AvGeek-in-training: How to tell Boeing 747s apart

Dec 24, 2020

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It’s the Queen of the Skies. And, you’d better fly one soon if you haven’t already. No U.S. airlines operate this majestic aircraft, and several of the carriers that were still flying the double-decker giants have either grounded them or are planning to phase them out. That includes those operated by British Airways among others.

KLM 747 landing at SXM. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

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The last passenger version of the 747-400 was delivered to Air China in 2005. The production line is now closed, but there were as many as 350 such aircraft still flying at least until COVID-19 hit and sent demand plummeting.

British Airways was the largest operator but grounded them all this year. We first reported the news back in July that BA would be is retiring all 28 of its Boeing 747s.

British Airways Boeing 747-400 as seen on final approach with landing gear down landing at New York JFK John F. Kennedy January 2020 (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Related: Where is British Airways parking its jets during the coronavirus

British Airways says it’s because the air travel recovery will take years. BA also notes that these four-engine jets just aren’t as fuel-efficient as their modern counterparts.

Pre-pandemic there were also around 120 747-8 in the wild, notably in the hands of Lufthansa and Korean.

A Korean Air 747-400 at Seoul Incheon airport in December 2017 (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)

You’ll still find 747s operated by Air ChinaKorean Air and Lufthansa, among others, but the continued weakness in international travel means they might have shorter lifetimes than first thought. All U.S.-based carriers had retired their 747s by the end of the 2010s.

Related: Boeing ending production of the 747

Like the A330, the Boeing 747-400 features canted winglets. You’re not likely to confuse the two aircraft, however as the 747 has a GIANT second story that the A330 doesn’t have.

The Boeing 747-8, meanwhile, features raked wingtips like you’d find on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In addition, the Boeing 747-8 features chevrons that are notched into the nacelles of the engine, just like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

That’s the easiest way to distinguish between these two models of Queens of the Sky (see chart below).

Related: These are the last Boeing 747s you can fly in the world

A Qantas 747-400 aircraft lands and becomes the final international aircraft to land during the COVID-19 pandemic on March 29, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
Boeing 747-400
  • The Queen of the Skies
  • “What is that gorgeous plane?”
  • Canted winglets, like on the A330
Boeing 747-800
  • The Queen of the Skies
  • “What is that gorgeous plane?”
  • Raked wingtips, like on the Dreamliner
  • Chevrons on the engine nacelles

Related: How you can still use points and miles to fly the 747

An Asiana Airlines 747-400 at LAX (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

If you want more AvGeek coverage check out our other posts on identifying aircraft in the “wild”: How to tell commercial aircraft apart and how to tell Boeing 757s, 767s and 777s apart.

Additional reporting by Zach Griff and Clint Henderson.

Featured image by Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images.

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