How Did the 747 Get Its Iconic Hump? You Can Thank Pan Am for That

Jun 9, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The 747, affectionately referred to as “the queen of the skies,” is one of the most recognizable planes in history thanks to its second deck. Unfortunately, the 747 is nearing the end of its life span, with airlines around the world retiring older 747-400 models and only a few opting to purchase the next generation 747-8.

The 747-8 has given new life to the iconic jumbo jet
The 747-8 has given new life to the iconic jumbo jet

We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 747 earlier this year, and while the plane has been around for a long time, you still might be surprised to learn the story behind how the plane got it signature hump.

How The 747 Got Its Hump

When the 747 entered service in 1970, it was a revolutionary plane. However, there were plenty of airline executives who were skeptical about the commercial viability of such a large jet. The launch customer of the 747 was scheduled to be Pan American World Airways, which would go on to operate almost 75 747s. Pan Am’s founder, Juan Trippe, wasn’t convinced the 747 would work solely as a passenger plane, so he insisted to Boeing that the plane be readily convertible between a passenger and cargo configuration, which required that the nose cone be hinged so it could swing open.

Cargolux Italia Boeing 747-400F Nose Opening
(Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

This in turn created a real problem in terms of where to put the cockpit. Having the cockpit on a hinged nose carried a number of safety risks, and it made no sense to bend all the wires to and from the cockpit each time the nose was opened and closed. Boeing decided to raise the cockpit above the nose cone, and — in order to maximize the planes aerodynamic efficiency — the hump was born. Later versions of the 747 would extend the hump further back on the plane, creating more room for premium cabin seats in the upper deck.

Business class on the upper deck of British Airway’s 747-400s.

Of course Juan Trippe was wrong, and the 747 ended up being a resounding success, with over 1,500 produced in the last 50 years. Many airlines choose to operate both passenger and cargo versions of the plane, but you might even find a hybrid 747 still flying today. KLM operates a number of 747 Combis, though instead of unhinging the nose cone, they’ve converted the rear of the plane into an additional cargo hold. This plane seats a maximum of 268 passengers, as opposed to 408 on KLM’s passenger-only version.

KLM 747 Combi Cargo loading
(Photo by FrankvandenBergh/Getty Images)

If the Queen of the Skies is still on your bucket list, you can still catch a ride on this aviation legend using points or miles. You might want to book that trip sooner rather than later, however, as airlines retire their fleet of 747s.

For the latest travel news, deals and points and miles tips please subscribe to The Points Guy daily email newsletter.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,650

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.