United Airlines is giving its employees a very personal opportunity to bid farewell to perhaps the most fabled airplane in the company’s history. As United prepares to forever end service on the four-engined, hump-nosed Boeing 747, many employees will have the chance to feel, touch and smell the so-called Queen of the Skies for a final time.
The month long send-off began Sunday at the airline’s annual family day company picnic. Over 15,000 employees, friends and guests crowded between hangars at United’s San Francisco Maintenance Operations Center. They basked in the six story shadows of two 747-400s.
Onboard each, flight crew and pilots who served the airline aboard its most proud ship shared stories with passengers and hugs with one another. Onboard The Friend Ship — the 747 that will fly the airline’s final route from SFO to Honolulu on Nov. 7 — Nancy Mosley, a United flight attendant since the 1970s, had plenty of reasons to mourn the jet’s retirement. She stood beside the jet’s main galley, itself a massive space capable of facilitating meal service for all 310 economy passengers.
“The 747 is just extra. It really is special,” said Mosley, who served as a flight attendant on the very first United 747s. “There are so many special things about this plane. It’s an easy plane to work on. It’s definitely more fun.”
Mosley will continue her career serving United’s Polaris Business Class cabin aboard the carrier’s newest long-haul aircraft, the Boeing 777-300er.
Special guests also relished in the chance to turn the jumbo jet’s cabin into a temporary playground. The Points Guy, Brian Kelly, bounced from seat to seat, and made a cameo on the jet’s public address system.
Over the next month, 747s will make stops at each of United’s major service bases. There, the airline will conduct two hour legacy flights for flight crew members and other employees, a final farewell in a four decade legacy. On Nov. 7, United flight 747 will take off from San Francisco International Airport and will land at Honolulu International Airport, a re-creation of the very first United 747 route on July 23, 1970.
After that, there will be no more United 747s. Across the tarmac sat one of the jets replacements on thinner long-haul routes, the 787-900 Dreamliner. Another newcomer, the 777-300er, missed a scheduled appearance at family day in favor of a hurricane relief flight in Puerto Rico, according to United Director of Brand Public Relations Maggie Schmerin. The new aircraft are state-of-the art, fuel efficient and feature the airline’s most comfortable cabin interiors, but the Dreamliner proved no draw compared to the 20-year-old 747s nearby, where lines stretched across the tarmac. Some employees waited over 90 minutes for a chance to sit in the cockpit.
“There is no airplane that captures the romance of air travel like the 747,” Flight Attendant and Purser Rosemary Medoza said. “Everyone wants to be on this plane. There is no other like it.”
The airliner is synonymous with United’s transformation from a transcontintental domestic carrier in the 1960s into a global airline, today the world’s third largest by passenger revenue. The airline operated three variations of the 747, beginning with the 747-200 “Friend Ship” in 1973. The airline inherited long range 747SP aircraft when it acquired Pan Am’s transpacific network in the 1980s, and was one of the first to operate the 747-400, of which it still flies 18.
The final 747 flight is sold out, but there is a remaining bid opportunity to use MileagePlus miles on the flight to secure space for two people. The current bid stands at 256,000 MileagePlus miles for two economy class seats on the flight. Bidding ends October 17.
All of the airline’s remaining 18 jumbos will be warehoused next month. United has no plans to ever use them in service again.