Final call: Qantas farewells the iconic Boeing 747 jumbo jet

Qantas says goodbye to the plane that truly transformed international travel in its heyday.

By David Flynn, July 22 2020
Final call: Qantas farewells the iconic Boeing 747 jumbo jet

It’s not the farewell that Alan Joyce wanted for the Qantas Boeing 747 – but then, this isn’t the year which the CEO and the airline wanted.

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of Qantas, and a year-long program of centenary celebrations was already underway.

The arrival of three more Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners would have allowed a graceful retirement for the Boeing 747 in December, closing one proud chapter in the airline’s history in readiness for another – the launch of non-stop Project Sunrise flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London, Paris and New York, using a fleet of ultra-long range Airbus A350-1000 jets.

Meanwhile, all twelve of Qantas’ Airbus A380s were to have been upgraded with the latest business class and premium economy seats, refreshed first class suites and two new onboard lounges.

In another reality, one free of Covid-19 – the reality we were still seeing back on January 1 – that’s still the case. But in this reality, everything has changed.

For decades, the Boeing 747 was Qantas' flagship on key international routes.
For decades, the Boeing 747 was Qantas' flagship on key international routes.

All of Qantas’ international flights have been grounded, and most will remain wiped from the schedule through to early 2021.

The delivery of those Boeing 787 Dreamliners, plus 18 Airbus A321neo jets, has been pushed back. Project Sunrise, and its bespoke A350-1000 fleet, is on hold. The A380 superjumbos are being stored in California’s arid Mojave Desert until at least 2023 – and even then, only half the fleet may return.

And the majestic Boeing 747, which has been part of Qantas’ history for almost half of those 100 years, is being bundled out six months ahead of schedule.

Qantas cabin crew member Pat Tudor sits in the Boeing 747's engine at the original factory rollout.
Qantas cabin crew member Pat Tudor sits in the Boeing 747's engine at the original factory rollout.

Qantas waves goodbye to the Boeing 747

Today’s departure of flight QF7474 from Sydney to Los Angeles, and then on to the infamous Mojave Desert boneyard, is the end of line for the red-tailed jumbos.

Qantas first began flying the Boeing 747 in 1971.
Qantas first began flying the Boeing 747 in 1971.

It comes a week after British Airways announced it would retire all 31 of its Boeing 747s “with immediate effect” owing to the downturn in travel sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, in the wake of similar decisions by KLM and Virgin Atlantic.

The past decade has seen other 747 stalwarts – Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, United Airlines – retire their jumbo jets, usually with fanfare fitting for an aircraft so warmly remembered by travellers.

British Airways has also scuppered its Boeing 747s.
British Airways has also scuppered its Boeing 747s.

Qantas, which had mapped out similar plans, brought forward some of those elements such as scenic joyflights over Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra. But the airline originally intended similar jaunts over other cities, along with Points Plane flights where every seat could be booked using frequent flyer points.

A scenic snap from Qantas' Boeing 747 joyflight over Sydney.
A scenic snap from Qantas' Boeing 747 joyflight over Sydney.

Lufthansa is one of the few major airlines still flying the Boeing 747 but is already sending its oldest jets to the scrapyard, while Boeing itself is pulling the plug on the 747 line.

With the last Airbus A380 superjumbo now being assembled, the era of the large fuel-thirsty four-engine passenger planes has drawn to a close.

The Boeing 747's journey with Qantas

For Qantas, that era began in 1967, when the airline agreed to purchase four Boeing 747 aircraft for delivery from 1971.

The first-ever jumbo jet is rolled out at Boeing's Everett factory, a Boeing 747-100, with cabin crew members of various airlines in attendance, including Qantas.
The first-ever jumbo jet is rolled out at Boeing's Everett factory, a Boeing 747-100, with cabin crew members of various airlines in attendance, including Qantas.

The futuristic jumbo jets brought with them sizeable economy class cabins which helped democratise international air travel, trading the then-typical comfort of first class in exchange for lower and more accessible ticket prices.

