a large airplane on a runway

Just last year, we touched upon a few quintessential, bucket list flying experiences that won’t last forever. Among them: a jaunt in an A380 cocktail bar, a ride in the iconic upper deck “bubble” of a 747, or even better, a first class ride in the nose of one.

Plans were already in place for many of these airline fleets to be retired in 2022, 2023, but the rapid demise of the travel industry also means an early retirement for some of the most iconic aircraft to ever grace the skies.

You’ll hardly ever see a commercial 747 fly again, the Airbus A340 is a dinosaur and the A380 is on thin ice, or thin air too…

Across the world, airlines are all echoing a similar message: big is bad.

emirates a380If travel does bounce back – and that’s a big “if” – any demand will initially be met with smaller, fuel efficient planes which can make half empty flights more economically viable. With seating capacities over 615 people, the double decker Airbus A380 is just too much for the job.

Likewise, the Boeing 747 is just too much of a gas guzzler, with four engines and all that space to fill too. Even the newer 747-8i, intended to be the lifeline for the 747 program never quite performed as the (few) airlines which bought into the plane hoped.

With most of these types already scheduled for retirement in 2022, airlines are saying why not just get it over with now? That’s the approach being taken by Qatar Airways, British Airways, Lufthansa, Qantas and a variety of operators.

British Airways has already informed Airbus A380 “super-jumbo” pilots to begin training on a new type, with open offers for A350 deployment. There’s presently no return to service date for British Airways A380’s, and whether one ever comes remains to be seen.

With “Queen of the Skies” the Boeing 747-400, British Airways was the most bullish on the longevity, or delayed retirement of the aircraft with a plan to keep it in service through to 2024, effectively the last airline to fly it. That’s no longer true.

a large airplane on a runwayBritish Airways has massively accelerated retirement plans, and many 747’s will never fly for British AIrways again, and those that do likely won’t make it past 2021. That’s three fewer flying years than expected for a chance to experience this unique ride.

KLM’s beautiful blue 747 liveries performed their final ever commercial flights at the end of March, in response to the shutdown of global travel.

The 747 and A380 aren’t the only planes disappearing before our eyes, with yet another four engine fixture facing extinction. The Airbus A340 is seeing unprecedented ramp ups in retirement, including Virgin Atlantic recently flying its last ever Airbus A340-600 flight, while others are retiring as many as possible.


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End of an Era. Coronavirus 🦠 has claimed another victim; the beautifully elegant @virginatlantic A340-600. ✈️ I started with @virginatlantic at the beginning of 1994 on the A340-300 flying back and forth to Hong Kong and Narita (almost exclusively) for the first few years. Later came Los Angeles, Johannesburg and many more amazing destinations. She was later replaced by the bigger, more powerful and more graceful A340-600 until now. Due to the commercial challenges associated with COVID-19, which is affecting all world airlines, it’s been decided to retire these beautiful aircraft early. I last flew the A346 on 18 Nov 18, but I loved seeing her at Heathrow and JFK airports, although soon none of us will see her again. Goodbye my love, thanks for the memories. ❤️ 📸@_timhearn #livefromvirgin #airbus #airbuslovers #a340 #a346 #a340600 #a340lovers #bestyearsofmylife #thankyouforthememories #endofanera #retirement #graceful #virginfamily #pilot #pilotlife #hkg #hongkong #kaitak #nrt #naritaairport #rollsroyce #trent #4engines4longhaul #covid #a340challenge💥

A post shared by Captain Chris 👨🏼‍✈️ (@captainchris) on

Lufthansa, is perhaps the most aggressive on aircraft retirement, fueled by  vision that travel won’t bounce back to pre-crisis levels. The airline is retiring six of its 14 Airbus A380’s, and five of its 13 odd Boeing 747-400’s. The airline was one of the few to order the 747-8, the updated version of the jumbo with slightly improved fuel efficiency and economic performance.

For the time being, Korean’s entire A380 fleet is grounded, and Qantas is down to the low single digits, like one or two, from 14 in service. Emirates A380’s remain on the ground, albeit just for the time being, but for airlines like Air France, Singapore Air and Qatar, any return will be minimal, if at all.

Basically, all your plans to try out one of these incredibly novel aircraft are in jeopardy. If bubble time in the 747 or an upper deck visit with the Airbus A380 has always been a dream, it’s time to figure out how to make that a reality, sooner than later.

Miles and points are a great way to plan optimistically for future travel in later 2020, or early 2021, knowing you can change or cancel and get all your miles back with ease. Even if travel demand does come back booming, airlines are transitioning away from larger aircraft types anyway, so it’s not like similar jumbos are headed our way, at least not in the next 15 years.

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 bought seats 62A and 64K on the 74-400 from Miami to Munich via LHR. December 15th to visit the German Christmas markets. Fingers crossed.

  2. Look for F class to go the same way soon
    Business seats are better now and with premium economy there are 3 classes on intl trips again

  3. Look, things move on. I know a larger cabin of a B747 or an A380 can feel quite spacious, but I prefer to fly on B787 and A350s, and find both types much more aesthetically pleasing on the eye compared to both A380 and to a lesser extent the B747.

    There, I’ve said it. Having appreciated identifying aircraft types for 50 years and flying extensively for 30 and working in airports and airlines for over 30, I am simply offering my take on matters.

  4. I will always put business class on the upper deck of a 747 as my favourite flying experience. To me it is even better than 1st class in the nose of the plane. Just something so amazing about heading up those stairs, it never got old. I really hope to experience that at least one more time but I am happy to have been lucky enough to have the memory.

  5. Have been on virgins A340-600 in upper class LHR-JFK and a wonderful experience sitting at the bar at 35K ft. Will be missed for sure. I’m a regular on Iberia’s A340-600, last flight MAD-BOG at the end of feb, am sure they will have some life left there. The 747-400 not so fond of, as a lot of the BA ones are falling apart on the inside. A380 was excellent on LHR-MIA and hope that it returns after this terrible time for international travel, most of them are still very young.

  6. Interesting that LH have kept the 747-8s in operation and are backing out of the A380s as fast as possible. I presume that this is because the jumbo has better cargo capacity and makes more sense commercially.

    What a kick in the teeth for Airbus that a cut and shut of a 50 year old design will be flying after its billion euro wonder has long since gone.

  7. The airlines who owne these giants 747 and A380 should create a Jumbo Club for those who love them and do not want to see those precious and increadible aircrafts stuck in the ground! With a certain amount paid by thousands of people around
    the world associated to this club it might be possible some rules to keep them flying! Think deeply about structuring a plan to save them flying for us!

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