After ruling as “Queen of the Skies” for more than 40 years, the Boeing 747 made its last domestic run for United Airlines Friday night. To say she’s a big plane would be an understatement. The 747 has a tail six stories tall, can hold 3,400 pieces of baggage, and seats up to 440 passengers. Let’s not forget the famous staircase leading to the “bubble,” which houses a business class and the cockpit.
The plane is so big, there are two gates where tickets were scanned and two doors through which passengers entered. The historic flight departed from Chicago O’Hare International Airport for San Francisco International Airport. United still operates international 747 flights to Europe and Asia, but ended regular domestic flights years ago. United will retire its entire 747 fleet this fall. While boarding the jumbo jet, people smiled wide; not necessarily for the destination, but simply because they had a spot on board.
Needless to say Friday’s historic United flight sold out–and had a mile-long standby list. Many passengers are current and former United employees. Among the first class passengers was a retired pilot who captained a 747 years ago. “Sad to see it go,” Robert Mitchell said wistfully. Grown adults were children again, snapping photos and chatting joyfully. There was a line to climb up the staircase because people wanted to go up a level and marvel at the design.
The plane has an aura of style, right down to the lobster mac n’ cheese served for dinner as the flight headed for the West Coast. Beyond the thrust of four jet engines, poetry seemed to fuel this plane. Flight 2704 Captain David Smith’s father flew the 747 decades ago, and now he gets to bring her home for the final approach. “It’s hard for anyone who flies this airplane to tell you it’s not their favorite,” said Smith. When asked what this honor means to him, Smith paused for a moment to gather his thoughts and remarked,”It just makes me appreciate all that much more what those gentlemen who made this industry what it is today truly had to work for and I’m able to enjoy it.” The “gentle giant” is an engineering marvel, an aviation icon, and soon it will be a memory in the clouds.