Blast from the past: the Qantas Boeing 747 'Captain Cook lounge'

Perched atop the first Qantas Boeing 747s, the Captain Cook lounge is a colourful blast from the shagadelic past.

By David Flynn , April 15 2020
Blast from the past: the Qantas Boeing 747 'Captain Cook lounge'

Picture this: an exclusive inflight lounge with its own tended cocktail bar, where well-heeled flyers can relax in a private club-like space with plush seating and contemporary finishes.

We could be talking about the bar of the Emirates Airbus A380, or the lounge of Qatar Airways' own superjumbo. But of course, we're not.

Instead, we're reflecting on the Captain Cook lounge of the original Qantas Boeing 747, as the era of the Qantas jumbo jet – which began in 1971, lasting just shy of 50 years – draws to a close with this year's retirement of the last Boeing 747s in the fleet.

The elegant yet powerful 'Queen of the Skies' joined the Qantas fleet in 1971.
The elegant yet powerful 'Queen of the Skies' joined the Qantas fleet in 1971.

While the Boeing 747 is often said to have democratised travel by enabling airlines to carry many more passengers at much lower prices, the Captain Cook lounge made the upper deck unapologetically upper class.

The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.
The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.

The jumbo's 'hump' was the exclusive domain of Qantas' first class passengers, who otherwise spent their journey cocooned in the nose of the jumbo's downstairs lower deck.

The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.
The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.

The lurid colours and patterns were on-trend for the early 1970s, as was the nautical theme of lanterns and globes, a ships' wheel and faux wood dividers.

The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.
The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.

1970 was the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Captain James Cook, who claimed Australian for the English empire, so the Captain Cook lounge drew on his name as well as his Naval heritage.

The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.
The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.

And it's not as if Qantas' crew uniforms from the same era were any less 'fashion-forward'.

Always at the forefront of fashion: Qantas uniforms in the 1970s.
Always at the forefront of fashion: Qantas uniforms in the 1970s.

15 passengers could settle themselves on the curved bright-orange sofa, the blue island settee or the hip swivel chairs.

The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.
The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.

First class cabin crew circulated with food and drinks and handed out cigarettes, if you'd left yours downstairs (the ban on inflight smoking was still some 25 years away). 

The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.
The Captain Cook lounge, on the upper deck of the first Qantas Boeing 747s.

Such luxury didn't last long. Once Qantas was able to obtain approval for passengers to sit on the upper deck during take-off and landing, the aspirational allure of the Captain Cook lounge made way for reality of revenue-raising seats, while Qantas also coined the term 'business class' in creating a new level of service between the rarified first class cabin and the entry-level economy class experience.

More ET articles on inflight bars and lounges:

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

06 Apr 2020

Total posts 2

Out of pure curiosity.. on aircraft installed with the lounge. How was the flight deck accessed on these earlier 747's?

09 Dec 2016

Total posts 15

Looking at the pictures I was wondering the exact same thing - looked like a chair in front of the cockpit door! or if taken from the other side where are the stairs ?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 79

I was on board on one of these flights as an 11 year old. The flight deck is on the same level directly behind the photographers taking most of these shots. So we are looking towards the back of the plane here. Only a swinging door separated the the cockpit to this lounge however I cant recall it having a lock, certainly nothing like today's security doors. There was a toilet on the starboard side directly behind the cockpit for the flight crew. Those ropes wrapped around the base of the swivel chairs and tables caught my eye back then as well as the back wall decor and wood turned pieces on the partitioning panels. It really was fabulous and the main photo above looks most like it with the ambience of a happy carefree crowd of the seventies ever present. I recall 4 flight crew on my flight ( 2 pilots in the seat, 1 to rotate and a navigator/flight engineer sitting directly behind the first officer's seat in the cockpit with many dials and switches along the wall. Passenger visits were permitted mid flight. There were 19 flight crew back then vs the 14 on current day 747's so service was far more attentive and "air-hostesses were glamorous" although we lost that prestigious moniker as PC police later forced us to call them flight attendants. Seat pitch was what seemed huge in Economy however First had large armchairs, poor by today's pampered standards and Qantas had not yet invented business class. Economy return ticket to London was about the same as today in dollar terms yet a huge amount of money back then when taking inflation into account. My flight kangaroo-hopped via a "shocked at the humidity" Bangkok and Bahrain where the Petroleum Flare stacks lit up the night sky and where the tarmac walks of these cities made embarking and disembarking by Tullamarine's new aero-bridges look like 1st world luxury. I can recall Qantas flying to Rome and Athens back then as well as other European cities and the 747 would sweep by both Melbourne and Sydney to pick up passengers on certain long haul flights to fill the plane. Flying for the masses was a new phenomenon where many dressed up, hair was coiffed and the anticipation for air travel made for wonderful times. Like David and many readers here at E.t., my love affair for air travel was born. It was born on that flight and Captain Cook's Lounge forever etched itself into my memory.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 79

Thanks David for a fantastic article that brought back many wonderful memories some of which I wrote above.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 366

The flight deck was accessed through door in the same place as in the later 747s. But the stairs in the 747-200 were spiral, and at the FRONT of the upper deck.