They also took the first class experience to another level – quite literally so – with an upper deck lounge where first class passengers could mingle, dine, relax, drink, and even smoke.

The colourful Captain Cook lounge was reserved for first class flyers.
The colourful Captain Cook lounge was reserved for first class flyers.

Read more: Inside the Qantas Boeing 747 'Captain Cook' first class lounge

This video showcases the travel experience on board the Qantas Boeing 747 in the early 1970s.

Business class gets its wings

A decade later, Qantas used the Boeing 747 to launch a whole new way to travel, with the debut of Business Class carving out a sweet spot for comfort, service and price between first class and economy.

Qantas used the Boeing 747 to launch business class as we know it.
Qantas used the Boeing 747 to launch business class as we know it.

And while the upper deck lounge proved to be a flash in the passenger experience pan, with the curved sofas benches, swivel chairs and cocktail bar replaced by a score of seats, business class quickly became a must-have for almost every international airline.

Read more: Did Qantas really 'invent' business class?

Over the course of the next twenty years those original recliners evolved into the Marc Newson-designed Skybed.

The original Qantas Skybed wasn't quite a fully-flat bed...
The original Qantas Skybed wasn't quite a fully-flat bed...

While not a fully lie-flat business class seat – British Airways claimed that crown in 2000 – the Skybed cocoon was trumpeted as “the longest business class seat in the sky”, as the angled sleeper stretched some two metres (just over six and a half feet).

This was followed by Newson’s fully-flat SkyBed II, created for the Airbus A380 and later fitted across Qantas’ entire Boeing 747 fleet.

The Skybed II represented the final evolution of Qantas' Boeing 747.
The Skybed II represented the final evolution of Qantas' Boeing 747.

The Boeing 747's place in the history books

Another first for the Qantas Boeing 747 included a non-stop flight from London to Sydney – albeit as a PR stunt, carrying minimal passengers and luggage – and until the arrival of the Airbus A380 in 2008, the jumbo was Qantas’ proud flagship for flights to Asia, the USA, Europe and the UK.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact that the 747 had on aviation and a country as far away as Australia,” reflects Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.

“It replaced the Boeing 707, which was a huge leap forward in itself but didn’t have the sheer size and scale to lower airfares the way the 747 did. That put international travel within reach of the average Australian and people jumped at the opportunity.”

Two iconic Qantas jets: the Boeing 707 and the Boeing 747.
Two iconic Qantas jets: the Boeing 707 and the Boeing 747.

Joyce said that the Boeing 747 was well ahead of its time and proved extremely capable over its many years.

“Engineers and cabin crew loved working on them and pilots loved flying them. So did passengers. They have carved out a very special place in aviation history and I know they’ll be greatly missed by a lot of people, including me.”

Also read: The Qantas Boeing 747 – looking back on a half-century of flying

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.

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 300

The 747 has contributed so much to Qantas and broadly to avionic history that it's a moment in time saying goodbye. No other aircraft will ever be remembered so fondly because no other aircraft truely changed humanity like the 747. Was, is, still, always will be a miracle.

PG1
PG1

17 May 2017

Total posts 10

Vale 747 ...... truly a bird of the sky

JBH
JBH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2012

Total posts 122

Will truly miss "The Queen of the Skies' my favority aircraft by any stretch. Do we know what time today its wheels up from SYD-LAX?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

She's taxiing out now to take off in the next few minutes (per Flightradar24).

JBH
JBH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2012

Total posts 122

Thanks Boeing Tragic - got her on Flightradar24 too.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

Will you just look at the SWARM of choppers flying around her. You'd think she was 'in season' or something.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

Still at only 1200 feet.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 981

Someone get a TARDIS and fix this timeline.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

No need now, she's passed 20,000 feet climbing @ 2,500 fpm heading out to LA.

Farewell Wunala, safe skies Sweetheart !!

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 566

She has come back! Though sadly just to “paint” the Qantas top logo on FR24.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

You're half right, she's thrown a U-turn and coming back home. Either that or the Krug-laden goodbye party on board has GONE WILD, MAN.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

It's painting a bloody kangaroo logo - how wonderfully clever !!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

Well spotted AJ, kudos to you.

