British Airways retires Boeing 747 fleet

It's a case of Boeing, Boeing, Gone for the airline that was, until now, the world's largest operator of passenger jumbo jets.

By Chris Chamberlin, July 17 2020
British Airways retires Boeing 747 fleet

British Airways plans to retire its complete jumbo jet fleet over the coming months, marking the end of an era for the world's largest operator of Boeing 747-400 passenger planes.

In an internal email sent to BA staff and sighted by Executive Traveller, the airline confirms that “we would not expect any more commercial flights to be flown” by the Boeing 747.

"They rely on high passenger load factors and high premium demand to make them commercially viable. In short, we do not believe that these beautiful aircraft are sustainable in a very different airline industry," the company justifies.

BA's current fleet of 28 Boeing 747s – previously 32 jumbo jets, before recent retirements – were originally set to continue flying until 2023-24, before the last was to be removed from service.

BA's Boeing 747s are headed for the hangar, never to return to the skies.
BA's Boeing 747s are headed for the hangar, never to return to the skies.

While the airline hadn't planned to install its latest-generation Club Suite business class experience onto these planes, some had been refreshed with updated interiors and improved inflight entertainment, expecting that they would remain flying for several more years.

Read: BA upgrades Boeing 747 seats, inflight entertainment

BA's Boeing 747s were most often seen flying across the Atlantic to destinations in the United States, including between London Heathrow and New York JFK.

In fact, it was on this route that British Airways became the first airline in the world to offer a fully-flat bed in business class, in early 2000.

In 2000, British Airways introduced the world's first fully lie-flat bed in business class.
In 2000, British Airways introduced the world's first fully lie-flat bed in business class.

Until then, flat beds had been the exclusive domain of first class, and would replace what was previously offered in BA business class, the 'Club World Cradle':

BA's Club World Cradle business class recliner.
BA's Club World Cradle business class recliner.

Read: How BA created the world's first business class bed

"When many people think of BA today, they think of our Jumbos connecting Britain with the world, and the world with Britain," British Airways' email to staff continues.

"They are true icons ... but they burn far more fuel than the latest generation of planes ... and our proposal to retire the fleet early has only been taken in response to the crisis we find ourselves in."

A final timeline for the retirement of these jumbos is subject to consultation between British Airways, its staff and their union representatives, but it's expected to occur "over the coming months."

The news comes in the same week as BA's Oneworld alliance partner Qantas is preparing to farewell its own Boeing 747 fleet, operating a series of final joy flights before the last Qantas Boeing 747 departs Australia on July 22.

Also read: Qantas retires entire Boeing 747 fleet

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 May 2012

Total posts 170

What a shame. I flew it in first from Singapore to London in seat 1A, and business form London to JFK return a few times upstairs. Love the 747 and it will be missed.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Mar 2014

Total posts 133

This is so sad.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 May 2014

Total posts 9

I flew one of the first BA 744 when I was coming back from MNL via HKG. I was originally booked on the lower deck but upgraded to the upper deck of the brand new 744 that was making its first commercial flight having flown from Boeing to HKG. I spent an amazing 2-2 hours on the flight deck as we flew over central Asia. One the most memorable flights of my life.

17 Jul 2020

Total posts 1

When are you gonna come down?

When are you going to land?

Goodbye You big old bird

Thanks for all the memories!

(with apologies to Taupin & John)

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 58

What a sad week. Qantas doing its last passenger flights and British Airways announcing the end of its Queens of the Skies, too. Heathrow won't be the same without them. Before covid-10 caused all hell to break loose on air travel and airlines grounded their fleets, my big idea was to fly to Singapore with Qantas and take a scheduled BA Queen to the UK. So long to that plan. Shan't be leaving Australia for quite some time.

I remember BA's first flat bed in business class. I also remember having four seats to stretch across in economy in a fairly empty plane in deep winter. If we'd been told twelve months ago this would happen, we'd have laughed at the person who suggested it. Now it's reality. I wonder what'll be next. I can only hope it's something good and positive.

so there must be some well maintained & very cheap 747-400ERs around now. Would any charter operator be interested in picking up a few for a song ? Must be parts galore & seem to be far more retired that freight operators would want.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 705

There were only ever 6 747-400ERs; Qantas was the only passenger customer. BA only had RR powered 747-400s.

There will be no interest in the retiring 744 fleets; they are expensive to operate and there are plenty of 777-300ERs available which can do the same job but are much cheaper to operate.

Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club

17 Oct 2018

Total posts 6

I basically lived in 64K for several years. Will miss this great aircraft and the feeling of seclusion in the upper deck

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 380

Terrific aircraft. This is all quite sad.

17 Jul 2020

Total posts 1

I loved the B747 variants, crossing the Atlantic on Pan Am, TWA, KLM, Virgin Atlantic, and British Airways. However, the British Airways First Class, and especially Club Class were so outdated / so awful, that I am not sorry to see them leave the fleet. It wasn't the fault of the wonderful, safe, iconic B747-400; British Airways senior management didn't care about comfort, elegance, food, IFE, cabin service, or the overall passenger experience. British Airways are right to retire their Queen of the Skies, due to economic reasons; however, they should "wake up", seize the moment, and radically re-design the new twin engined birds, to completely enhance the customer flying experience. I suspect that British Airways will continue to equip new Airbus / Boeing twins with the same "warmed up" / tired product, and we will all have to endure them for the future whilst they continue to have a monopoly across the Pond. What a shame BA is such a mediocre, (at best) national airline. Too bad current BA management can't be replaced / retired too!

Moot point whether QF or BA looked after their rusty old dredgers better, but having flown QF in J more recently on the Upper Deck I'd have to say I preferred it over BA's rattly warhorses. They felt old a decade ago.

19 Jun 2020

Total posts 12

How much of these aircraft bodies recycled or recyclable? I'd like to see much more emphasis on total sustainability in aircraft manufacture so when old models are dumped they don't sit on a growing trash pile.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Oct 2017

Total posts 36

The sustainability/recycling side of things aside - as an overall topic, that would make for quite an interesting article to see how they go from 300 plus tonnes of metal and plastic to nothing more than a distant memory .


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