A Love Note to the 747
Updated: Feb 16
With Australia being so far away from the rest of the world effectively all Aussies have grown with a passion to travel and experience new surroundings. Regardless Australian's have embraced air travel as a primary means of travel. Whether it be the bush, outback or even another city there are great distances to overcome. Most capital cities are on an average two hours flight time apart from each other so to get around it's either a day or two in the car or a couple of hours in the air. Perth is the Westernmost capital city in the country and is the most isolated City from other Major Cities anywhere in the world.
The country's National Carrier, Qantas, is the second oldest airline in the world for this exact reason, Australia is vast. In 1919 two of Qantas' founders Sir Hudson Fysh and Paul McGuinness both Flyers from the First World War were disappointed when they were unable to compete in an air race from England to Australia. However, they were given the task of surveying the route from Darwin to Longreach. Here they discovered the difficulty of getting across the outback and the hindrance of transversing Australia by land. Thus began the seeds of the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service. Qantas from day one has been about shrinking distances for all Australians and it's the airline that brought not just us as Aussies closer together but also the world.
If Qantas shrank the world to Australia then there is one aircraft that brought the world closer to all Australians. That is the arrival of the Boeing 747, nicknamed the 'Jumbo Jet'. This aircraft stirs up a lot of emotions for Aussies and is a staple in our minds. It's the aircraft that allowed people to emigrate to Australia or for relatives to see those that they left behind on a more frequent basis. It allowed us to see other countries and cultures on holidays. It's the aircraft that carried our Olympic and other Sporting Teams to competitions around the Globe. It's the aircraft that was there to rescue Aussies in times of need wherever they might be. Qantas also holds the record for most people on a 747 ever, 697 people, after it was used to evacuate people from Darwin after Cyclone Tracy. Knowing how the Australian Aviation regulator operates, I'm shocked that even back then they permitted this.
The 747 for Australians brought up many emotions from pride to comfort in times of need. The aircraft also retained the nostalgia and romance of aviation history. To this day it's the aircraft that even someone who isn't a plane nerd (or aerosexual) has a special place for in their heart. My father as a 20-year-old in the 1970s had the opportunity to spend a year in London as soon as he had raised the money after leaving school. Without a doubt, for Aussies, it was the '70s that started the standard "Gap Year" that Aussies would pack up and backpack around Europe as soon as they finished school. The 747 gave people this opportunity which in turn broadened the horizons and minds of people. When Qantas sped up the retirement of the 747 my father shared a story with me about his first Jumbo Jet flight and how in those days the Upper Deck had the Captain Cook Lounge. It was from that day that he always had the goal to one day not just board an aircraft and turn left but to one day get upstairs on a Jumbo. It's funny because that just wasn't his goal, but ended up being the goal of many. My father first got the opportunity, one of many, in 2008 when my parents went on around the world Business Class trip.
At the time of Qantas retiring it's Jumbo, it was just shy of 50 years of service in the Qantas fleet. Qantas even at one point was the only airline to have an entire fleet solely made of 747s. Many airlines have also had this aircraft in their fleet for at least 40 years and because of this, despite the aircraft changing in varients, it meant that the 747 still had the link back to the romantic era of air travel. Although the A380 is one of the most amazing pieces of Aeronautical technology about, it just never had that same feeling or love as you would have for the 747. When you'd hope on an A380 it just felt like you were hoping on the same kind of aircraft you were used to but on a grander scale. Whereas the 747 still had the feeling of stepping back into yesteryear. Personally, in the last decade, I used to make my overseas bookings to preference getting on a Jumbo over an A380. Even if it meant having to do an extra flight or even cost more.
As part of this piece, I thought I would attempt to figure out the amount of 747 flights I have taken. It was fairly simple as I have only ever travelled on Qantas and British Airways 747s. In regards to what classifies a flight, I am counting this by takeoff and landings. So something like QF 9 which conducted Melbourne-Singapore-London I am counting as two flights, despite it being the same 747 all the way. The tally is 38.
I am not one that could quote you the registrations of all of those flights, but I reckon I could probably get most of the flight numbers off the top of my head. The flights for me that stand out though are:
November 9th 1997 - QF 101 Melbourne-Auckland-Los Angeles
My first ever 747 flight and first overseas trip. For goodness sake, it's the aircraft that took me to Disneyland. Obviously, I'm going to love it.
November 22nd 1997 - BA 178 New York (JFK) to London (LHR)
This flight stands out because despite what people think about them. I fell in love with British Airways on this flight. I loved the Uniform of the Flight Attendants (in fact I have one in my collection), but the Flight Attendant in our section took a massive liking to me and not only took me to the Flight Deck mid-way across the Atlantic but at the end of the flight gave me about a 1kg of Werther's Original that my family were eating for about six months after that flight. Now first impressions will always have a lasting impact and the service I got on this flight no doubt shaped my love for BA. But what else also happened that day was I didn't just have a goal of one day working for BA but from that day I wanted to be a pilot and one day fly the 747.
December 27th 2004 - QF 9 Melbourne-Singapore-London (LHR)
This was my first trip overseas as a solo traveller and the first time I would be away from family and friends for a substantial period of time.
