The fall I turned 27, 1980, my mom and I took a trip. We spent a week in Ireland, took a ferry to Wales and flew back to Seattle from London. Today, I’m thinking about the last leg of our journey — Heathrow Airport to Sea-Tac on a Pan Am flight. It was a Boeing 747.
This fall, I’m not the only one sharing memories of the original jumbo jet. It’s a season of nostalgia for the 747, an iconic aircraft built exclusively — more than 1,530 of them — in Everett. By the end of this year, no U.S. airline will be flying passengers on the plane with the unmistakable humpbacked profile.
For folks with fond memories of 747s, the Boeing Store at the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour facility in Mukilteo has plenty of memorabilia. There are 747 models in many sizes, including a $195 replica of the first jumbo jet, which wowed a massive crowd when it was rolled out in Everett on Sept. 30, 1968.
Later dubbed “The City of Everett,” that first 747 took its initial flight Feb. 9, 1969. It’s now at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
The Boeing Store has model planes, clothing and other fun things for fans of all Boeing aircraft. Among its jumbo jet offerings are 747 coffee cups and drink glasses, 747 refrigerator magnets, 747 lanyards and lapel pins. Of course, the store’s “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going!” items never go out of style.
“For those who grew up under 747-crossed skies, it can be hard to appreciate how revolutionary the jet’s dimensions were when it first (and improbably, to some observers) got airborne in 1969,” British Airways pilot Mark Vanhoenacker wrote in his first-person account published Oct. 10 in The New York Times.
“People who go on the tour are interested in all the planes,” said Tanasse, noting that a 747 model hanging from the shop ceiling is an earlier version of the presidential Air Force One.
On Nov. 7, United Airlines flew its last 747 on a final flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. The sold-out flight was a throwback, with the crew wearing 1970s-style uniforms. Delta, the only U.S. passenger carrier still flying the 747, posted on its website Tuesday a schedule of its last jumbo jet flights, all next month.
A Delta 747-400 flies between Detroit and Seoul’s Incheon airport. The airline’s final regularly scheduled 747 flight from South Korea is Dec. 17. A Delta employee farewell tour aboard a 747 includes flights from Detroit to Seattle Dec. 18, Seattle to Atlanta Dec. 19 and Atlanta to Minneapolis-St. Paul Dec. 20.
After that, according to Delta, the 747 will make a few charter flights through Dec. 31. In the new year, the United 747 will be with other aging aircraft in California’s Mojave Desert; Delta’s retired 747 will be stored in Arizona.
It’s not the end for the 747, which is still in production in Everett. The freighter version, with no passenger windows, remains much in use. Late last year, UPS ordered 14 of the 747-8F freight carriers. Some foreign airlines continue carrying passengers on 747s. British Airways now has the world’s largest 747 fleet.
Anyone wanting to buy the passenger version, the 747-8 Intercontinental, or 747-8I, could still order one. A Bloomberg article from earlier this year explained why that’s not happening much. There’s waning demand for the four-engine 747-8, which can carry more than 450 passengers, because twin-engine wide-body planes such as the Boeing 777 can also haul hundreds of people while burning less fuel. Maintaining 747 engines is also an issue, the Bloomberg article said.
Chances are, I won’t ever fly on a 747 again. I can tell my grandkids about it.
What I remember from 1980 is a long trip on a huge plane. From the start of dinner service until we had food on our trays took more than an hour. The much-ballyhooed spiral staircase to the upper-deck cocktail lounge was for first-class passengers only. We were in coach.
George Sefrit and his wife, Judith, were in the Boeing Store on Thursday. The Birch Bay couple recalled flying from San Francisco to Hawaii in the 1990s aboard a United 747. “It was a smooth flight,” George Sefrit said.
Boeing Tour guide Paul Moskvin, a Boeing retiree, said the company’s new 777X is changing the market for 747 passenger jets. “The 777X will be the largest and most efficient twin-engine jet in the world,” the Boeing Co. website says.
That’s progress, and economics. “It makes sense,” Moskvin said. Still, the 68-year-old knows it’s hard to say goodbye to the 747, long called “the queen of the skies.”
“It’s an amazing airplane,” Moskvin said. “It is kind of sad to see that era pass.”