Qantas is flying its final Boeing 747 flight from the U.S.
The dwindling list of airlines flying Boeing 747s to the United States is shrinking by one on Tuesday.
That's when Qantas will fly its last jumbo jet service from the US, with flight QF74 from San Francisco to Sydney, scheduled to depart at 8:30 p.m. PT. As of Wednesday, all Qantas services from Australia to the U.S. will be operated with a Boeing 787-9 or an Airbus A380. The daily San Francisco route to Sydney will be flown with the 787, and the four-times-weekly route to Melbourne already is.
Qantas spokesperson Annabelle Cottee said in an email that the airline has planned "a very small celebration at San Francisco Airport with commemorative pins given to passengers and historical images on the screens around the gate." Aviation enthusiasts are marking the occasion with nostalgic social media posts; Cottee said some of them have booked QF74 just to fly on the final service.
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The 787 that is taking over the route is a much smaller (and more fuel-efficient) plane than the 747; it seats just 236 compared to 364. But those fewer seats are arguably nicer, especially in business class.
The 747's biz class reflects its age; on the lower deck, not only does it not offer aisle access to all passengers as is today's standard, but it even has a middle seat.
On the upper deck, things get better, but you're still dealing with a 2-2 layout.
The 787 has all-aisle-access biz class, in a 1-2-1 layout. Nobody needs to step awkwardly over a neighbor. Granted, there's no upper deck to give a feeling of cozy, quiet exclusivity. But the premium-class experience is better overall, at least as far as the seat goes.
The 747 is still soldiering on with Qantas, though. The last one of its jumbo jets powered by Rolls-Royce engines was retired in October and turned into a test platform for Rolls, with a final passenger flight that TPG flew on. But the airline has six left, all powered by General Electric engines. They will keep flying on long-haul routes until the end of 2020. After that, the shrinking list of 747 operators will go down by one. U.S.-based passengers will still have a handful of airlines flying the Queen of the Skies to the U.S., but that number is dwindling fast.
The end of the Qantas 747 routes to Australia also marks the sunset of an era when 747s were the only airplanes with the brawn to cross the Pacific with no stops. Many more jets can do it today, thanks to advanced engines that burn a lot less fuel.
Before the 747-400 came along in 1989, the Qantas nonstops from Australia to California used to be the province of a rare, special breed of 747: the 747SP. Shorter than normal 747s and built to go farther — hence the SP moniker, for "Special Performance" — it was an unmistakable sight and the longest-range commercial airplane from the mid-1970s until the 747-400 arrived. Qantas used it on its nonstops to the U.S., which were the longest flights in the world during the SP's heyday.
Early next year, Qantas is starting two new U.S. routes with the 787: San Francisco to Brisbane in February, and Chicago to Brisbane in April.