January 24th 2005 - QF 32 London (LHR)-Singapore-Sydney
I remember this one because I feared I was going to get a blood clot. I was trapped for both legs on a window seat with an overweight guy who had taken a sedative and slept for the whole 22hrs in the air. In that time I only got out of my seat twice. But hey I had a window seat and could enjoy the view of that amazing wing. I think this flight was on VH-OJS or OJU, but don't take me to court on that.
June 17th 2008 - QF 485 Melbourne-Perth
This stands out for two reasons. I was working for Qantas in that year and as a gift to my parents I shouted us all a trip to Singapore and due to loads, we had to go via Perth. Not that there was anything wrong with this because the flight to Perth was on a 747-300 and we got Business Class and more importantly, Upper Deck! So my first trip in the hump and it was a joy in getting to see the Engineer's Panel from my seat. Although by this point my folks now found the Upper Deck quite common, having only achieved this goal three months earlier. But that does stand out though, I was 21 and finally got a seat on an Upper Deck on the 747, even with the reduced staff fare, I got this goal at 21 and my parents got it in retirement. How times had changed.
June 16th 2014 - BA 12 Singapore-London (LHR)
This was the first time I ever got to travel in Business Class on a long haul flight and this flight was upper deck Business Class. Jackpot.
September 28th 2014 - QF 7 Sydney-Dallas
At the time this was the World's second-longest flight and the longest conducted by a 747. This flight was the last time the 747 would operate this route. Hence why I booked my US overseas trip to coincide with it, I mean come on why would I pass up this opportunity? I had a Premium Economy ticket and used my points to upgrade to Business. So this was my first long haul flight on a Qantas 747 in Business. I was actually lucky to get Business Class as well because the cabin was filled with an entire allotment of A380 crew who were flying over to Dallas to operate the A380 on the Dallas-Sydney leg in a day or two. I wasn't able to get Upper Deck though, but at least I got Business Class, because, wow this flight was long. You definitely needed the ability to lie flat on this route. I also remember this flight because we were delayed out of Sydney and the PA from the Captain whilst we were at the gate was interesting. The Captain came on the PA and said "Ladies and Gentleman, first Welcome Aboard. We are all ready to go but we have just been informed by Air Traffic Control that . . . well, in all my years of flying I have never heard this but the runway has a hole in it. Regrettably, we can't use the other northern runway because we weigh over 400,000 kilos so we can't get airborne on that runway. So I guess we just have to wait for the repair". I think the repair took about two hours. I was more amazed that the crew didn't run out of duty hours.
November 4th 2018 - QF 74 San Francisco-Sydney (VH-OEH)
Unknown at the time, but this would be my last commercially scheduled flight on a Qantas 747. I got upgraded with my points and got Business Class Upper Deck which I was delighted to get. So this is the one and only time I got to travel Business Class Upper Deck on a Long Haul 747 flight with Qantas. I didn't have a window seat but at the time I didn't think it would be my last ever flight on the Upper Deck of a Qantas 747. If I did I would've taken up the offer of my seatmate to take his window seat for take-off and landing. My words were "thank you but I'll have another chance" how wrong I was. It was always my intention to, well sell my own mother if need be, to get a ticket on the last ever commercial flight onboard a Qantas 747 but thank you for ending that opportunity COVID.
February 16th 2020 - QF2907 Melbourne-Melbourne (VH-OEH)
Well, it would turn out that my last two Qantas 747 flights were on the same aircraft. I only know this because of photos. This is a special charter flight that orbits Antarctica at low level for four hours. This was a flight that I had always wanted to do. Yet it seems many people either don't know about it or think "meh." Well, the "meh" factor I don't understand. A friend of mine who was Cabin Crew for Qantas and worked on the 747 was called in to do this flight about 10 years ago (wow we are getting old) and she described the flight to me like this "you feel as though you're an Apollo 8 Astronaut orbiting the moon. You are so close you feel as though you could touch it. It's such an amazing and unspoilt landscape that you get to view and basically become members of a fraternity of the so few who have had the opportunity". I couldn't agree more with that description. But despite waiting forever to do this flight, the decision to do it here was because I knew it would be the last time a 747 would ever do this flight. I had to twist my father's arm to join me on this flight as he did have the "meh" factor. In the end, I was able to convince him to do the flight on the basis that it would be the last 747 to conduct this flight and he also realised, despite still travelling frequently, that it would probably be his last opportunity ever to fly on a 747 and it would probably be an amazing way to top off his 747 experiences. As for Antarctica, he doesn't regret the flight and finally sees my friend's viewpoint on this special flight. The short story neither of us has any regrets about doing the flight. We were both seated in Business Class but on the lower deck. As for this being my last flight on a Qantas 747, I think it definitely was the perfect way to celebrate this amazing aircraft and send it off on a flight that's rare and special.
The 747 will be greatly missed from Aviation and is the final link to the old glory days of long haul travel. The sounds of this aircraft are absolutely phenomenal. The roar of the four engines from onboard the aircraft as you powered down the runway to the scream it would make if you stood under it as it climbed out. These sounds will always be etched in my memory. One thing that I always loved was when the aircraft would make this massive vibration as it got airborne. It was almost as if the aircraft was saying "damn that was hard work, alright let's do this".
Thank you 747 for your service and the memories you have made for myself and many others. You will be missed tremendously.