Bright and early at 6:30am this morning, I had the privilege to join United at the retirement event for its “Queen of the Skies” at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). The Boeing 747 farewell tour has planned stops at IAH, IAD, EWR, ORD, DEN, and SFO to allow United crew members and aviation enthusiasts a personal opportunity to bid farewell to an era and one of the aviation industry’s most iconic aircraft.
United’s Boeing 747 aircraft fleet is retiring from scheduled service on November 7 to much fanfare and recognition of its important role in aviation history.
We all know that in recent years, United has introduced more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable widebody aircraft to provide an updated and enhanced inflight experience for customers traveling on long-haul flights (ahem, the Dreamliner 787 for example). For these reasons, United is bidding farewell to its “Queen of the Skies,” which has been an integral part of its fleet since 1970.
This morning at EWR, I had the opportunity to visit gate 98 at United’s Terminal C to celebrate and partake in the farewell festivities at the Newark tour stop. There was a small celebration at the gate, preceding the scheduled 11:30-1:30pm special fly around flight.
Today’s scheduled flight is unique because it’s piloted and serviced entirely by EWR-based crew (2 pilots and 12 flight attendants), and filled to capacity with 220 United employees that earned a seat onboard through a drawing. The interesting component I’m still curious about is how the first and business class seats were allocated ;) Either way, the mood was festive and the excitement all around could not be dimmed.
Before boarding began, had a unique opportunity to participate in an intimate tour of the aircraft, which joined the United fleet in February 1999. Perhaps the most interesting part of the morning was having the chance to talk to several 747 Captains about their memories flying the aircraft.
One captain in particular- David Smith- who has been with United for 32 years, shared a really heart-warming story that perfectly displays how the iconic 747 really does have a special place in many hearts within the world of aviation and beyond.
Captain Smith warmly-shared that his father had his retirement flight with United on a 747 way back in 1988, and that was a day he will never forget because he was able to ride in the jumpseat besides his father. He describes that flight as one of the most vivid father/son memories to date.
The story didn’t stop there. While all of us smiled in awe, he then continued on to say that on his final 747 flight this week, the roles will be reversed. He invited his father, who retired almost 30 years ago, to accept the honor to fly next to him this time around. How inspiring and touching is that?!
It’s also worth sharing Captain Smith noted that many former United 747 pilots will be moving over to the 777 or 787 (Smith will be piloting the 787 soon).
It was really nice to share my morning with United to relive some of the history and love for the 747. I especially enjoyed the individual time I had touring the aircraft (including the cockpit!).
I’m fortunate to have my own memories on board a United 747-400 back when I was able to score a pretty sweet mistake deal from Boston to Seoul in Global First in 2014 that inspired me to visit a new place (and obtain United 1k status for 2015). I must say that it was kind of nostalgic to revisit the exact seat I had once sat in.
More importantly, I thoroughly appreciated the candid conversations I was able to have with many United employees from all departments and roles. It’s nice to get a fresh perspective, feel the “human” component that United is trying to further embody, and furthermore- be part of something special.
And finally, I know many avgeeks will appreciate this: