Now we say farewell to the queen
January 6, 2018 9:16 PM   Subscribe

The End of an Era: “On Wednesday, Delta Airlines flight 9771 flew from Atlanta to Pinal Airpark in Arizona. It wasn't a full flight—just 48 people on board. But it was a milestone—and not just for the two people who got married mid-flight—for it marked the very last flight of a Boeing 747 being operated by a US airline.”

Obituaries of the 747 also by WaPo, CNN And USAToday (with video of final approach to the Pinal Airpark, the largest commercial aircraft storage facility and boneyard in the world).

Some interesting moments in 747 history:

Jan 15, 1970: The plane enters service when First Lady Pat Nixon christens Pan Am Airlines’ first 747 for its New York — London route.

1977: Two 747s are specially adapted as Shuttle Carrier Aircraft and begin serving as the workhorses to transport Space Shuttle orbiters over distance.

December 21, 1988: Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew, plus 11 more on the ground from falling debris.

May 24, 1991: A record-breaking 1,087 passengers were airlifted aboard a 747 to Israel as part of Operation Solomon to rescue Ethiopian Jews.

From Wikipedia’s entry on the 747: “The 747 has been involved in 146 aviation accidents and incidents, including 61 accidents and hull losseswhich resulted in 3722 fatalities. The last crash was Turkish Airlines Flight 6491 in January 2017. There were also 24 deaths in 32 aircraft hijackings, such as Pan Am Flight 73 where a Boeing 747-121 was hijacked by four terrorists and resulted in 20 deaths.”
posted by darkstar (55 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Also: the first 747, christened by Pat Nixon, was unable to make its maiden commercial flight on January 21 due to engine overheating problems. Another 747 -- the Clipper Victor -- actually made the first commercial flight from New York to London the following day. Six years later, it was one of the two 747s involved in the Tenerife disaster.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:27 PM on January 6, 2018 [4 favorites]

The 747 isn’t dead yet - not even in the US, where a number of cargo operators still fly them. There's even a new 747-8 variant that is still in production. (Ars mentions this in the article.) But yeah, for most of us, the 747 is done.

If you’re a United Points member, they’re auctioning off parts of that last flight.
posted by mrg at 9:28 PM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I was watching a documentary recently which said that the 747 was a B-team effort at Boeing, since all of the top talent was focused on the supersonic future.
posted by clawsoon at 9:31 PM on January 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

One thing that none of the news articles above mentioned is that on December 26, 2017, the FAA required all aircraft, including 747s, to have fuel inerting systems in place after an explosion in the 747's fuel tank was determined to be the most likely cause of the loss of TWA Flight 800 in July 1996.

All other carriers put these systems in place on their 747s. United and Delta chose to fly passengers in their planes, without retrofit, since 2008 and right up until the deadline and then put the aircraft in mothballs.

As HN user avar (who gave me many of these links) said: "Of course putting 'we won't be allowed to fly them since the regulator thinks they're too likely to explode coming next year, but we're still selling flights on them!' in your own press releases is bad for business, so most of the news only mentions other reasons."
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:32 PM on January 6, 2018 [46 favorites]

My favorite 747 has a big hole in it.
SOFIA is based on a Boeing 747SP wide-body aircraft that has been modified to include a large door in the aft fuselage that can be opened in flight to allow a 2.5 m (8.2 ft) diameter reflecting telescope access to the sky. This telescope is designed for infrared astronomy observations in the stratosphere at altitudes of about 12 kilometres (41,000 ft). SOFIA's flight capability allows it to rise above almost all of the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere, which blocks some infrared wavelengths from reaching the ground. At the aircraft's cruising altitude, 85% of the full infrared range will be available. The aircraft can also travel to almost any point on the Earth's surface, allowing observation from the northern and southern hemispheres.
posted by zamboni at 9:36 PM on January 6, 2018 [17 favorites]


(That's a period taking off from Runway 2.)
posted by Samizdata at 9:53 PM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I suck at Unicode.
posted by Samizdata at 9:54 PM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

"In 1986, David Letterman filmed the "Late Night" 4th Anniversary..."

