Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

Editor's note: Check back later Tuesday for photos and updates from the farewell flight festivities.

SAN FRANCISCO — It sure didn’t feel like a curtain call. But that’s what it was Tuesday morning at San Francisco International Airport as United Airlines bid farewell to its last Boeing 747.

United Flight 747 took off around noon PT, about an hour later than scheduled because of slow boarding and a maintenance delay, departing from Gate 86 after a de facto party among those ticketed on what went into the books as United’s last-ever passenger flight on the 747.

MOREFirst look: United's Boeing 747 farewell flight was one to remember

All on board had booked the flight specifically to be on the last 747 departure, a special one-off flight scheduled by United in September to give the famous jumbo jet a proper farewell.

“It’s a grand finale, no question,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said from the jet’s upper deck just before takeoff. “It’s a fitting send-off in the most dignified way for the ‘Queen of the Skies’.”

Tickets for the 374-seat jet sold out in hours, despite fares of $550 and up for the one-way flight to Hawaii.

ARCHIVES: United's farewell flight for the Boeing 747 sells out in less than 2 hours

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

“I had to be here,” said John Vanderford, 56, of Detroit, as he partied with other Flight 747 customers prior to boarding. “It’s the last 747 flight. I remember flying it as a kid, on this exact route — San Francisco to Honolulu."

Following Tuesday’s flight, the plane will return empty to San Francisco before making its final flight to an airline “boneyard” in the California desert later this week.

The retirement ends the iconic plane’s 47-year run at United, which took its first version of the jet in 1970. Now, with United’s 747 out of service, Delta is the only U.S. passenger carrier that still flies the jet.                    

But the Queen of the Skies’ days are numbered there, too.

Delta’s final flight on the 747 also is on the horizon. Delta’s last flight on the plane will come next month, meaning no U.S. carrier will by flying the aircraft into 2018. Like United, Delta’s last 747 also will head to a southwestern salvage yard, likely in early 2018.

The trend extends beyond U.S. shores as the passenger version of the 747 faces flagging fortunes elsewhere. A number of other global airlines — including Air France and Hong Kong’s Cathay — have retired their 747s recently.

Just this week, British Airways — the world’s largest remaining operator of the 747 — confirmed its plans to begin phasing out the jet. Of the 36 still in its fleet, British Airways said half will be gone by 2021 and the rest by early 2024.

YOUR TAKE: Boeing 747 photos from readers (story continues below)

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

The move away from the four-engined 747 comes as newer fuel-efficient two-engine models have gained favor among the world’s airlines. Increasingly, carriers have looked to Boeing’s 777 and 787 or Airbus’ A350 and A330 when buying new widebody jets.

The outlook isn’t all doom and gloom for the 747, however. The freighter version of the jet remains a staple for some U.S. cargo carriers, such as UPS and Atlas Air. And a handful of foreign carriers with recent orders for passenger 747s are likely to maintain scheduled service on the jumbo jet at least through the next decade.

But, for passenger flights on U.S. airlines, the end is near. 

“It’s bittersweet. This is an airplane that redefined travel,” said Henry Harteveldt, a longtime veteran of the airline industry who now runs the Atmosphere travel consultancy. “The 747 has been in United’s fleet for 47 years.”

Against the backdrop, the mood on Tuesday was one of celebration as United’s 747 readied for its ride into the sunset.

CLOSE

United Airline's iconic Boeing 747 plane, nostalgically dubbed the 'queen of the skies,' took its last flight from San Francisco on Tuesday. The plane will likely be retired at an airline graveyard near the Mojave Desert. (Nov. 7) AP

United rolled out a “throwback” theme for the flight, an attempt to recreate the carrier’s first-ever passenger flight on the 747. Not coincidentally, that first flight also flew from San Francisco to Honolulu.

United pulled out all the stops to evoke the magic of that era on Tuesday’s flight. Crews donned 1970s retro uniforms and customers were offered items from a “1970s-inspired” menu.

When it first announced the flight back in September, United promised the old-school vibe would “help send the Queen of the Skies off in true style.”

The crowd assembled for the flight seemed to appreciate the effort.

“When they said it was going out with style, this is style,” Vanderford said shortly before boarding began.

The party continued onboard Tuesday as United Flight 747 took its spot in the record books.

The flight landed in Honolulu shortly after 3 p.m. local time Tuesday, retracing United's inaugural 747 route from 1970. Once in Hawaii, the farewell party continued into the evening -- first at the arrival gate, then in Honolulu's Waikiki neighborhood as many of the Flight 747 passengers made their way into the city.

As for United, the airline will move on to newer aircraft — newer models of the Boeing 777 — to help it replace the flying that had been done on the 747.

“The advent of the new aircraft, while not as iconic or romantic, are certainly incredibly efficient and wonderful vehicles for transportation," Munoz, the United CEO, said. “It’s just an evolving aspect of what we all do.”

IN PHOTOS: The world's first Boeing 747 gets a makeover

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

IN PHOTOS: One of the last airworthy Boeing 747-200s flies into retirement

Autoplay
Show Thumbnails
Show Captions

 

 

facebook sharetwitter shareemail shareemail share
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2hQoQC8