The End an Era: Delta Air Lines and United Airlines 747s Nearing Retirement

Ranging from the legendary Pan Am and TWA to United Airlines, the Queen of the Skies – Boeing 747 – has been an important workhorse in many American airlines’ fleets. However, with both of the current American operators’ 747s nearing retirement, the era of Boeing 747s in passenger service with American airlines is about to come to an end later this year.

The End of the 747 Era in the United States: Delta Air Lines and United Airlines 747s Nearing Retirement

So, what is the history of the 747 at United Airlines and Delta Air Lines – the two American airlines that still operate the 747, what routes do the aircraft operate now, and what will the last flights of the type be with each of the two airlines?

United Airlines: Loyal to the 747 from 1970 ’til 2017

First, let’s take a look at United Airlines.

The airline took delivery of its very first Boeing 747, a “-100” version, on June 22, 1970, as the third US carrier after Pan Am and Continental Airlines. Just a month later, it put the aircraft into service starting with a San Francisco to Honolulu flight on July 23, 1970.

A decade and a half after getting its first 747, United Airlines acquired 11 Boeing 747SPs from Pan Am, followed by ten 747-200s. Then, in 1989, United Airlines received the first of its more than forty 747-400s – some of which it uses to this date – that became the backbone of its fleet for decades.

United Airlines Boeing 747-400

Current United Airlines Boeing 747 Operations

As of October 1, 2017, United Airlines operates the following three daily routes with its remaining Boeing 747-400 aircraft:

  • San Francisco – Frankfurt (last UA926/927 rotation departing SFO on October 27)
  • San Francisco – Seoul ICN (last UA893/892 rotation departing SFO on October 28)
  • San Francisco – London LHR (last UA901/900 rotation departing SFO on October 27)

United Airlines Boeing 747-400

Last United Airlines Boeing 747 International Flight

The very last scheduled international flight of the United Airlines Boeing 747 is scheduled to take place on October 29, 2017.

The Seoul Incheon to San Francisco flight, United 892, is scheduled to depart Seoul at 4:55PM, and arrive the same day at 11:25AM, after crossing the International Date Line.

There are still some seats left in both economy and business class if you want to join the flight – although, you might have to splurge a bit.

United Airlines Last Boeing 747-400 International Flight

United Airlines Boeing 747 Farewell Hub Tour

As some blogs have pointed out, before the United 747 will do its last international flight, as well as the last scheduled domestic flight that I will write about below, it will do a tour of United’s US hubs.

While these flights will be reserved to employees, I thought it’s worth mentioning it here in case the Queen of the Skies happens to be in your city one last time and you want to go see it.

The 747 will visit, besides its San Francisco base, the following airports: Los Angeles, Houston, Washington Dulles, Newark, Chicago, and Denver.

You can see the schedule of the tour in the tweet below:

The Last United Airlines 747 Flight: Recreating the Very First One

With the US hub tour and the last international flight done, the coolest of the “last flights” will take place on November 7, 2017.

This will be the very last one, and it will take passengers from San Francisco to Honolulu – the same route that the 747 entered into service with 47 years ago. Not only will the route be the same, but United will turn the flight into a “retro” experience as well:

This journey will serve as the ultimate throwback for customers, employees and invited guests as it recreates the first 747 flight operated by United in 1970. From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro uniforms for flight attendants to inflight entertainment befitting of that first flight, passengers will help send the Queen of the Skies off in true style.

The now-sold-out flight will start with a gate celebration at 9AM, followed by a departure out of San Francisco at 11AM. It will land at Honolulu airport at 2:45PM, and will be brought to an end by a celebration together with the local United employees – marking the end of an important era of United Airlines.

Delta Air Lines: Re-Acquiring the 747s After a Hiatus

The last American operator to retire the 747 – Delta Air Lines – is an interesting one.

The airline got its first Boeing 747-100 in 1970, making it one of the very first operators of the aircraft type. In total, however, the airline only got five 747-100s before putting them out of service in 1977 – just seven years after their introduction.

Since then, Delta did not operate any Boeing 747s. That is, until 2008 when it merged with Northwest Airlines taking over its fleet of 747-400s some of which it operates to this date.

And, in spite of this relatively brief history with the type, Delta Air Lines takes a lot of pride in its 747s. In fact, it has placed one of the retired 747-400s – the very first “-400” built – into the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta last year.

Northwest Airlines Boeing 747-400

Current Delta Air Lines Boeing 747 Operations

As of October 1, 2017, Delta Air Lines operates the following three daily routes with its remaining Boeing 747-400 aircraft:

  • Detroit – Seoul ICN (daily DL159/158 rotation, last unconfirmed)
  • Detroit – Tokyo NRT (last DL275/276 rotation departing DTW on October 29)
  • Detroit – Shanghai PVG (last DL583/582 rotation departing SFO on October 27)

I was lucky enough to have flown twice on the Delta 747-400 – on a roundtrip between Tokyo and Detroit back in March. You can read my report from the Detroit to Tokyo flight here.

Last Scheduled Domestic Delta Air Lines 747 Flight

Just like United is about to do, Delta Air Lines operated a one-time domestic flight. The flight – or better said the pair of flights – operated on September 5, 2017, from Honolulu to Los Angeles to Detroit after the final Tokyo to Honolulu 747 flight.

From what I have seen around the Internet, it seems like the flight was a lot of fun with a lot of enthusiasts joining to bid the Queen of the Skies a farewell.

…although, it seems like there was at least one non-avgeek onboard!

If you fancy more photos and comments from the domestic farewell flight, you can read a great report on The Points Guy.

Hurricane Relief: The Delta 747 Back in Domestic Action

While the above flight was the last scheduled Delta Air Lines 747 domestic flight, it wasn’t the last domestic flight ever.

Similar to the ANA Pokemon Peace Jet that was called into action after its last flight to help after the Kumamoto in earthquake in Japan, the Delta 747 was called back into domestic action to help with evacuating people out of Orlando ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Before retirement, some of Delta’s 747s had the honor of flying several evacuation flights out of Orlando to Detroit.

The Last Delta Air Lines 747 Flight: Not Yet Announced

As for the very last Delta Air Lines 747 flight, we can only speculate. At this point, it is fairly certain – unless Delta Air Lines decides to do a surprise special farewell flight – that the flight will be on the Seoul Incheon to Detroit route.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 747-400

All in all, it is unfortunate to see the United Airlines and Delta Air Lines 747-400s go. Especially since it means the end of the type in passenger operations by US airlines given that none of them ordered the 747-8i.

While I will not have a chance to fly on the type with neither United nor Delta anymore, I hope to get at least some more photos of them before they retire. I will also make sure to update this article if any news pop up – especially about the last Delta 747 flight.

Have you flown on either the United or Delta 747s? If so, how was your experience?

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