United Airlines saying Goodbye to the Queen of the Skies
The Boeing 747, known as the "Queen of the Skies" was one of the most revolutionary airplanes in the history of aviation. But it didn't just signal a new era of jet travel - it became beloved by passengers and crew alike.
This special report pays homage to United's most recognizable aircraft as it flies into the sunset.
How I Lost My Heart to the United B747
The Boeing 747 has earned its reputation as a revolutionary aircraft. Over its 47 years of service with United Airlines, the Queen of the Skies has built up a considerable fan base.
My love of aviation started with my first B747 ride in 1993 on United Airlines flight 800 from Hong Kong Kai Tak to Tokyo Narita.
Since then, I've flown over 70+ Transpacific flights on-board The United B747-400. My first flight in International Business Class was on a United B747. My first flight in International First Class was also on a United B747. Needless to say, the many hours I've spent inside The United Jumbo Jet has inspired my passion of aviation and passenger flight.
The Last United International B747 flight
Very early at the beginning of 2017, United announced that it will be accelerating the retirement of its aging B747-400 fleet. The B747-400s would only operate out of San Francisco base serving Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, London and Frankfurt in the summer of 2017. The last ever United B747-400 International flight was scheduled for October 29th from Seoul Incheon to San Francisco.
I bought my ticket very early, and although further changes to the flight schedule may always be possible, I was determined to be on the last United B747 flight as it means so much to me.
I prepared myself for the trip by flying from Dubai via Bangkok to Incheon the night before. I was so very excited about the flight and yet so anxious that I didn't sleep too well.
UA892 Seoul Incheon to San Francisco on October 29th
I arrived at airport check-in 3.5 hours ahead of the schedule. I only visited the Asiana Lounge briefly for about 20 minutes before heading to the gate to catch the United B747-400 coming in from San Francisco at 3pm.
United hosted a small ceremony at the gate to commemorate the last B747-400 international flight. The Country Manager, David Ruch, gave a farewell speech for the Queen of the sky.
There were many photo opportunities at the gate to bid farewell to the United Queen.
To my surprise, there were lot of aviation enthusiasts (Avgeeks) that came from all over the world to bid farewell to the United B747-400. First and Business Class were completely booked and most of the seats were sold to fans of United B747. There were over 20 United Mileage Plus 1K and a Global Service in Economy as a result of the sold out premium cabins!
Boarding took longer than usual, due to many AvGeek and United Air Line fans took the opportunity to take 1 last photo. One United Tulip big fan, Mark, brought hundreds of United Tulip stickers and decided to stick them on the door and on many parts inside the aircraft! "Bring back the Tulip" he said.
We were allowed a visit to the cockpit and permitted to take as many photos as we wanted.
I took the opportunity to walk through all cabins and to take many photos with the crew.
Placed on every seat was a flight certificate; It was a really nice thought of United! First and Business Class passengers received theirs in a wooden frame while Economy passengers got them inside a sealed envelope.
We departed on-time from Incheon’s Runway 33, accompanied by a beautiful view from the setting sun; we first flew a full circle over Incheon and then headed east towards Japan and The Pacific.
As we were flying eastbound, we quickly lost the sunlight and into darkness. However, the celebration in the cabin was just starting!
On this United Polaris Business Class flight, passengers received a special B747 tin box amenity kit! I particularly liked the United B747 themed eye shade and the B747 trading cards. Well done United for thinking through the details! I haven't seen any other airlines that went this far to have special farewell amenity kits!
Service started after take-off, with first a wine tasting the followed by dinner. The starter was a trio of Tuna Ahi; I had the Korean Bulgogi Beef as my main course.
The highlight of the meal service was the fully loaded dessert cart. The Passenger’s loved this Polaris concept and an ice cream sundae is of course everyone's favourite!
The crew handed out Pyjamas in First and Business Class after the meal and I quickly changed in the bathroom.
After the meal service, many of the United B747 passengers had decided to explore the cabin and meet up with fellow fans to discuss more of their passion. The crew were also very hospitable in sharing their memories on United B747!
I brought 2 of my beloved “United B747 landing in Kai Tak” paintings from my collection and had the crew sign the frames (Painting by Dutch artist Mario Van Eeren)
I did not sleep for a single minute; I did not even recline my seat for a single minute! I was having such an amazing time over the Pacific!
I was able to send my log book up to the cockpit; the pilots gave me a copy of the flight plan and a map as a gift.
Breakfast was served 1.5 hours prior to landing in San Francisco. There were choices of Korean Noodles, fruit plate or egg frittata.
Closer to descending, we took more photos and were trying to savour every second on-board the United Friendship B747.
We were on the final descent into San Francisco around 10:45am; the bay area was covered by a low morning fog (marine layer).
The landing was one of the smoothest and one that was....followed by many rounds of applause...
The captain came on the PA said "All Hail The Queen, Long Live The Queen!".
We were told we would receive a water cannon salute from the Fire Department at SFO, but although the fire truck was standing next to our arrival gate, for some unknown reason it did not happen….
After shut down, we were given further opportunities to visit the flight deck. The crew gathered around for one final picture.
It has been a really bittersweet day for me.
I love the Boeing 747 and United B747 was where my love of aviation started...I felt like the last United B747 flight came way too soon... I still remained very emotional 24 hours after the flight when I was writing up my story here.
Time marches on, the B747 was an icon for United Airlines and people loved it. That airplane is a phenomenal piece of equipment. "Imagine the greatest athlete in a given sport retires, and you know you'll never see anyone like that again. That's how it feels."
Taking home a piece of history
Thanks for reading this special farewell report of United B747.
Have you ever flown on United B747? I'd love to hear from your experience!