Later this morning I will be one of the passengers onboard United Airlines’ final 747 flight. What is it about that aircraft that stirs so many emotions?
First, it is the aircraft that took me around the world. To Asia. Australia. Africa. Europe. My 747 memories are inextricably intertwined with the places she took me. San Francisco to Seoul, then to the DMZ. Los Angeles to Sydney and then to Circular Quay. Hong Kong to London and to the Tower of London. San Francisco to London, my first international flight in business class. Frankfurt to Johannesburg, followed by a trip to SoWeTo. Air Force One…
The 747 has literally taken me around the world and there is therefore no other aircraft that I have such an emotional attachment too.
But no flight was more joyous than my first 747-400 trip to Chicago in September of 2004. I’ve written about that before, but I took that trip with my then 77-year old Uncle and received the first upgrade of my life…to the upper deck of a 747! Oh what an amazing four hours that was.
Now my Uncle, celebrating his 90th birthday later in the month, will join me again for United’s final 747 flight today. I could not think of a better travel companion for this particular flight.
Why the 747?
The 747 is not just iconic in its humped shape, but for its symbol of speed and quality. With the Concorde retired, did you know that the 747-400 actually maintains the fastest cruising speed of any major jetliner in commercial service today? Yes, trips to Europe and Asia will actually take a tad longer in the new 777 and 787 era.
Even with the days of baby grand pianos and opulent couches in the upstairs lounge long gone, the 747 remained roomy and flying upstairs was always fun. I’m so happy my one-year-old son was able to fly home twice this year from Germany on a United 747-400 upstairs in business class. He may not remember the flight beyond our pictures, but he can tell his friends one day he flew on the 747. It’s like me saying I flew on the 707 (which I can’t say…).
And I’d be remiss if I did not emphasize that today’s flight is doubly special because it is on United Airlines, the airline that has taken me to Australia three times, Asia eight times, and Europe over two dozens times aboard a 747.
I regularly fly between San Francisco and Frankfurt, meaning I’ve seen a lot of 747-400s over the years. My last United 747 intercontinental flight was last month from Frankfurt to San Francisco. It seemed also surreal to think that next time I take this flight it will be on an aircraft with only one level.
For such a storied aircraft, the true story is the thousands of human stories people share with another that are built around or made possible by the 747.
By creating the first viable jumbo jet, Boeing ushered in a new era of travel possibilities. The 747 has connected friends and families, delivered troops to war, rescued victims of war, and been an icon of the age of innovation that has made airfare more comfortable and more affordable. And it has connected people without connections, opening up more destinations to nonstop flights.
I’m thankful for the 747 and the history that can never be taken away from her.