I first flew a United Boeing 747 from Chicago to Hawaii in 1981. I was four years old on my first overseas flight. The pilot smoked a cigar in the cockpit.
I last flew a United Boeing 747 from San Francisco to Hawaii in 2015. By then, the airline had changed livery. The plane was newer, more people filled the cabin and food was no longer free.
San Francisco to Hawaii was both the inaugural and final route of United’s 747.
There are still many airlines flying the 747 — the original Jumbo Jet — but it’s fading into the past like the 707, the 727, the DC-10 and the MD-11. United will no longer fly the 747 after today.
The 747 rolled out in the late ’60s as a solution to airport overcrowding. By flying one 747 instead of two or three smaller planes, suggested Pan Am’s Juan Trippe, airports would need fewer gates and slots. Supersonic transport was thought to be the future, so engineers built the 747 with conversion to subsonic cargo flights in mind.
With the abandonment of supersonic transport, the 747 never lived up to its original intentions. Instead, it found other roads to success while representing the apex of the jet age. The 747 had its famous second-story hump, a spiral staircase, and a lounge that never lasted long in reality but became a mythical symbol of “the time that airlines offered service.”