While there are still plenty of cargo 747-400s flying, that cannot be said about the passenger version of the aircraft. As such, I found it hard to resist catching a flight on Asiana’s sole remaining passenger 747-400 when it got scheduled to fly from Seoul to Tokyo back in April.
Continue reading this article to see what the flight on the Queen of the Skies was like, as well as to learn about the history of the 747 with Asiana Airlines.
Asiana Airlines and the Boeing 747
Being considerably younger than its former rival and (pending some more approvals) soon-to-be parent company Korean Air, Asiana Airlines never operated the classic 747 variants like the “-200.” Instead, the history of the Boeing 747 at Asiana Airlines started in 1991 with the “-400” variant. Given that, unlike Korean Air, Asiana Airlines does not operate the “-8,” the history of the Boeing 747 at Asiana Airlines not only started with the “-400” and its sub-variants but will also end with it.
According to Airfleets.net, the first Boeing 747-48E (with “8E” being Asiana Airlines’ Boeing customer code) was delivered to the airline in November 1991. The aircraft registered HL7413 is with the airline to this day, albeit as a freighter to which it was converted in 2007. Then, between 1992 and 1999, Asiana Airlines received eight more passenger 747-400s.
Of the nine passenger 747s that Asiana acquired directly from Boeing over the years, six were converted to freighters between 2007 and 2017. Five of the converted aircraft remain in service with Asiana Airlines to this day and one was sold to Western Global Airlines in 2021.
The three 747-48Es that were never converted to freighters include:
- HL7416 which was sold to Qantas in 1998
- HL7418 which was stored in 2019 and then scrapped
- HL7428 which is Asiana Airlines’ last active passenger 747
In addition to the (formerly) passenger 747s, Asiana received six 747 freighters directly from Boeing. Of those, three remain in service with the airline, two were sold to Air Atlanta Icelandic, and one was lost in a tragic accident in 2011.
Between 2010 and 2012, Asiana Airlines also acquired three 747 freighters second hand including two former JAL airframes and one Air New Zealand airframe; two of those remain in service.
With that, as of the time of writing this article, Asiana Airlines has a total of 11 Boeing 747-400s in service including ten freighters and one passenger aircraft.
A Brief History of HL7428, Asiana’s Last Passenger 747
As mentioned above, Asiana Airlines’ last remaining passenger Boeing 747 – a 747-48E – is registered HL7428.
After coming off the production line in Everett as line number 1160 (MSN 28552), the aircraft powered by four GE CF-6 engines took off for its first test flight on May 29, 1998. Later on, it was re-registered from its US test registration N6018N to its current South Korean registration and delivered to Asiana Airlines on June 18, 1999. It was, in fact, the last passenger 747 delivered to Asiana.
Originally painted in Asiana’s previous beige/brown livery, HL7428 was repainted into the airline’s current livery at the end of 2007. Asiana had the aircraft on lease from GECAS until 2005 when it bought the aircraft. In 2017, the aircraft was reconfigured from 359 seats (10 in first class, 45 in business, and 304 in economy) to the current 398 seats (10 in first class, 24 in business, and 364 in economy).
Throughout its nearly 25-year history, the aircraft could be regularly seen on flights from Seoul to far-away destinations like Los Angeles and Sydney. That said, it regularly operated within the region too, on flights to China and Japan among other places.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, the aircraft was parked in Seoul. While it was put back into service not long after being grounded, it remained very inactive. Most recently, it flew from Seoul to China once or twice per week and sat on the ground in Seoul the rest of the time. It also flew to Tokyo on two Saturdays in April (one of those flights is the one I took and talk about below).
For a good portion of May 2023, it is scheduled to come to Tokyo daily. What will happen with the aircraft after that remains to be seen.
OZ102 from Seoul to Tokyo: A Flight on Asiana’s Last 747
While I wasn’t originally planning to fly on the 747 from Seoul to Narita when it was first put into schedule, I couldn’t resist booking a flight when some award space opened a week before the second rotation.