/me suddenly feels very very old
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:57 PM on January 6, 2018 [5 favorites]

Probably should have mentioned, the title of the post comes from the end of the CNN article:
Before the final touchdown, the 747 would swoop low over the desert runway. Gallaher flew the jumbo down to 20 feet on its final pass over the runway. His final time at the controls of a Delta 747.

After the jumbo cleared end of then runway, Gallaher called "going around," the order to begin climbing again.

"There you go. Make it happen," said Hanlon. The four engines accelerated and the 747 climbed back in to the sky for one last circle. Six minutes later, the 18 wheels on the 747 touched the pavement on the runway and the half-million pound airliner rolled to a stop passing the long row of Delta 747s already in retirement.

"We'd like to welcome you to the boneyard," said Stephanie Nelson the trip's lead flight attendant. "Now we say farewell, to the queen, the last queen, it's her last voyage, her last touch down."
posted by darkstar at 10:14 PM on January 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

Watching a documentary on the creation of the 747 now... the exploding engine problem on the prototype is especially dramatic.
posted by clawsoon at 10:22 PM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have a relative that was there for the landing. I’ve got a standing offer for a tour of that boneyard whenever everyone’s schedules work out.
posted by azpenguin at 10:39 PM on January 6, 2018 [8 favorites]

I was watching a documentary recently which said that the 747 was a B-team effort at Boeing, since all of the top talent was focused on the supersonic future.

Here is an account of that story - as part of a wider discussion about the dangers of assuming exponential growth in design. The design team of the 747 would, no doubt, be shocked to see that their lowly sub-sonic "freighter" (not the futuristic 2707) was still in wide use after 50 years, that the today's "state of the art" 787 was similar looking and rather slower than the 707 - and that Pan-am's early bookings for moon flights (let alone Pan Am itself) had come to nought.
posted by rongorongo at 11:32 PM on January 6, 2018 [6 favorites]

I can remember when they scrubbed the SST. There was a full-size mural of it on the side of the building on East Marginal Way at Boeing field. For someone who loved making model airplanes it was sad to see that mural go; it looked like the future (not to mention my father had been working on that program).
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 11:44 PM on January 6, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by ckape at 11:50 PM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

You can still see a 747 land, in Arizona even, almost every day. British Airways flies a direct from Heathrow to PHX that is usually a 747. (I’ve flown this a bunch, as I spent the last 3 years living in Europe until moving in with Mr. Nat here in PHX).

Mr. Nat is a bit of a plane fan, and between me taking the LHR-PHX flight a lot, and it being the only 747 to regularly land at PHX, he paid attention to its daily arrival. Enough so that he came to recognize the sound— more than once we’ve heard a plane overhead and he’s said “that’s the 747.” And we go look, and he’s right.

I wonder how long that will continue to be a skill he can use...
posted by nat at 2:24 AM on January 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

I had been sort of planning a 747 post for a couple of days. Here's a Personal ode to the 747 from TheVerge.

While it's slightly sad that no more USA flagged airlines fly the 747, it's long from being dead. Many non-USA airlines still fly the 744 and the upcoming 748. And, I'll venture to say they'll continue to land in the US for many more years.

Still, I have so many cherished memories of the years I flew in this bird. Mostly on BA's Speedbirds. Much of it between LHR and NRT. About half before 9/11 when visiting the cockpit and having a long chat with the pilots was just a matter of politely asking the head steward. I got to know a lot of the BA crew on the NRT route. Spent a few drunken nights at The Truck in the parking lot at the crew hotel; knew the story behind the Ugly Sisters (3 743's leased from Qantas).

