United Moving Up 747 Retirement Date to Q4 2017

Once dubbed “Queen of the Skies,” the Boeing 747 is falling out of favor with many airlines. Only a selected few are still actively taking deliveries, and the strongest market seem to now be coming from freight operators. Earlier last year, Cathay Pacific retired their 747 from passenger service, but kept their cargo 747 fleet around.

United has a fleet of 747, which they use to operate flights to Asian destinations and to a few European markets. The operation is now completely based out of San Francisco, after United flew their last 747 flight from Chicago just a few days ago. United initially planned to retire their fleet of 747 jumbo jets by Q3 of 2018, but it looks like the airline will be pushing that date up to the end of 2017.

United shared the news on their Instagram account today, and followed up with an official press release:

There’s something very special about a Boeing 747. It’s the one aircraft that even casual travelers can easily identify. And we know that the experience of traveling on one, or flying one, is unforgettable.

As deeply connected as we all are to this iconic aircraft, the time has come to retire our 747 fleet from scheduled service. Last March, we announced that this would occur by the end of 2018; now we plan to operate our last 747 flight in the fourth quarter of this year.

It’s a bittersweet milestone — this jumbo jet with its unmistakable silhouette once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel. Today, there are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable widebody aircraft that provide an updated inflight experience for our customers traveling on long-haul flights.

For these reasons, we’re saying farewell to the Queen of the Skies, which has been part of our fleet since we first flew the aircraft between California and Hawaii in 1970.

We’ll be working with all of you who fly or work on the 747s to ensure a smooth transition to other fleets. Our forward-looking fleet plan will cover 747 replacements and anticipated growth opportunities. And of course, we’ll honor the 747 with an unforgettable retirement celebration — we’ll keep you posted with more details on her final flight in the months ahead.

Thank you for all that you are doing. I am so proud and excited about the great future we’re building together as we create the best airline in the world.

Sincerely,

Scott Kirby – President, United Airlines

Though not explicitly mentioned, this change in timing presumably has to do with the delivery of United’s 777-300ER, which will likely be replacing the 747s. United has already taken delivery of their first 777-300ER, and will start flying them internationally on the San Francisco (SFO) – Hong Kong (HKG) route starting March 25, 2017.

Some will miss the Boeing 747, and maybe a very select few might even miss the slowly disappearing GlobalFirst product. But I think their Polaris Business Class product on the new 777-300ER is much more competitive than the “dorm-style” seating on the 747, and while the seats in the back might get a bit tighter, at least they will now come with personal screens.

How do you feel about United retiring their 747s earlier than originally announced?

United Airlines' Boeing 747. Source: United Airlines

United Airlines’ Boeing 747. Source: United Airlines

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