Looking back, I am glad I decided to go – it’s not that easy to fly on the 747-400 these days!
Boarding at Incheon Airport
While I already had two boarding passes from the flight – one from Tokyo and one from Fukuoka – I still decided to stop by the check-in counters Asiana was using at Incheon’s terminal 1 and grab a boarding pass. You can never have enough 747 boarding passes, I guess!
I also rechecked the seat map to see if any seats worth changing to opened up but none did, so I stuck to my originally selected left-hand side window seat 53A.
With the boarding pass in my hand, I headed airside. All of the security check lanes were fairly crowded and so it took me about 40 minutes to clear security and immigration.
Airside, I first went to gate 28 to make sure the 747 was there. It sure was – and so were some aviation enthusiasts who were enjoying photos of it. Seeing a 747 parked at a gate never gets old!
As I hadn’t eaten breakfast before getting to the airport, I then briefly went to one of the Asiana Lounges. That said, I didn’t stay there for too long. About twenty minutes later, I returned to the gate to continue watching the 747 being prepared for the short flight to Tokyo.
I spent the rest of the time until boarding taking countless photos of the aircraft. With several other aviation enthusiasts lurking around the waiting area, I wasn’t the only one clicking away.
Also, I’m glad I went to the gate earlier than I usually would. Ten minutes or so before boarding was scheduled to start, a vehicle with a platform on an extending arm stopped in front of the aircraft. The arm extended and the staff standing on the platform started cleaning the cockpit windows – what a sight!
Perhaps the windows were a bit dusty considering the aircraft hadn’t flown in a week, since its previous Saturday’s flight to Narita and back.
Boarding started at 8:25AM – a bit more than half an hour before the 9AM scheduled departure time.
Onboard, I headed down the left aisle, past the stairs leading to the upper deck to my main deck seat 53A. Before reaching my seat, though, I stopped by the L2 door to get a photo of the wing and engines, and took some cabin photos.
Not long after I settled in my seat, a small child boarded and settled in a center section bulkhead seat together with his parents – how lucky for him to be flying on a 747!
Economy Class Cabin and Seats
The aircraft was equipped with 398 seats in three classes.
On the upper deck, there were 24 angle-flat business class seats in a single-aisle 2-2 layout. At the front of the main deck, there were 10 lie-flat first class seats in a 1-1 layout due to the pointy shape of the area. That said, row four also had a pair of seats in the middle for a 1-2-1 layout. The rest of the main deck consisted of economy class seats in a 3-4-3 layout.
Emergency exit row seats with extra legroom were available for reservation at an extra fee. Onboard, those seats were “blocked off” with “preferred” headrest covers and “extra payment required” stickers.
In the areas around the stairs leading to the upper deck and galleys, there were also some pairs of economy class seats without a middle seat.
Seating in the very back of the plane where the fuselage got narrower was in a 2-4-2 layout as well.
The entire interior of the aircraft from the overhead bins through the reading lights all the way to the overhead screens and lavatory occupancy indicators had a retro feel to it.
Each seat had access to an individual air vent.
The seat itself was comfortable and the legroom was good. I wouldn’t have minded sitting in it for half a day on a flight to the US or Europe.
In addition to a seat pocket and tray table, there were also an IFE screen and a coat hook on the seatback. In one of the armrests was an IFE controller. More about that later, though.
Departure from Incheon Airport
At 9AM, the cabin crew welcomed us onboard and five minutes later, the captain did so, mentioning that it was 15 degrees Celsius and rainy in Tokyo. “This is your captain speaking” sounds so much more exciting on a Boeing 747 than on any other airliner!
By the time the aircraft doors were closed at 9:18AM, the flight was almost entirely full. We were pushed back at 9:22AM – 22 minutes behind schedule – and the safety video was played. A few minutes later, the four engines were started one after another and we started taxiing to our departure runway, crossing runway 33L on the way.