On one such flight back to LHR, the pilot asked if I'd like to come forward for the landing. Hell yeah! The Steward came for me about thirty minutes before arrival. I strapped into the jump seat, was given a headset and a short safety briefing on landing procedure and escape locations. I was giddy in my geeky skin. We made our approach across London landing from the east. The airport, and then the runway began to get closer and closer. The pilots were dialing knobs and talking to ATC. Suddenly, there was a very loud female voice in the headphones and speakers: DECIDE DECIDE DECIDE. I jumped a little, held my breath and the landing went perfectly normally.

After reaching the gate and the shutdown procedures were completed, I asked what the DECIDE thing was about. Short answer, it's the point you either go around or hit the ground.

Over the next year or so, I got to sit in that same jump seat landing in JFK, SFO, NRT and a few others. I also managed to get upfront for more than a handful of takeoffs. Needless to say, that all ended after 9/11.

IMHO, the 744 is the most graceful looking airliner in the air, especially on landing and taking off. Just like my favorite bird, the Pelican. The upper deck was my normal haunt, the pointy end for the service (when business travel used to allow for that sort of expense or the occasional OpUp came though).

I will be truly sad when passenger service ends. It will happen, probably quicker than imagine. What a lovely craft.

ps. My first ever flight on a 747 would have been sometime in the 1980's from Boston to London. They'd strapped a 5th engine under the wing, ferrying it to a service depot for a replacement. It looked so strange.
posted by michswiss at 3:00 AM on January 7, 2018 [25 favorites]

The 748 is pretty thin on the ground for passenger airlines. Just Lufthansa and a couple of SE asian airlines. There's going to be less than 100 all up once the run is finished.

The problem is anything the 748 can do, the 772ER can do it better and the A359 can probably do it better still if demand is strong. It's easier to run a service on a second day with a 772ER or an A359 than run a 748 on the same route. You have a better chance of filling the flight, the fuel burn is better, the aircraft is more comfortable, the maintenance is cheaper with the twin engines instead of quad. Hell, the 772ER can do a longer run than the 744ER which is the only airliner Qantas could use. Even a 789 can do a longer run and Qantas are using it to do a Perth-London nonstop which has never been accomplished before.

Sadly, the era of jumbos is pretty much over. It's all twin engine from here on out.
posted by Talez at 3:26 AM on January 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

I mostly agree. The A380 is running out of orders, the 74X series will do the same.

I like the new concepts in the 787 and A350. I won't likely get many chances to experience the 787 or the A350 craft. They look great and I love the new routing they enable. But my frequent flying days are well behind me. I've flown the A380 many times at the end of my travelling life. It's a very comfortable ride.

The disagree side is the Triple 7's. They might be efficient, but they are hugely noisy and rattily. I've never felt more like I'm in a giant old dorm room than during an overnight flight in a 777. The worst being on a Cathay flight from HKG to JFK just after they'd introduced the coffin seats. 17 hours of irritation. Never liked it. Even in the SIA couch seat configuration.

In terms of Jumbo's, the 747 will always be the icon.
posted by michswiss at 3:44 AM on January 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm flying an A359 tonight PER to HKG redeye then 773 to San Francisco in Premium Economy.

I flew the 773 BOS to HKG for 15.something hours and it wasn't terrible. I had QC35s on the whole time so I didn't have a noise problem.
posted by Talez at 3:53 AM on January 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sadly, the era of jumbos is pretty much over. It's all twin engine from here on out.
Really Air Force One should have been upgraded to a rocket by now. No?
posted by rongorongo at 3:58 AM on January 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recently got sucked into a Smithsonian tv show called "Air Disasters," and have been binging it. My family are making fun of me, I binge it so binge-ily. One of the things I like about it, though, is that as each episode tells the story of an incident--sometimes with tragic endings, and sometimes with against-all-odds happy or mixed endings as heroic pilots do amazing things like safely land a DC-10 that has completely run out of fuel and is now an enormous glider--and then the story of the investigation into what caused it. In the process, the show has introduced me to all sorts of interesting things about airplanes, ground control procedures, pilot training, flight attendant training, and so on that I had no idea about. If a plane has trouble because there's a glitch in some system I've never heard of, I get to learn about that system. It's fascinating.

