The last ever Boeing 747 to fly passengers with an American airline will touch down this week, marking the end of an era for an aircraft that brought air travel to the masses.
Delta was planning to fly its last of the original “jumbo jets” on Sunday but due to “operational need” the US carrier brought the plane immediately out of retirement for an additional trip to Seoul and back.
Now, the last commercial flight of its 747 will land at Detroit on Wednesday morning, from the South Korean capital.
This means that passengers on the weekend flights to Seoul and back expecting to be on the last 747 route will have instead been on the penultimate. And those anticipating flying on Delta’s new Airbus A350 will have found themselves on the historic goodbye.
After completing the 14-hour flight, the airline’s last remaining 747 will fly a special “farewell tour”, taking in a number of stops including Everett, Washington, home of the aircraft's final assembly production line, as well as Los Angeles, so Delta employees can tour the aircraft, and Minneapolis-St Paul.
Delta rival United retired its last 747 in November, but fans of the "Queen of the Skies" can still fly the aircraft with BA, Korean Air and Lufthansa.
The gradual loss of the 747 to the industry is seen by experts as the end of the beginning of mass commercial air travel.
“[It] made flying available for everyone,” Boeing historian Michael Lombardi told the AFP. “The 747 gave wings to the world.”
A nostalgic trip for an iconic airplane: we’ll be live around 9 AM Pacific Time to capture the landing of one of @Delta’s last 747-400s as it stops by @FutureOfFlight. #DL747Farewell#avgeekpic.twitter.com/bHs8vSJkwH— Boeing Airplanes (@BoeingAirplanes) December 18, 2017
“All of a sudden, you could go from Singapore to London in less than 24 hours. It made everything more accessible.”
Boeing will continue to manufacture the aircraft for cargo operators and the president of the United States, as the preferred choice of plane for Air Force One.
Earlier this month, Dutch airline KLM bid farewell to its last 747. When it landed at Enschede ready for scrapping, the aircraft was met on the runway by a family of wild roe deer.
“Aside from all sorts of financial reasons which we will not burden you with, we feel it’s very much of a question of getting out when you’re on top,” said Jacky van Damme, of KLM, on the retirement of its 747s.
“The spotlights have to be shared with new stars like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Boeing 777. These aircraft are more economical, quieter and offer passengers more comfort.”
Van Damme explained why the 747 was such an important aircraft: “The first 747 jumbo jet changed the airline industry more than 45 years ago. After all, it made it possible to travel a long distance with numerous passengers for the first time. The world became accessible to the masses.”
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Last year Air France bid farewell to its last 747 with a flight alongside 11 Alpha Jets from the Patrouille de France.
British Airways, which has 41 of the jumbo jets, says they are being phased out and will be gone from its hangars by 2024.