50 years since its first flight, the Queen of the Skies is hanging up its crown. Illustration for The Club by Sarah Jones

INSIDE TRACK • October 2020

A love letter to… the 747

It’s true: the era of the fuel-hungry jumbo jet is nearing its end. For many, news of this final chapter hit home hardest when British Airways announced that its mighty Boeing 747s were to fly their last flights. And though newer, more environmentally economical aircraft may be taking its place, nothing can replace the thrill that this legendary ‘Queen of Skies’ gave to travellers around the world.

To say goodbye, we talk to those who knew and loved her best...

“Wherever you were in the world, she’d get you home safe”

Says who? Matt Griffin, UK correspondent for the International Flight Network
Executive Club: Silver
My first impression of the 747 was being bowled over by the sheer size of her. The height of the plane was always so overwhelming, yet somehow she managed to look graceful. Every shape and contour felt friendly and safe, not imposing. Truly, one of the most iconic aircraft of our time.
I’ll always remember watching the Golden Gate Bridge pass under her starboard wing at sunset as we departed San Francisco, those Rolls-Royce engines providing the soundtrack to an unforgettable moment.
As a Londoner, I’ve barely known a day go by without seeing a British Airways 747 in flight. It’s almost surreal to think that I’ll never see that again.
One word to describe the 747? Home. Wherever you were in the world, she’d get you home safe.

Says who? Eddie Irving, operations manager
Executive Club: Gold
Looking through the departure lounge windows at T5, the 747 took your breath away. I’ll always remember those flights I had when I was heading home for Christmas: the cabin crew and pilots always have a good buzz around them just before Christmas. It almost feels as if the aircraft is warmer at that time of year.
I didn’t fly on the 747 as much as I wanted to and always promised my sons I would “take them upstairs” on a plane to Disney, so it’s definitely a blow. The retirement of the 747 reminds me of when British Airways retired Concorde. Both are part of the airline’s DNA and always will be.
One word to describe the 747? I’d say ‘timeless’, like a Porsche 911.

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Says who? Anju Chand, main crew, worldwide
Since joining British Airways as an air hostess in 1996, the 747 has always been my favourite aircraft. This picture of me (in the gallery below) was also taken in 1996, in Gaborone, Botswana, where she waited for us like a mother to head back to Johannesburg after days of sunbathing and roaming the city.
It was a good day whenever I got to work on the upper deck: 20 wonderful passengers, all of whom I’m sure had that same luxurious feeling as I did, of being on their own private jet. I could never keep the smile off my face.
I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the 747 and, in a way, I would have wanted to give her one last hug. I can’t imagine any aircraft ever inspiring so much affection again.
One word to describe the 747? Wow. It’s the only way to describe her! On the ground or in the air, she definitely had the wow factor.

Lucinda Lohse Anju Chand Lydia Knapp > <
“The flying experience was perfect. So smooth on pushback, the acceleration as we started our take-off roll, the effortless climb…”

Says who? Amy Dixon, operations coordinator
Executive Club: Blue
I fell in love with aviation aged six. One of the first model aeroplanes I ever owned was a little British Airways 747 in the Landor livery, and I’ve been one of its greatest admirers ever since.
Finally, I had the opportunity to fly on a 747 three years ago, when I took my mum and sister to New York for Mum’s 60th birthday. The flying experience was perfect. So smooth on pushback, the acceleration as we started our take-off roll, the effortless climb…
We were upgraded to World Traveller Plus, where they learned it was my mum’s birthday and even gave her Champagne. Then a cabin crew member, Martin, discovered it was my first 747 trip and that I was a huge aviation geek, and proceeded to take some amazing wing shots over Cape Cod for me. I kept the boarding card as a souvenir.
Covid-19 has disrupted the aviation industry in unprecedented ways, and I guess it was inevitable for reductions in fleets to happen, but this one felt like a hammer blow and really brought home the difficulties facing the industry.
One word to describe the 747? Iconic.

The Landor 747 arrives

Watch the video below

The Landor 747 arrives

Says who? Filippo Fior, fashion photographer
Executive Club: Bronze
The 747 is enormous in the eyes of an eight-year-old. This was back when I was living in South Africa and going back to Italy with my family for our vacations. Crossing the equator, there would be always some kind of turbulence and I would run in the aisle trying long jumps before getting caught by a hostess.
On long flights to New York Fashion Week, my boss and I would have a couple of G&Ts and sometimes end up having a photoshoot on board. We’d also book the last two seats at the very end of the cabin, just to be a bit closer to the galley and get more drinks! Then the 747s would take us back to London, the beloved crew looking after a couple of very tired passengers.
One word to describe the 747? I’d have to say ‘friend’.

Says who? Lydia Knapp, customer service manager, mixed fleet
There she is! That was my first thought on seeing this huge, beautiful 747 waiting for me on the stand before my first operating flight. It felt so special as I had longed to operate as crew on it. Our British Airways livery just had that way of making it stand out above all the other liveries out there.
Flying over Table Mountain in Cape Town will forever be one of my favourite 747 memories. The sea, the mountains… Just beautiful.
I cried when I heard the news! I could not believe that my last flight had passed without me knowing. But the way I see it is its better to have loved the 747 and lost it than never to have experienced it in the first place.
One word to describe the 747? Regal.