As a result, this post is more interesting to me than it would have been a few weeks ago, and I will totally go looking for the documentaries about the 747 people have mentioned.
posted by Orlop at 4:19 AM on January 7, 2018 [8 favorites]

We made our approach across London landing from the east

That's one of the best airport approaches I know, so doing it from the cockpit of a 747? That's, wow!

I've done 3 legs in 747s: Amsterdam to Seoul and back in a Combi. It was hit by lightning on the climb out of Schiphol, a passenger panicked and started attempting to open the overhead lockers. The flight attendant's immediate verbal rebuke was frankly as forceful and effective as if she'd just pushed them back into their seat by the shoulders. It's the only time I've seen that part of the job. And it was the first time I'd been on a long flight. I'll remember it.

The other leg was a BA flight Moscow-London and it was incredibly tatty inside, but hey, I still got that descent over central London and Kew Gardens.

It's beautiful and a classic, but given the choice, there's more light and space in a 787 or even (per passenger) a 767 nowadays.
posted by ambrosen at 4:29 AM on January 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have flown longhaul on the upper deck aboard the Queen of the Skies twice, (EGLL<>WSSS) and Cattle Class several times (mostly EGLL<>FAOR). The sheer size of the aircraft is mind-bending. The engineering genius is everywhere. But little compares to the class divide.

As an Upper-Deck traveller, one strolls past the plebian throngs destined for fourteen hours of middle-middle-seat misery to be greeted by elegant staff who usher one up the staircase the the Inner Sanctum of Excess. In a spacious, well-appointed environment one has time to stretch, change into travelling attire, sip a glass of a good champagne. Privacy is yours, with discreet and timely attention from the crew. The food is good, the wine is excellent and the company can be ignored without social error.

In Cattle Class, a Middle-Middle seat is likely. The last person who sat in it exuded fluids. There are 350 people to feed and water. There may be 10 crew driving four trolleys. There are eight toilets. You can't get to the toilets if a trolley is in the wrong aisle. There are Infants. And Children.

And I loved every bloody flight I ever took aboard a 747.

My favourite ever was when my normal weekly commute from EGGD-EHAM-EGGD had to go EGGD-EHAM-EGLL instead. I forget the reason. Anyway. I ended up with a business-class seat on a beautiful 747 that thundered down the runway at Amsterdam, *leapt* into the air with almost no fuel aboard and hurtled straight-line across the North Sea to land at Heathrow thirty minutes later. It was fun.

I'll miss the 747, but not as much as I miss Concorde.
posted by Combat Wombat at 5:44 AM on January 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

Goodbye 747, hello Concorde?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:52 AM on January 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'll still stop in my tracks to watch a 747 fly overhead. It's an amazing bird to see in the air, especially if you can get up close.

My son wanted to go plane spotting at ORD just yesterday and we were able to see a Cargolux 747-8R7F with GE GEnx turbofan engines touch down in front of us. Simply beautiful, but man those thrust reversers are loud!

I've also had the opportunity to visit the Technik Museum Speyer outside of Stuttgart, Germany. This is an incredible museum - kind of the same vibe as the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. They have a massive collection of vehicles and aircraft including an Air France Concorde across the street at their sister Sinsheim facility.

The star of Speyer is the Lufthansa 747 that was donated to them. This isn't just a 747 on a concrete pad you can walk up to and poke at the tires. They put their airplane 20 meters off the ground and let you climb up and into the fuselage. Inside, they've carefully dissected the cabin in stages to let you see all the underlying components. You can go outside and dance on the wing! You'll also discover that there's enough room in the fuselage for a technician to stand above the ceiling on a catwalk. Then, when you're done, you can grab a burlap sack and slide down the metal chute to get back to the ground. I could have spent all day visiting just this.

