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On Tuesday, Delta’s Queen of the Skies flew regular passengers for the very last time. The airline’s 747s will continue flying through early January, with the jumbo jet operating several NFL and college football charters, but come January 3, when captain Paul Gallaher flies the very last plane to Pinal Airpark near Tucson, Arizona, Delta’s entire 747 fleet will be no more.
On Monday, I had the privilege of joining Delta employees and SkyMiles auction winners on a one-of-a-kind flight from Detroit (DTW) to Seattle (SEA), with a stop at Boeing’s Everett, Washington facility at Paine Field (PAE). My plane, N674US, operated a farewell tour throughout the US, as N666US flew passengers — including TPG‘s Alberto Riva — on the final revenue flight, from Seoul (ICN) to Detroit.
The highlight of the trip — besides getting to fly on a soon-to-be-retired 747, of course — was our four-hour stop at the jumbo jet’s birthplace in Everett.
Touring the Queen
The 747 festivities began before we stepped foot onboard the farewell tour, with a Sunday night party for Delta’s Detroit-based employees at a DTW maintenance hangar. Our 747 was on hand at the event, and guests had an opportunity to explore every nook and cranny, just as they did during United’s hub tour in October.
We were even invited to sign the belly of the beast, which I did, of course.
The Incredibly Accomplished 747 Pilots
The flight the next morning was even more special. Both legs were operated by some of the airline’s most senior 747 pilots, and first officer Hank Allen even brought his father Jay along for the occasion. Jay flew 747s several decades ago, retiring back in 1985. It was clear that he was thrilled to be joining this farewell tour with his son behind the yoke!
I also had some time to chat with Captain Gallaher, who has the honor of flying the very last Delta 747 — the one used for our tour — to the desert on January 3. That’ll also be the day he retires — his final flight in command will bring the Queen of the Skies to its retirement home in Arizona.
The pilots also had an opportunity to sign the plane — during our stop at Boeing, several popped through the emergency escape hatch to leave their mark. It was a very touching moment.
The Rockstar Cabin Crew
This was also a special day for the Delta flight attendants selected to work the tour. Combined, they have several hundred years of experience, and — due to the power outage in Atlanta (ATL) — a couple junior flight attendants were assigned to work the flight as well.
While crew members got to catch up with colleagues and take in the moment, they also did a phenomenal job making sure all of us were taken care of. And this was no easy flight to work! In addition to the free-flowing booze in all cabins, the 200 or so passengers onboard each received two full first-class meals, regardless of which cabin they were assigned.
With more than 80,000 employees across all departments and tremendous interest in the 747’s retirement, this flight was a very hot ticket. Thousands of Delta employees submitted entries to attend, where they were asked to explain what the 747 means to them. Just 110 were selected to join Monday’s flight to Seattle, with each employee invited to bring a guest along as well.
I had a chance to chat with numerous Delta pilots and flight attendants, who all seemed thrilled to be onboard.
Meanwhile, 10 of the seats in the nose went to SkyMiles auction winners — in one case, a SkyMiles member redeemed 649,000 miles to join the flight with a guest, and the other redemptions were well above 500,000 miles. Since the upper deck was kept empty for passenger visits, the SkyMiles winners were all assigned seats in the nose.
Nobody seemed to regret redeeming that many SkyMiles though!
Our Stop at Boeing in Everett
Monday’s trip was just one of the stops in Delta’s hub-to-hub tour, which brought the plane from Detroit to Seattle on Monday, on to Atlanta on Tuesday and finally to Minneapolis (MSP) on Wednesday. Monday’s adventure was especially significant, though, since it included a stop at Boeing in Everett, Washington, the birthplace of the 747.
Many Boeing employees came out to welcome the plane, and a select few were even invited to join the next leg from Paine Field to Seattle.
The Boeing stop also gave guests an opportunity to take pictures with the 747, and to write a farewell message on various parts of the fuselage and engine cowlings.
My 12-Minute Upper-Deck Segment
I was originally assigned a seat in the last row of economy, and, officially, passengers weren’t permitted to change their seats. However after takeoff we were allowed to move around, so I grabbed a window seat a few rows up.
Boeing designers, engineers and other employees occupied most of the upper-deck seats on our short flight to Seattle, but I asked if I could sit in one of the open pods.
While there wasn’t time to get some lie-flat time, despite our hour-long ground delay due to weather, I did get to mingle with the Boeing employees upstairs, some of whom had worked on the 747 for decades. Employees have since moved on to other Boeing projects, though — I had a great chat with someone on the interiors team, for example, who most recently worked on Emirates’ incredible new 777 cabin, which was installed at the same facility in Everett.
After we boarded in Everett, the pilot announced a two-hour ground hold, due to a weather delay program in effect at SEA. The passengers upstairs didn’t seem to mind one bit, though — they were thrilled to have some more time to enjoy the plane.
Eventually that delay was cut in half, and we were on our way to Seattle. Driving the 40 or so miles between the two airports can take as little as 40 minutes, so it’s not at all common for scheduled flights to operate between PAE and SEA. In fact, our pilot declared that this was the shortest 747 flight ever operated by Delta — excluding diversions, potentially.
The flight brought us over downtown Seattle, though I didn’t have a view out of the port side window, unfortunately.
I’ve been onboard some very special flights over the past couple weeks, including the launch of Emirates’ new first-class suite and Singapore’s A380 delivery from Toulouse (TLS), and this 747 farewell definitely ranked near the top of can’t-miss opportunities.
Delta’s tour didn’t quite match the excitement of United’s final 747 flight to Honolulu (HNL), but it was a fitting tribute nonetheless — and, as you can probably tell from those lipstick marks above, it meant an awful lot to all of the employees involved!
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