to properly say goodbye.

It was a long time coming, but it all happened overnight with a letter to employees. “With much regret, we are proposing, subject to consultation, the immediate retirement of our Queen of the Skies, the 747-400”. After rumors swirled, British Airways confirmed the news: subject to review, the 747 has reached the end of its line.

What a miraculous and wonderful line it’s been.

Most recently, the British Airways 747 Jumbo actually set a new aviation record. On the evening of February 8th, 2019, a British Airways 747-400 set the new speed record for a transatlantic New York JFK – London flight, with an incredible flight time of 4 hours 56 minutes. Yep, 31 years later, the Boeing 747-400 was still setting records for British Airways.

a large white and blue airplaneBritish Airways, then BOAC, took delivery of its first 747 in 1970, and ever since the aircraft has flown heads of state, A-listers and globe trotters to far off destinations, in the most iconic of liveries that may ever exist. Even the most casual aviation enthusiasts, or complete non enthusiasts recognize the Boeing 747 with pride.

For many, its the iconic experiences this unique aircraft offered that will be missed most, and are unlikely to be found again.

British Airways was one of the few which offered first class in the nose of a 747, alongside Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific in recent years. The prized 1A and 1K seats offered seats in front of the pilots, with near perfect views of the runway. Talk about a rush. In business class, the experience was just as unique and special, with the upper deck “bubble” of the 747 dedicated to a small and revered business class cabin.

It’s impossible to fathom the conversations, relations, history and joy curated in British Airways Boeing 747 fleet over the last decades.

a large airplane on a runwayThere was a time when British Airways business class had gone out of style, but those in the Upper Deck never seemed to mind. Each experience was unique, and bucket list for travel fans, and for the many who said “maybe one day”, it appears that day has passed.

In tribute to the aircraft’s decades of service, British Airways even painted four aircraft to bring nostalgic retro liveries last year, including the much recognized BOAC, Landor, and Negus. The jets proved so popular, many frequent flyers specifically tracked the tail numbers to try and book onto flights operated by one.

“We would not expect any more commercial flights to be flown.”

a large airplane on the groundBut now, it’s all gone. As the unspeakable decimation from covid-19 continues, British Airways, like every other airline, has found themselves battening down the hatches. The Boeing 747 although fast and extremely elegant was a remnant of the four engine generation, with fuel consumption over 30% higher than new, modern aircraft.

That costs money, and these days airlines don’t have much to burn.

Official communications from the airline suggests no further 747 commercial flights will be offered, but all flyers can only hold out hope for one last service, as a last chance to say goodbye. Qantas recently offered a special 747 goodbye opportunity, where frequent flyers were afforded the opportunity to purchase tickets on a “flight to nowhere” which sent the plane on a magical tour of Sydney harbor.

For years now, we’ll see mostly smaller, more agile aircraft taking us to the places we love around the globe, but it’ll be hard not so shed a tear the next time you walk through terminal 5, knowing that big iconic bubble and nose won’t be anywhere to be found, ever again. It’s the end of an era, and an incredibly sad one.

Long live the Queen, of the skies…

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. My first experience with the 747 was on PanAm flying in First Class. The Upper deck did not have seats rather it had tables where the meals were served like in a restaurant. I’ve also of course flown in coach many a time.

    My last 747 flight was on Delta in Business class with a lie flat seat in the upper deck between the US and Japan.

    Airlines that I have flown on a 747 in no particular order: PanAm, Delta, Continental, American, TWA, Qantas, United

    God I miss those days.

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