The marketing of the 747 also brought us the new era of concept cabins to help sell the design to the airlines and the public. Let us all dream about the alternate universe where every flight had a groovy Tiger Lounge to let you chill with a martini after takeoff.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:54 AM on January 7, 2018 [9 favorites]

Oh far out, man. Now I want that Tiger Lounge in my place, complete with all the animal print furniture and lurid orange carpet.
posted by darkstar at 6:33 AM on January 7, 2018

Boeing is an American Icon. As a pragmatic progressive I often dog on America pretty hard, but when I start reading about Boeing and Seattle and Everett my heart swells. It catches me by surprise lol. But here’s my not-747 story about Boeing but instead a 787 story about Boeing:

I moved to Seattle in February 2011. I remember landing, getting to my place down in Georgetown and then getting snowed in the next day. Then it rained. And rained. And rained.

We wouldn’t see the sun until...gosh I think was 50 days.

I spent a lot of time on airport way at the bars. Jules Maes, mostly, listening to the planes fly low on their approach to Boeing Field.

Down in Georgetown I learned a lot about Seattle from the locals. I learned about Boeing, what Jet City meant, about how much of the history of the city was shaped by Boeing and how Boeing had in many way formed the inspirational bedrock of the spirit of innovation that fueled the tech and medical boom which in 2011 was still something you could get excited about, before amazon and google priced the blue collar out...

So anyway I picked up a load of Boeing and Seattle Pride inside Jules maes while outside the rain continued to mist down and the clouds socked us all into our beers and me and regulars swapped stories to pass the nights away.

Fast forward to one day in I guess early April 2011, I went to guitar center down where the amazon behemoth would later take over to get an audio recording interface. As I stood on the roof parking garage I looked up and saw this yellow disc obscured in the clouds. I struggled for a minute to understand how this street light was suspended over the garage to provide illumination. “How is that ABOVE the clouds?” I watched it for a minute thinking that Seattle must have some amazing street light invention suspended high above the city and as the clouds cleared I realize I was looking at the sun.

I had forgotten what the sun looked like.

I watched the clouds peel back and the sun come out and for the first time in my life I saw that brilliant blue Seattle sky...and my phone rang.

It was my coworker. He said “buddy, the sun’s out and I’m coming to get ya.”

So got me he did and cruising the city we went.

It was a Sunday.

We went all over the damn city and ended up cruising Alkai beach in the late afternoon. The whole city had come out, everyone driving their Sunday best. Car clubs, motorcycle clubs, antiques cars. Gorgeous beautiful cars lined up for miles on the beach, everyone showing their pride and joy. we got out and walked for a bit, mixing with the crowd, talking goofy shit with people we’ll never know and sharing hugs with people I’ll never meet again.

Anyway we got done about 4:45 and rolled down alkai beach on the north making our way back towards the West Seattle bridge when traffic stopped and people got out of their cars pointing out over Puget Sound.

We stopped, and I got out over the car window in time to see the Boeing 787 Dreamliner fly low over puget sound. My coworker started hooting and hollering and the whole column of cars erupted in clapping and cheers and some people where honking because the traffic was stopped and others were honking because we were getting a rare treat to see the 787 in flight. (This was still in test flight)

Anyway,as the 787 swooped low over the sound, with downtown Seattle and that cerulean blue sky as the backdrop...I understood what Jet City meant.

The 787 banked up as it rounded West Seattle at the port then climbed up high and rolled back to the north. The whole scene lasted maybe a minute. And godamnnit there’s nothing like seeing a new Boeing plane take the sky. Nothing.

So, that first sunny spring day the entire city brought her best to celebrate. I imagine somewhere inside Boeing a phone call was made that morning and someone high up said said “sun’s out, I’m coming to get you, we’re gonna take the Cadillac out for a ride”.

Farewell 747, you will not be forgotten, your legacy does live on and your parents still know how to inspire a generation.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:01 AM on January 7, 2018 [24 favorites]

I'll still stop in my tracks to watch a 747 fly overhead. It's an amazing bird to see in the air, especially if you can get up close.

