5 reasons why the British Airways Boeing 747 was so special
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Last week, British Airways announced the immediate retirement of its Boeing 747 fleet. The writing was on the wall for some time, as the airline had always planned to retire the superjumbo by 2024. But because of the coronavirus pandemic and in an effort to cut costs, the airline was forced to accelerate those retirement plans.
Earlier this month, Boeing announced that it would also be ceasing production of the 747, meaning that those who are keen to fly the aircraft again will only have limited time and options to do so. It’s the end of an area, and I, for one, will miss the BA Boeing 747 for a number of reasons.
Sitting in the nose of a British Airways Boeing 747 was unique
Sitting in the nose of a 747 is arguably the best way to fly. Most airlines flying the 747 have premium seats in the nose, but there are two very specific reasons why I’ll miss doing so on British Airways.
Row 1 of the British Airways 747 featured the most coveted seats on the plane. Because of the curvature of the aircraft, it was actually possible to look forward from the window of Row 1 — albeit only slightly. While the seats were a little less private than others in the cabin, the unique perspective offered something you’ll rarely find elsewhere. Other carriers typically feature a more dense business-class layout in the nose of the 747, making the forward-looking feeling impossible.
The other reason is that was a much quieter experience when you were seated in the nose of the 747, as there was no through traffic. In between seats 1A and 1K was a wardrobe for bigger items, but the cockpit was above the first-class cabin. Unlike most other aircraft in the sky, there was no galley, toilets or doors in front of the cabin — the only way in or out was via the back, which made the cabin feel much more private and quiet.
As was the upper deck on a British Airways Boeing 747-400
One of the instantly recognisable features of the Boeing 747 is the hump at the front of the aircraft. Though the Airbus A380 has since also become a double-decker aircraft, the upper deck on the 747 is a special cabin. Most airlines typically use it for premium passengers either with a first class or business class layout.
Whilst not matching the early lounge layouts that some airlines installed upstairs, British Airways had just 20 Club World seats on the upper deck. Served by two dedicated crew members, it was a very private cabin — much quieter, much higher off the ground, almost giving the feeling of being on a private jet. It was certainly easy to forget that there were a few hundred more passengers on the aircraft when sat on the upper deck.
The British Airways 747 opened up the world for Brits
The Boeing 747-400 wasn’t the first Queen of the Skies BA and many other carriers flew. In fact, when BA got its first 744 or in 1989, earlier versions of the 747 had been flying for 20 years. The 747-200 transformed transatlantic travel with its improved range from the original version. PanAm and BOAC made the 747 their workhorse transporting passengers between the U.S. and Europe in comfort and style previously unknown.
BA’s initial Boeing 747s made Australia accessible for the airline. However, the routing — partly driven by range and refuelling requirements and partly driven by other commercial considerations — meant that a flight to Sydney in the 1970s operated often stopped in Tel Aviv or Tehran along the way.
The 747-400 was an evolution of previous versions and a combination of changes meant it opened up the world. The range of the 744 at a mighty 13,490 km compared to the 8,560 km of the first 747 meant farther afield destinations were within reach.
The 747 is simply Iconic
Whether referred to as jumbo jet, Queen of the Skies or any other name, the Boeing 747 is iconic and instantly recognisable. Over and above carrying cargo and passengers, the aircraft has also been used for a number of other missions, including carrying space shuttle Endeavour.
Size matters — big, but intimate
As advanced and as better as modern aircraft are, to me, they can often feel plastic. While the modernity of them is, overall, a good thing for the environment and for airlines, as they are cheaper to operate, I’ll miss the rattling and shaking as the Queen of the Skies accelerates down the runway towards takeoff speed. There’s no mistaking, you know you are on a big aircraft when on the 747.
Having said that though, most of BA’s 747 fleet has actually in a high-J layout, meaning that they had a particularly big business class-cabin — 86 seats to be precise. That meant that there were only 145 seats in economy class, 30 in premium economy and 14 in First. Though you were on one of the biggest aircraft around, it was actually much less dense than many others and thus meant that the o-board experience was often more comfortable than on some of the more modern jets.
During the past few years, BA retained the title of the largest 747 operator, with a total of 57 in its fleet. Historically, it was the second-largest airline to operate the 747, with 94 jumbo jets in its fleet over the years. It was only beaten by Japan Airlines, which operated 108 of the aircraft type.
Call me sentimental and dramatic, but there will never be another plane like the Boeing 747. The A380, which Airbus has also elected to cease producing, might be bigger, but it just isn’t as majestic, beautiful or as special. As much as I like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787, which will replace the 747s in BA’s long-haul fleet, the Boeing 747 will always remain special and irreplaceable for many of us.
While BA has said the 747 won’t fly another commercial flight, let’s hope it does carry out some sort of retirement events or flight so fans get a chance to properly say our goodbyes to the Queen of the Skies.
Featured image by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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