The last United Airlines 747-400 has left Chicago O’Hare.
I noticed a tweet from United late last night announcing that the final 747-400 departed ORD for Tokyo Narita. That’s quite a momentous occasion for a plane that has dotted the United terminal at O’Hare for several decades.
Indeed, in an investor presentation in November (.pdf here) United confirmed rumors that it would accelerate the retirement of its 747-400 fleet to 3Q 2018. That leaves us with less than two years to fly the United 747 and as of yesterday, only from San Francisco.
Why is United Retiring the 747?
United is retiring its fleet of 20 747-400s because they are old and inefficient compared to the modern 777-300ERs and 787-9s United has taken or will take delivery of. These aircraft are more prone to break and are approaching 30 years old. The opportunity cost to upgrade them with United Polaris has been deemed too great.
The only plane in the fleet that never received personal TVs in economy class, the United 747-400 only recently was upgraded to include power ports in all rows and streaming video and wi-fi.
And yet the “Queen of the Skies” has long been customer favorite. Indeed, I deliberately booked my trip to Germany this spring on a United 747-400 because I enjoy the serene upstairs of that aircraft like few other planes.
What Routes Will United Use the 747 On?
As of today, United’s 747 fleet will be based exclusively out of San Francisco (SFO). 747s currently service the following destinations:
- Hong Kong
- London (seasonally)
- Tokyo Narita
It is not just United that is retiring 747s. Air France and Cathay Pacific recently retired their 747 fleet and Delta has also accelerated its 747 retirement timeline. Bottom line: get on this aircraft while you still can. You still have a year and a half with United at least.