My house lies between the two primary runways at O’Hare, 10 miles west so planes are about 3,000’ up when they fly overhead. The Lufthansa 748 comes at about 6pm, and on the days of the year when that lines up with sunset, seeing that graceful bird sail into the orange horizon is sheer magic.

I was supposed to fly on a 747 once. United was temporarily running it on the ORD-LAX route in the early 2000s. Not being a frequent flier I used what few miles I had to upgrade to upper deck business class. But unfortunately I was living downstate and my puddle jumper was significantly delayed to the point that I saw my 747 pushing back as we were taxiing in.
posted by hwyengr at 7:03 AM on January 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

In my day, the Queen of the Skies was the DC3/C47/Douglas Dakota!
Graceful to look at, reliable, and a real workhorse!
posted by lungtaworld at 7:08 AM on January 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Lufthansa 748 comes at about 6pm, and on the days of the year when that lines up with sunset, seeing that graceful bird sail into the orange horizon is sheer magic.

You mean this one? =)

Not the greatest photo, but my kid is learning. There was a beautiful sunset to the west but kiddo got distracted by an Aer Lingus Airbus that had just touched down.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:10 AM on January 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've flown on them lots of times, but always in the cheap seats. As a child I imagined the upstairs to look like the tiger lounge linked above, but I never went up so I'll never know for sure.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:22 AM on January 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

My first long-haul flight ever was LAX-SYD on an Air New Zealand 742, economy class, and it was fine except for some heavy turbulence mid-flight. The plane was pretty full, but the service was good. The return flight was (IIRC) a Delta 742 that was about 80% empty, shocking by today’s standards. I had an entire row to myself, but the service wasn’t nearly as good as Air New Zealand. I’ve done IAD-FRA a few times codeshare on Lufthansa on 74s, and NRT-DEN on a 787 (I know, not quite apples to apples), and I do think that the Dreamliner are more comfortable for economy-class passengers (we federal employees don’t get to fly business). However, they do lack something hard to put my finger on, maybe just the cultural cachet of the 747, I’m not quite sure.
posted by wintermind at 7:22 AM on January 7, 2018

I remember when the plane debuted, papers often published photos of a 747 tail sticking out of its hangar. It really brought home what a leap in size of that plane was for its time.
posted by klarck at 7:40 AM on January 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

There is this place in Boston called Castle Island. It's one of my favorite places to go. There's an old fort built around (I think) the War of 1812 and there's this circular causeway thing that you can walk around. It's a great place to picnic or fly a kite or just hang out.

The thing I love most about it, however, is that it's just across the harbor from Logan Airport. So, depending on the winds, planes are landing or taking off just overhead.

The first time I went there, a friend and I were just driving around aimlessly, the way you do when you're young and don't have your own place or much money, you're under 21, and you basically have nothing else to do. It looked like a neat place to hang out so we parked and started walking out to the pier. Did I mention we were high as balls? We were high as balls.

We were on the pier, watching the activity at the airport, when we heard a rumble. It got louder and louder until it was almost deafening. An Aer Lingus 747 had taken off and was flying directly over our heads. I don't know how high it was, a few hundred or maybe a thousand feet, but it was loud and powerful. We could feel it in our bones directly below it. Or maybe we were just really high, I dunno.

It was one of the coolest things I've ever experienced and I've gone back to Castle Island dozens of times since, always trying to recreate that magic moment. 747s are cool as fuck.
posted by bondcliff at 7:49 AM on January 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have a not-so-old friend who flies 747 cargo planes and expects to keep flying them until he retires. Although he sometimes says he misses flying the smaller Boeings.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:47 AM on January 7, 2018

