After nearly 50 years United Airlines is no longer an operator of the 747. That long relationship came to a close this week as the carrier operated its final 747-400 passenger service in grand fashion, with a nod to history. The final flight operated from San Francisco to Honolulu, just like the first 747 the company operated in 1970. The special flight – a one off just for this celebration – brought the 1970s back to the sky, with retro-themed meals, fashion and more. I was one of several guests invited by United to join the festivities. Here’s my version of the adventure, mostly in photos.
On the Ground
The celebration took over an adjacent gate area with displays of the 747s history, encouraging passengers to relive the “glory days” of air travel. Or at least relive the 1970s. Polyester and wide collars were the name of the game for many of the passengers and crew assembled to celebrate United’s 747 retirement.
After a few hours of posing for photos and speeches by local dignitaries boarding finally commenced, with CEO Oscar Munoz handling the first few passengers to pass through the gate.
He didn’t last long at the boarding door, however, choosing to move inside the plane and join in the pre-flight celebrations that continued on board.
We pushed back early – though also with scores of empty seats on board, something that hasn’t been clearly explained yet – and taxied to runway 28R for our departure. Alas, it was not going to be a smooth shift into retirement for this Queen. An indicator on one of the air conditioning packs lit up, leaving us on the side of the runway for a mechanical delay. Call it an homage to the long service of these planes and also the challenges (and costs) of keeping them in top shape to fly. Ultimately the issue was cleared (we narrowly avoided a bonus trip to the maintenance hangar) and the flight departed SFO for a ride into history.
In the Air
The festive atmosphere was on board infectious; everyone was smiling from start to finish.
Our departure track took us on a decidedly non-standard routing, with a low pass over the Golden Gate Bridge. That was all sorts of spectacular.
From there we turned westward, towards the islands, recreating the very first route the 747 flew for United.
Getting everyone to settle down and buckle in was about as effective as expected. Which is to say that herding cats is probably easier. A champagne toast was offered on board.
And then the crew served up a special meal designed by United Executive Chef Gerry Gulli, with a nod to the Trader Vic’s victuals of yore.
A Final Goodbye
The gate celebration in Honolulu was also significant. Everyone received a lei, including the 747 herself. More speeches were made, celebrating history and looking to the future. And then the time came for onward connections to be made or hotels (and beach time) to be found.
Me? I was on the last flight out back to San Francisco that same night. This left me all alone in the gate area as the 747 pushed back one last time. She was towed to the hangar across the field for an employee celebration that night. With the lei still draped across the distinctive nose. It was a sight to behold.
She’ll fly back to San Francisco and then to Victorville to be stored in the desert until being cannibalized for parts or scrapped to make beer cans. Aloha and Mahalo!
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