By the end of 2017, you will no longer be able to buy a ticket aboard a U.S. owned 747 passenger airliner in scheduled service. It’s been 47 years since the era began in 1970 aboard the Everett built Boeing jets that would change flying forever.
United plans to fly its last 747 on a special flight between San Francisco and Honolulu on November 7. Delta, with the only other remaining 747 passenger fleet says it will make its last flights by the end of the year, the final flight not yet determined. Delta currently only flies the jet in international service between Detroit and Shanghai, China along with a flight between Detroit and Seoul, South Korea.
The only other U.S. owned 747 passenger jets still believed to be flying are a tiny handful in charter service. The remainder are freighters.
Does this mean the 747 era is over entirely? No. On Monday, Qatar Airways is expected to pick up its first 747-8 freighter. As a freighter, the Boeing jet has no direct competition. With its opening nose exposing its cavernous interior, Boeing continues to have orders on the books for freighter versions but is producing the jets at the plodding rate of just six per year.
But if you’re willing to fly aboard a foreign airline, you can still hitch a ride on a 747, and will likely be able to for years to come. Lufthansa, Korean Air, along with Air China operate the newer 747-8 Intercontinental. No American carriers ever purchased this latest version of the U.S.-built plane. British Airways also continues to fly a large fleet of 747-400 passenger jets, as do some other international carriers, although those numbers are also expected to dwindle.
Why the change? For the most part, flying has changed. When the 747 was introduced, it typically would fly between big hub airports such as JFK in New York, LAX in California, along with London and Tokyo.
Smaller airplanes such as 727s on domestic flights would typically feed passengers to the Jumbo jets, while connecting flights within Europe or Asia would complete travel for passengers who needed to reach their final destinations in smaller destination cities.
That shift in flying has benefitted many of Boeing’s other jets such as the 767, 787 and the 777, along with Airbus jets such as the A330. Flying transitioned to longer more direct flights between smaller city pairs, say from Seattle to Xiamen, China. That all penalized jumbo sized jets, as Airbus too struggles to sell more big double deck A380s, which seat even more than 747-8 Intercontinentals at 450 passengers in a three-class configuration.
As for that final United flight, it will be all retro. The airline says flight crews will wear 1970s era uniforms, along with food and entertainment which harken back to start of a decade when 747s were the latest thing.