My solitary flight on a 747 was upstairs from Osaka to Sydney on Ansett Australia. This was back in 1999 when onboard entertainment systems were just in their infancy. Upstairs wasn't business class but this plane had all sorts of Tetris and the like games to play. It was fantastic. There was hardly anyone up their with me and I had the whole row to myself. That coupled with the dedicated flight attendants meant it really felt like a business or better class of service. This also might be part of the reason they went out of business a few years later.
posted by mmascolino at 8:55 AM on January 7, 2018

I have been told that when I was a toddler, my mother and I were on a 747 with only a couple of dozen other passengers, and that I ran up and down the aisles.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:43 AM on January 7, 2018

I have to admit that my first reaction was "Two people got married on that flight? What a coincidence!"
posted by moonmilk at 9:47 AM on January 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

United was temporarily running it on the ORD-LAX route in the early 2000s.

I don't know if United used them regularly for SFO-ORD, but I ended up on one flying home for Thanksgiving my first year of college. I'd gotten to SFO stupidly early, not really knowing how long to allow for BART. It was snowing in Chicago and my flight was delayed. I got over my fear of talking to people and got myself on the standby list for the earlier flight, which had been delayed to roughly when my flight was original supposed to go. I ended up sitting way in the back in 60H--I remember because it blew my mind there were that many rows.

I went SFO-LHR and back that spring on a BA 747. That was mostly memorable for the fact the vegetarian meal was spaghetti with tomato sauce with carrots mixed in. It was fine, but it's the only time I've ever encountered someone having decided that carrots are the one vegetable to add to pasta.
posted by hoyland at 10:34 AM on January 7, 2018

The first time I was in a 747 (1990; LHR →NRT) it was such a long flight that it rained inside as we came in to land at Narita. I guess their dehumidifiers didn't work too well. We had an engine flameout on the way home, and had to sulk in ANC for a few hours.
posted by scruss at 11:23 AM on January 7, 2018

I have been told that when I was a toddler, my mother and I were on a 747 with only a couple of dozen other passengers, and that I ran up and down the aisles.

Back in the previous century, many airlines were not tied to such tight margins and could run flights that were not packed. My first trans-oceanic flight was in a BA 747 and it was so empty that I stretched out across three seats for a snooze.

In retrospect that vacancy rate was a blessing: London was heavily fogged in and we got diverted to Manchester, where we ended up parked on the tarmac for longer than the flight from Toronto had been.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:31 AM on January 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have a strange fear of flying that is mostly about missiles or bombs destroying planes I’m flying in, or hijackings. Were there a lot of incidents in the 90’s that would make me have this fear?
posted by gucci mane at 11:39 AM on January 7, 2018

I spent a lot of time on 747's in the 70's. Loved them for their smooth ride and effortless-seeming climbouts.
posted by pjern at 12:12 PM on January 7, 2018

Were there a lot of incidents in the 90’s that would make me have this fear?

Well, yes. At least two.

There was the 1988 flight crash of Pan Am Flight 103, which was destroyed in-flight by a bomb of Libyan origin.

The crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 was determined to be most likely because of an electrical problem in wiring inside a fuel tank, causing an explosion. But there are many conspiracy theories that a missile strike took the plane down.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:23 PM on January 7, 2018

My favourite bit of 747 history, when Qantas flew a newly delivered 744 non-stop from London to Sydney. Twenty hours and nine minutes in the air.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 2:29 PM on January 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I also enjoyed BA’s London-Phoenix (and return) route many times while living/working overseas. I loved that flight!

Plus, it was back in the early ‘00s when they still gave out complementary alcoholic beverages. I never drank them, but always collected two or three of the cute little liquor bottles during each flight. In the last few flights, I let the flight attendant in on my plan, and they awesomely helped me out with a bottle or two of something new for my collection.

