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United's Retiring Its 747s Much Sooner Than Expected

Jan. 11, 2017
3 min read
United's Retiring Its 747s Much Sooner Than Expected
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During an investor presentation in November (caution: PDF link), United shared plans to pull its remaining 747-400s from service by the third quarter of 2018. That gave jumbo diehards plenty of time to book a few more flights on UA's Queen of the Skies, but unfortunately we've now confirmed that the aircraft's retirement has been accelerated — all 20 747s will be pulled from service by the end of this year.

Just last week, United operated the very last 747 flight from Chicago O'Hare (ORD) to Tokyo (NRT) — the same route I flew to experience my very first United Polaris flight. That leaves San Francisco (SFO) as the final remaining US-based 747 destination, with nonstop flights operating to Beijing (PEK), Frankfurt (FRA), Hong Kong (HKG), Seoul (ICN), Taipei (TPE) and Tokyo (NRT) — London (LHR) service is scheduled to resume on April 4.

There are just a few months left to fly United's Queen of the Skies.
There are just a few months left to fly United's Queen of the Skies.

It's not yet clear when UA will begin pulling its 747s from service (or whether they'll be retired gradually or all at once), but if you want to book one last flight on this plane, I'd suggest planning a trip sooner than later. United's brand-new 777-300ERs will replace 747s on some routes — beginning with SFO-Hong Kong on March 25 — with other aircraft filling in as well.

United President Scott Kirby announced the move an an email to employees this morning:

Farewell to the Queen of the Skies
There’s something very special about a Boeing 747. It’s the one aircraft that even casual travelers can easily identify. And we know that the experience of traveling on one, or flying one, is unforgettable.
As deeply connected as we all are to this iconic aircraft, the time has come to retire our 747 fleet from scheduled service. Last March, we announced that this would occur by the end of 2018; now we plan to operate our last 747 flight in the fourth quarter of this year.
It’s a bittersweet milestone—this jumbo jet with its unmistakable silhouette once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel. Today, there are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable widebody aircraft that provide an updated inflight experience for our customers traveling on long-haul flights.
For these reasons, we’re saying farewell to the Queen of the Skies, which has been part of our fleet since we first flew the aircraft between California and Hawaii in 1970.
We’ll be working with all of you who fly or work on the 747s to ensure a smooth transition to other fleets. Our forward-looking fleet plan will cover 747 replacements and anticipated growth opportunities. And of course, we’ll honor the 747 with an unforgettable retirement celebration — we’ll keep you posted with more details on her final flight in the months ahead.
Thank you for all that you are doing. I am so proud and excited about the great future we’re building together as we create the best airline in the world.

Delta, the other US-based carrier still flying the 747-400, will also be retiring its remaining jumbos later this year. It's not clear whether Delta or United will complete this process first.

Will you be flying United's 747-400 before the fleet is retired?

Featured image by I headed up the stairs to the upper deck.