JFK 15 Years Ago: 15 Photos of Airplanes You Don’t See Anymore

May 26, 2019

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Technology changes a lot in 15 years. In 2004, smartphones did not exist. Facebook was a campus-only website, just a few months old. Yahoo! was the most visited site in the US. In commercial aviation, the Airbus A380 had not even made its first flight yet, the Boeing 787 was still an idea on engineers’ computers called 7E7, and the rise of the Middle East airlines was years in the future. Etihad, for example, had been founded just the previous year, and Qatar Airways would not begin flying to the United States for three more years. (And there was no TPG, either, to help you fly for free in their fancy cabins: Our website would come along in 2010.)

On a July day in 2004, a friend and I had the chance to ride along with an employee of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK airport, around the taxiways and runways. We even got a rare visit to the control tower. As another summer begins 15 years later, it’s a good time to look back at the photos from that day and at 15 airplanes — or airlines, or combinations of airplanes and airlines — that have since disappeared. (And, because in 2004 digital photography was still sort of new, I used slide film.)

Speaking of those Middle Eastern airlines: the only one to be found in the United States in 2004 was Emirates, at the time already a large airline but far from being the global behemoth it is today. The only flight it sent to JFK from Dubai was with a sleek Airbus A340-500. It has since phased out that beautiful but fuel-inefficient airplane, and now sends three A380s a day to New York.

Cathay Pacific also flew Airbus A340s to JFK — the bigger A340-600 variant, at the time the biggest Airbus ever made and also the longest airplane in the world at a whopping 247 feet. It would fly nonstop from Hong Kong, a route on which it has been superseded by the far more economical Boeing 777, which carries the same number of passengers but with two fewer engines. Those elegant A340-600s are a rare breed now, but can still be seen every day at JFK in the colors of Virgin Atlantic and South African Airways.       

Another major Asian airline has since changed its equipment into JFK: Singapore Airlines has let go of all its Boeing 747-400s, and serves the Singapore – Frankfurt – New York route with the A380. Good news for award travelers, who can aspire to a flight experience for the ages in Singapore’s exceptional first class, upstairs on the giant double-decker Airbus. In 2004, though, no plane was bigger than the 747, which the airline proudly labeled Megatop.

You won’t find 747-400s flying to New York for Korean Air anymore, either. This one, photographed from the tower while taking off, would serve JFK for a few more years before the airline introduced the 777-300, the A380 and now also the 747-8 on routes to New York.

These days you won’t find the peculiar three-engined airplane in the image below anywhere in the world, unless in cargo service. Nor will you find this airline anywhere in the US. Biman Bangladesh Airlines, the national carrier of Bangladesh, used to serve JFK via Brussels with the Douglas DC-10, a 1970s-vintage machine that disappeared from passenger service a few years ago, when the Bangladeshi airline sent the last one to the scrapyard. New York’s sizable Bangladeshi community has since relied largely on connecting service on Emirates for air links to the old country, part of the reason Emirates can fill those big A380s three times a day. 

Also mostly gone from passenger service, the airplane seen below landing — the Boeing 767-200, the short model of the 767 workhorse. While the “-200” may be gone, the 767 lives on at American, Delta and United, all of which have newer versions of the jet in their fleets.

Before American began flying the three-class A321 on transcontinental flights, this was the jet that served the prestige routes from JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco. The all-metal gleaming livery that distinguished AA is also, sadly, gone from JFK. (But if you want aviation nostalgia, JFK offers plenty of it at the TWA Hotel, named for an airline that American bought.) 

Another color scheme that has since vanished is Delta’s so-called “interim” livery, introduced in 1997 and used for only a few years before a new one was introduced in 2000. At JFK in 2004, you could see both on the same day — the former on a 767, the latter (below) on a 757.

Other, now-gone incarnations of Delta were around in 2004, too. Regional subsidiary Comair, which flew Canadair RJs like the one below, closed shop in 2012. Delta Connection is still flying today — and so are those cute yet cramped 50-seater jets, but in much smaller numbers. You won’t find a frequent Delta flyer who misses their tight confines.

Delta also ran a low-cost subsidiary, Song, from 2003 to 2006. Dedicated mostly to leisure flights to Florida, it was Delta’s attempt to fight then-newcomer JetBlue at JFK and its green-liveried Boeing 757s were a frequent sight at the airport. The one seen below demonstrated the sprightly takeoff performance for which the famously powerful 757, still a mainstay of the Delta fleet, is known for.

JFK is also a big cargo airport, where in the early 2000s you could often see the vintage 747s flown by Evergreen, a cargo-only airline that went bankrupt in 2013 and used to fly some of the oldest Jumbo Jets around. Often those were former passenger birds converted to freighters. The one pictured below was just one such plane: its tail number, N480EV,  identified it as a 747 built originally for Pan American that had flown people all over the world before being turned into a cargo plane — as the absence of windows shows.

As 747s evolved, their upper decks got bigger. The Evergreen jet, an early 747-100 model, had the short hump with the three windows that distinguished the early Jumbos; the 747-400 photographed below was built 20 years later, with a very different hump, winglets at the end of its wings, new engines and a digital flight deck. Northwest was never a big player at JFK, where its 747s flew nonstop services to Tokyo. When Delta bought Northwest in 2008, it kept those 747-400s and repainted them in its colors, until their retirement in 2017. The particular 747 pictured below is now stored at an aircraft boneyard in the Arizona desert, and unlikely to ever fly again.

Also in the disappeared-airlines bin: North American, whose 767s like the one below served Africa and other destinations on scheduled services from JFK until 2008. That’s when the airline went charter-only, flying —for example — American servicemembers to conflict zones before finally folding in 2014. 

If you don’t remember USA 3000, you are not alone. A small airline that operated, at its biggest, a dozen Airbus A320s, it existed from 2001 to 2012. One of those Airbuses is seen below docking at Terminal 4. 

El Al Israel Airlines, on the other hand, is very much a functioning airline, and it still flies its 747s to JFK. The one in this image, in fact, is a regular visitor to this day, appearing almost every week. But not for much longer: it earned a place in this story because it, too, is destined to go away soon. El Al has bought a bunch of modern 787s — with a pretty good business class, even, a far cry from the subpar biz class on the airline’s 747s — and is putting them in service to New York. Which means that if you want to see one of the last Queens of the Sky at an airport where 747s used to rule, you have to hurry.

All images by the author.  

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