When I was returning to my home in Phoenix after a decade overseas, I’d accumulated something like 40 little bottles of various types of booze. Rather than bring them all back home with me, I offered them to my local pastor and his wife, who accepted them enthusiastically.
posted by darkstar at 2:51 PM on January 7, 2018

Featured in Cyrptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson:
"In Asia, no decent airline bothers to dick around anything smaller than a 747," Avi snaps. "If someone tries to pack you on board a 737 or god forbid an Airbus, run, don't walk, away from the boarding lounge, and call me on my Sky Pager and I'll send in a chopper to evacuate you."
posted by Zonker at 3:35 PM on January 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

My favourite bit of 747 history, when Qantas flew a newly delivered 744 non-stop from London to Sydney.

My favourite bit came from a magazine piece Simon Winchester wrote maybe twenty years ago, and it recurs every time Boeing sells a plane. These things have price tags that run to eight digits, so after the down payment, the buyer wants to hold onto the balance of the payment as long as possible to collect interest on it. Boeing, for its part, wants to avoid the Washington state sales tax. So every time a plane is about to be transferred by Boeing to its new owner, the same charade takes place.

The plane departs Everett, WA with two flight crews aboard (one from Boeing flying the plane, and one from the buyers – say, QANTAS) and flies due West. When it is safely in international airspace, they contact what I can only presume to be a cinematic boardroom with matching sets of lawyers across the table from each other. At the signal, QANTAS’ lawyers hand over a chèque or more likely press a button, the renaming tens of millions of dollars get transferred, the Boeing crew unbuckles their seatbelts and they all stand up to have their places taken by the QANTAS crew. The Boeing people go into the passenger cabin and strap in for their flight to Australia after which they will fly home commercially.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:58 PM on January 7, 2018 [15 favorites]

About 20 years ago I flew from Hawaii to San Francisco on a 747 on Xmas day -- there were only a few people on the plane total (Jewish astronomers who had just finished Keck runs were the majority of the passengers, as I recall). We each were able to grab a middle row to stretch out on and sleep... one of the few times I've slept on a plane successfully.
posted by janewman at 8:49 PM on January 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

The one-and-only time I flew upstairs on a 747 (JFK -> LHR) the seats across the aisle were occupied by a family with two unhappy babies. Not the best flight I've had, but luckily I hadn't paid for the seat...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 5:29 AM on January 8, 2018

ps. My first ever flight on a 747 would have been sometime in the 1980's from Boston to London. They'd strapped a 5th engine under the wing, ferrying it to a service depot for a replacement. It looked so strange.
I need to correct this. My first time on a 747 would have been in the early 1980's on a connecting flight from Boston to Dallas on Northwest via Detroit. I'd probably blocked it because it was over populated with Mary Kay sales women travelling to Dallas for a national sales conference. Never had I been offered so many moisturising products and hopeful wishes for a pink cadillac on a four hour flight. It was weird. There are a few other stories there I should forget.
posted by michswiss at 5:39 AM on January 8, 2018

I flew on a 747 only once -- Chicago to Beijing. The route is pretty much straight north over the pole. Many hours looking at the weird Arctic landscapes of Canada and Siberia.

I sat in the very last seat -- row 72, I think. The landing was the smoothest I've ever experienced, and I heard a couple flight attendants mention it behind me. I turned around and said that I, too, thought it was a great landing. The flight attendant replied, "you know why? Female pilot."
posted by dsquared at 5:17 PM on January 9, 2018

"In Asia, no decent airline bothers to dick around anything smaller than a 747," Avi snaps. "If someone tries to pack you on board a 737 or god forbid an Airbus, run, don't walk, away from the boarding lounge, and call me on my Sky Pager and I'll send in a chopper to evacuate you."

This is true, apparently! On an episode of Air Disasters, a show I spent a couple of recent weeks completely immersed in, they said that air travel is so popular in Japan that they use 747s even for little hops of an hour or so, the kind of flights that, here in the US, we take on little buzzing commuter planes.
posted by Orlop at 1:37 PM on January 22, 2018

Here's a photo from a (presumably) BA 747 from London to the western US taken over a snowy central Scotland. It's amazing. Look at those tiny wee engines on the wing.
posted by ambrosen at 1:18 AM on January 23, 2018

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