That portrait of Captain Cook is at the REAR of the upper deck (think the galley location in the 744), it's not the cockpit.

All of these photos are taken from the top of the spiral staircase (near the cockpit door), looking back towards the aft of the aircraft.

The spiral staircase was quite a lot of fun if you happened to be on it when turbulence hit!

06 Apr 2020

Total posts 2

Thank you, makes sense now!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 293

Sadly, I was still learning to walk when the Captain Cook Lounge made its splash on 'the scene, baby'. I think the lounges on today's aircraft are a better and cleverer use of space. Thank God the things that really matter (e.g. Campari, Vermouth and Johnnie Walker) have outlasted the likes of Pan Am, Ansett, Swissair, Compass, etc..

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Nov 2016

Total posts 134

Truly iconic. Do remember the spiral staircase and lounge upstairs. Would have loved to have flown the 747SP. Remember Qantas flew them to SFO and Panam had them also out of Sydney to LA.

QFF

19 Sep 2013

Total posts 160

When I toured a Pan Am 747SP at Sydney Airport around 1970, I seem to remember that it also had a small library, consisting of a bookcase and a couple of lounge chairs, but have never seen photos of this.

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 4

I flew an SP out of Cairns to NZ (I think Wellington) when Qantas introduced the 747SP to FNQ in the 70s. My memory is that it was meant to be a regular return flight.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 39

I flew the QF 747-SP to Honolulu... back in the day, and they had a small economy section up there, was a pretty cool experience being seated up there.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2018

Total posts 9

Love the pics of well heeled gents wearing ties and jackets on long haul flight ... today is more likely to be dressed in PJ's

QFF

19 Sep 2013

Total posts 160

In the 60s, always travelled in a suit and tie, but quickly found that it was inappropriate when flying up to Port Hedland on a DC3 in 1963...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Jan 2015

Total posts 12

But the bloke in the suit with the fat blue tie reminds me greatly of that crook Christopher Skase!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Sep 2014

Total posts 1

In 1978 my wife and I headed to Hawaii for our honeymoon and upgraded each other to First as a wedding present on the 747. Remember it well, apparently I had a grin on my face to be remembered. Recall leaving my drink downstairs and the Steward bringing it up to me. Think maybe only 4 were allowed upstairs during landing and takeoff.. We too were dressed up with jacket etc.. great days.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 380

Remember this so well. Loved it. My brother and I would fly that way to meet our parents where ever they were based, during our school holidays.

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 60

I remember struggling up that spiral staircase, but when you got to the top - it was so comfortable and elegant. (For what it's worth, I still get dressed up, high heels and all, when flying). Can anyone read the name on that Queen of the Sky at the top of the article? Isn't she just beautiful?

What at rotten shame that as Qantas's first commercial flight of a Boeing 747 was in August 1971, the last should fly out in the same month in 2021, fire engines spraying her, bands playing and the crowds cheering and/or crying? That would give her her golden jubilee and the grandest hurrah. There'll never be another Qantas plane that lasts so long.

Fly safely and with true elegance, one and only, Queen of the Sky.

19 Aug 2017

Total posts 10

Factually, Australia was founded in 1788, so adding 200 years means the date should be 1988, not 1970. Loved the retro lounge and would welcome a mock up somewhere, where we could come and enjoy.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 92

Factually, Cook's Endeavour reached Australia in April 1770 and landed at Botany Bay.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Feb 2013

Total posts 1

Lol

08 Apr 2020

Total posts 1

My dad Ken Linkenbagh was a Chief Steward with Qantas during this time. Lots of amazing stories shared. It truly was the golden era of international travel. I will definitely be sharing your story with him. Thank you.

19 Jan 2018

Total posts 2

Ignorance can be bliss. 18th of Jan, 1975, It was my 18th birthday and my first ever flight with Qantas. I was one of three young Aussies heading to the USA as an exchange student. Somehow we all ended up in the Capt Cook Lounge not knowing it was for the elite. We were all welcomed, birthday drinks were provided once they confirmed I was old enough. At no time were we ever questioned nor asked to leave. I think I very much miss the Qantas of old.


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