Soon, we reached runway 33R from which we took off gracefully at 9:36AM.
During the climb out, we were offered some nice views of aircraft on the ground including some other 747s.
Economy Class Service
Seatbelt signs were switched off eight minutes after take-off. At that point, the cabin crew sprang into action, preparing the meal service. They started serving meals in my section another ten minutes or so later. Since I was just behind the large galley in the middle of the aircraft, it was just a couple of minutes later that I got my meal.
The meal consisted of a main – the same chicken that I was also served on my flight from Fukuoka to Seoul – and a box. Inside the box were a cup of water, a cup of mango compote, and a piece of packaged bread. For drink, I had orange juice.
While I didn’t eat the bread, I enjoyed the rest of the meal.
During the meal service, the crew was wearing nice flower-themed aprons. Those appeared to be available for purchase from the duty-free catalog too.
While cruising at 37,000 feet during the meal service, we hit some turbulence. The seatbelt signs went on and we climbed to 39,000 feet at which point the seatbelt signs were switched off. With that, the crew took the carts back out into the aisle to offer hot drinks and collect trash. The moment they stepped out of the galley, though, we hit another strong turbulence. As such, they secured the carts again for the next ten minutes or so.
The seatbelt signs stayed on for the rest of the flight but about ten minutes after we hit turbulence the second time, things got better and the crew finished the meal service.
The seat was equipped with a screen that was showing its age – not only because of the button labels being almost gone but also because of the low resolution and extremely bad touch responsiveness.
The controller in the armrest was retro too. It was equipped not only with the standard IFE controls but – like all such controllers in the past – with a credit card reader, a QWERTY keyboard, and a Nintendo-style gaming pad. I loved it!
Simple headphones were available in the seat pocket upon boarding.
In terms of content, there were a couple dozen or so movies, some TV shows (although there were only two different shows, each with a few episodes), and some music. There were half a dozen games too.
While the IFE system had a “news on demand” section, that did not work.
I spent the flight watching the airshow. That’s where the age of the aircraft showed too – rather than having one of the more recent types of airshows that are customizable, there was an airshow channel that circulated between several “old school” views.
Arrival in Tokyo
While I was hoping the seatbelt signs would be switched off so that I could spend some time walking around the cabin, they stayed on for the remainder of the flight.
Instead, it became clear that the flight was coming to an end when at 10:49AM, just as we entered the airspace above Honshu, it was announced that duty-free sales would be closed. Eight minutes later, the pilots asked the cabin crew to prepare for landing.
Soon we descended into the clouds and could barely see anything until shortly before landing.
At 11:18AM, the landing gear was lowered and at 11:22AM, we landed on Narita airport’s very wet runway 16R.
We came to a full stop at gate 31 just a few minutes later, at 11:28AM. With that, the amazing flight on what used to be one of the most common widebody airliners and is now a very rare one came to an end eight minutes behind schedule. I wouldn’t have minded staying onboard for another few hours!
Unfortunately, though, the cabin crew (or the chief purser should I say) wasn’t too happy about aviation enthusiasts trying to hang around to get some photos of the different cabins, etc. Instead, we were ushered off the aircraft very fast.
With that, I stepped into the terminal and made my way to the immigration and customs, excited about having just flown on a 747-400 in 2023.
Not having to wait in long queues or show any COVID-related documents on the way outside was a nice bonus too!
Flying on a Boeing 747 – especially the 747-400 – is something that can’t be said no to in 2023. I am very happy to have done the quick trip to Seoul to catch this flight. From seeing the Queen of the Skies parked at the gate at Incheon airport through boarding it all the way to flying on it, it was an amazing experience.
While I wish I was able to explore the plane a bit more during or after the flight, that’s something I’ll have to do the next time I have a chance to fly it. With that, I hope Asiana keeps HL7428 flying for a long time to come!