“The upper deck seemed to be a magical and mysterious feature, one that I knew no other plane had at the time”

Says who? Nicky Kelvin, The Points Guy UK
Executive Club: Gold
As a kid, the 747 sparked my passion for aviation. I was 12 years old when I got to sit in the cockpit of a 747 for landing (back when security restrictions were more relaxed!) The upper deck seemed to be a magical and mysterious feature, one that I knew no other plane had at the time. I come from Leeds, so getting to go to Heathrow was always a thrill – the one place I’d get to see the big birds.
A standout flight was on the upper deck travelling to New York on my way to The Points Guy head office when I first started my job. I knew the upper deck experience was going to be special, but the crew made it even better. Incredible service.
The recent retro livery reveals were also very special. In particular, when I got to go Dublin to watch the Landor-liveried 747 (my favourite!) roll out of the hangar with only a handful of other people, it was a once in a lifetime experience.
The retirement was expected, but that didn’t make the pill any easier to swallow. When it was first confirmed that they wouldn’t be coming back into service, I went on a run around the Heathrow perimeter (a great av-geek jog!) and to the eastern end of the airfield where many of the British Airways 747s are parked. I might even have shed a tear.
One word to describe the 747? Majestic.

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Says who? Lucina Lohse
, cabin crew, mixed fleet
The jumbo jet was so great to work on as crew
, except for those freezing cold doors! We always laughed it off. Structurally she was so gorgeous, we could easily forgive this kind of thing. Id always think to myself, one day she’ll be a museum relic, and to relish flying with her while I could. 
When I was little, I thought her nose looked scary like a shark. Now, my best memories of her are working in First back from Johannesburg and Vancouver. We almost hit Mach 1 on a half-empty flight back from Cape Town – practically supersonic!
Of course, I was sad to learn of her retirement. My last trip on her was running the galley in World Traveller to Miami. I won't forget that trip now.
One word to describe the 747? Sublime. 

Says who? Scott Bateman, professional pilot and Chairperson of PilotsTogether
Executive Club: Blue
My love affair with the 747 started when my dad bought me an Airfix model of one to make back in late ’70’s. I treasured that model and it was attached to my bedroom roof by fishing twine until I was well into my teens.
Under the watchful eye of my instructor, the 747 was the first passenger jet I ever flew. It was June 2008 and I had just completed my conversion training. The day started at Heathrow and ended 11 hours later as I landed in Hong Kong. A truly memorable day.

Scott Bateman 2

Photo from the 747 cockpit by: Scott Bateman


Flying the 747 back from Rio de Janeiro with the UK Paralympic Team 
was certainly a flight to remember. It was a privilege to bring them home and hear about their personal stories of triumph overcoming despair.
I have a long affinity with the 747 and so it was really sad to see the last of the fleet take their last journey without any real fanfare. But then, maybe it was fitting for the Queen of the Skies, who quietly slipped away at the end of her momentous reign.
How would I describe the 747? Gone, but certainly never forgotten. 

“The 11-hour flight just wasn’t long enough – a view often shared by those lucky enough to fly upstairs on a British Airways 747”

Says who? Elliot Sharod, aviosadventurer.com
Executive Club: Silver
The first thing that always made me giddy was the staircase. It was one of those things that blew my mind. Not only were hundreds of people flying through the air at 35,000 feet, watching their favourite films and having dinner, but there was an upstairs, too!
The bubble was the closest you could get to flying on a private jet. When I first walked up those stairs, I knew that I was in for a treat. Before my trip to Vegas, I’d spent months reading up on the best seats upstairs and playing around with my seat selection. The 11-hour flight just wasn’t long enough – a view often shared by those lucky enough to fly upstairs on a British Airways 747.
When news broke of its retirement, I immediately thought back to my last 747 flight to New York, upstairs, in my happy place. For those not as passionate about aviation, it’s a strange thing to feel upset about... after all, it’s a plane! But, truly, I was gutted.
One word to describe the 747? It has to be two words: The Queen.

British Airways says goodbye to the first of its last 747 jumbo jets

Watch the video below

British Airways says goodbye to the first of its last 747 jumbo jets

Says who? Daniel Henkes, railway signaller for Network Rail
Executive Club:
Silver
I flew on eight British Airways 747s in total. My first experience in the bubble was from Heathrow to New York, where I remember a lovely member of the crew called Jennifer made our journey fly by, if you’ll pardon the pun. She described the upper deck as a “20-seater private jet” and even discreetly arranged a flight deck visit upon arrival into New York with the captain personally coming to my seat and inviting me in.
Losing the 747 feels a bit like losing a friend. To many it is just an aircraft but, with the memories that the 747 gave me, and the knowledge that the bubble is no more, it was always going to be a sad day.
One word to describe the 747? Iconic. There was no other aircraft like it.

Says who? Michelle Warnock, full-time carer and former cabin crew
Executive Club: Blue
My first impression was that she was magnificent. I remember being so excited and trying to wrap my head around the size of her, and how heavy she actually was! No matter how many times I sat in my seat for take-off, I was always amazed when she so smoothly left the ground.
A huge pang of nostalgia came over me when I heard about the retirement. I was cabin crew with British Airways for many years and saw the world thanks to the 747. She will always be my favourite aircraft.
There’s only one word to describe the 747: unforgettable.

This article has been tagged Opinion, BA