Today, United Airlines (UAL) flew – for the final time – a Boeing 747 aircraft, the jumbo jet with the unmistakable silhouette that once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel.
Serving as the ultimate throwback, the airline recreated the first 747 flight operated by United in 1970 for today’s historic farewell journey. Flight UA747 departed from San Francisco with service to Honolulu with more than 300 customers, employees and distinguished guests onboard.
From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro uniforms for flight attendants to inflight entertainment befitting of that first flight, the “Queen of the Skies” is being sent off in style. Seats for this flight sold out in less than 90 minutes when this farewell celebration was announced in September.
“The iconic 747 is a remarkably special aircraft that signaled a new era of air travel and was equally recognizable and beloved by our customers and crew alike,” said Oscar Munoz, CEO of United. “While today is bittersweet, we’ll continue to honor the Queen of the Skies’ game-changing legacy of connecting people and uniting the world with our next-generation of long-haul aircraft.”
The send-off began this morning at SFO with a gate party featuring a 747 gallery, 1970s costumes for use in a retro photo booth, a life-size retirement card for customers and employees to sign and of course, cake. Oscar Munoz addressed the crowd alongside State Senator Jerry Hill and executives from Boeing and Pratt & Whitney.
Upon landing in Honolulu, local employees will welcome the aircraft with final festivities to close out the historic day, including remarks from United leaders and Hawaii State Representative Henry J.C. Aquino.
747-400 Facts and Figures
• The 747-400 ranks as the commercial airliner with the largest passenger interior volume, at 31,285 cubic feet.
• At 231 feet, 10 inches from nose to tail, the 747-400 is roughly as long as five humpback whales end-to-end.
• The wingspan (211 feet, 5 inches) is about 10 feet wider than the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
• Its wings have a surface area of 5,650 square feet, bigger than a standard size NBA basketball court.
• A typical trans-Atlantic flight uses over 5.5 tons of food supplies— more than the weight of a large Asian elephant.
• The tail height is 63.8 feet, equivalent to a six-story building.
• The aircraft contains 171 miles of wiring, enough to connect New York City to Baltimore.
• The 747-400 is one of the fastest passenger aircraft in service, with a cruise speed of 565 mph, more than twice as fast as a Formula One car.
United’s 747 Through the Years
June 26, 1970: United Airlines receives its first 747-100 complete with a christening ceremony fit for a luxury liner.
July 23, 1970: United makes its first 747 commercial flight, with a trip from San Francisco to Honolulu.
April 22, 1985: United announces its plan to acquire Pan Am’s Pacific routes, as well as 11 747SP planes. The 747SPs feature a 48-foot-shorter body and fly higher, faster, and farther than standard 747 models.
January 29-30, 1988: Friendship One, a 747SP owned by United Airlines, sets the around-the-world air speed record of 36 hours, 54 minutes, and 15 seconds. This special flight raises $500,000 for children’s charities through the Friendship Foundation. Tickets cost a minimum of $5,000, and special guest passengers included astronaut Neil Armstrong, famed test pilots Bob Hoover and Lieutenant General Laurence C. Craigie, and Moya Lear, the widow of Lear Jet founder Bill Lear.
June, 1989: United Airlines receives their first 747-400 which provides increased range.
September 1996: A 747SP previously flown by United is transformed into NASA’s SOFIA, or Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, which carries a 17-ton, 8-foot-wide infrared telescope mounted behind an enormous sliding door.
January 11, 2017: United announces that it will retire the 747-400 fleet in the last quarter of 2017.
July 28, 2017: United schedules a special domestic flight from Chicago O’Hare to San Francisco to allow more customers to experience the Queen of the Skies.
October, 2017: United employees get a chance to say goodbye to the 747 when the aircraft goes on a farewell tour with stops at each of the carrier’s U.S. hubs.
October 29, 2017: United flies its last international 747 flight from Seoul to San Francisco.
November 7, 2017: United celebrates the retirement of the 747 with a fitting full-circle moment. A special retro event sees the aircraft flying from San Francisco to Honolulu—a nod to its first-ever flight back in 1970.