The Boeing 747 has the graced the skies for more than four decades and is inextricably linked with the exotic heydey of global air travel. United Airlines has a been a prominent operator of the 747 and maintains a fleet of 23 747-400s. But in a sign that a new era is approaching, United’s 747-400s will be pulled off the Australian routes this week and replaced with 777-200s.
On Wednesday, the last 747-400 took off from San Francisco to Sydney. Now a 777-200 takes over the route.
UA839/840 between Los Angeles to Sydney will also lose its 747-400–tonight marks the final day of the 747-400 on the route.
The 777 will cut capacity by nearly 100 seats over the 747. While UA will make up for the reduction in capacity on its new Melbourne route, we will see the following changes:
- United Boeing 747-400
- United Global First – 12 Seats
- United BusinessFirst – 52 Seats
- United Economy Plus – 70 seats
- United Economy – 240 seats
- United 777-200
- United Global First – 8 Seats
- United BusinessFirst – 40 Seats
- United Economy Plus – 113 seats
- United Economy – 108 seats
While upgraders will lose out–a 25% reduction in first and business class–the changes will be a net-positive to the majority of travelers. Here’s why:
- Superior Economy Product – Not all 747s are created equal: while some airlines beautifully maintain and update their 747s, United has not. The United 747s do have comfortable lie-flat seats in business and first with audio/video on-demand and in-seat power, but flying economy is like stepping back into the 1990s. The 747 has no personal IFE and no in-seat power, placing it at a huge competitive disadvantage over the other carriers flying the route (Delta, Virgin, Qantas). United 777s are not equipped with internet yet, but the internet available on the 747s worked intermittently and was of limited utility on a 14.5hr flight with no power. The 777-200 will have personal IFE and power outlets in each seat in economy class, more Economy Plus seats, and better legroom overall. The 3-3-3 configuration in economy will be more comfortable than the 3-4-3 layout on the 747-400 for those behind the curtain, optimizing the chances of receiving an open middle seat.
- Fewer Mechanical Delays – United’s Sydney routes have been to prone to frequent equipment-related delays. The younger and more reliable 777s should solve this problem.
Still, my nostalgic side mourns the end of an era on this route. I’ve flown to Sydney from both Los Angeles and San Francisco and love the 747-400–there is just something about seeing that plane that brings a smile to my face. My 747 memories are incredibly fond.
But that’s a bad reason to keep a particular aircraft on a route. I think United is making the wise choice here by utilizing the more fuel-efficient 777s on this route, but note that upgrades will likely become even harder as more premium customers and MileagePlus elites are now chasing a smaller pool of premium seats.
One of the first orders of business, said Jeff Smisek over three years ago in 2010, was to equip the 747-400s with personal IFE in economy. That never happened…another promise that was not kept…but now we have a practical solution on a high-yield route that at least aligns UA with the competition in economy class.
Farewell to the Queen of the Skies, at least on this route.