JBH
JBH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2012

Total posts 122

Magnificent last message from QF7474! BTW apart from the crew, who else would be onboard?

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 566

Purists will be happy. The Roo has paws.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Nov 2016

Total posts 134

An amazing and sad day. Very emotional to stand at Shep's Mound to see the water cannon salute and watch the Queen of the Skies leave. The captain waved and it was fitting to see the aircraft do a loop down to the end runway 34 and back to runway 16 to finally depart and say good bye to the many fans and admirers. Many Qantas staff were there and chatting with them left one feel how difficult it must be for many to not have certainty of their jobs moving forward.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

In case you missed it, take a look at this:

https://www.flightradar24.com/QFA7474/2500f1e0

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Nov 2016

Total posts 134

Flight was captained by Sharelle Quinn their first ever female captain and fitting that she has been flying the queen of the skies for 36 years and was in command on the last flight. Another amazing aspect to this.

Jfk
Jfk

18 Jul 2020

Total posts 2

Goodbye big Roo! Watched you from the sheep yards as a young girl in the country wishing to be up there !! I eventually did and loved the crews the journeys you took me to. Had a tear in my eye today at 2.30.pm

Etihad - Etihad Guest

04 Mar 2018

Total posts 23

I was impressed. After doing laps of sydney and tracking over HARS I thought it was on its way. Then it backtracked over Port Macquarie. I thought it was doing loops to dump fuel and return to Sydney. Than I saw kangaroo appearing All qudos to Qantad for a very well planned exit. Thank you everyone

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 5

Certainly the end of an era. Never forget those trips back and forth in the 80s to see Dad in the UK. Drinking Heineken and smoking B&H in the rear galley of the Cathay 747 from Hong Kong to Bahrain and Gatwick - with all the HK kids heading back to boarding school in England.

23 Aug 2011

Total posts 61

Sad day; joined QF in 1974 as Flight Steward and had many a happy trip on her. In later life had the opportunity to fly many times as passenger in P,J and Y. My last trip in late February was on OEJ to JNB and home. Great aircraft!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

02 Jun 2019

Total posts 14

I never got to witness her exit in person, but thank you to everyone here for your eloquent description of the final departure and for providing the link. I have tears in my eyes.

QF

04 Apr 2014

Total posts 169

Seems to be currently sitting at the Qantas hanger at LAX. I guess there will be one more QF 747 ‘departure' to come.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

I feel for Capt'n Sharelle Quinn, the last leg from LAX to MHV is gonna be a real tear-jerker for her. But I've read somewhere that all five (5) planes have already been sold! No surprise, the Qantas Maintenance team would have pampered those planes, they'd still be in A1 condition (age wrinkles notwithstanding).

Come home soon, Capt'n Quinn.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 279

Caught the final flight LAX to MHV overnight. Sad, felt like I was watching a funeral.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 321

Truly a most magnificent aircraft. I'll never forgot my first Boeing 747 flight, as a young 23 year old heading off to Europe, a Malaysian Airlines 747 from Kuala Lumpar to Amsterdam. My last Qantas 747 flight was from JFK to LA in 2017 and my last ever 747 flight was Bangkok to Sydney on Thai Air last year. All amazing flights on the true Queen of the Skies. Tomorrow was a sad day and she'll sure be missed. Long live the Queen.

A very sad day. I flew 398 sectors on the 747; the first time in 1972 from HKG to BKK, and finally SYD JNB in 2017. One of the most notable flights was a BA (BOAC) service from LHR to JFK in 1973 where there were a total of 4 passengers on the flight, 2 in First class and 2 in Ecomomy. I was the sole occupant of the rear cabin. Until the advent of the A380, the 747 in all its various forms was may favourite way to fly.

PG1
PG1

17 May 2017

Total posts 10

Ahh ... the memories !!

Gone are the days when you would rush to the back of the plane and sit right in the middle of the last row of seats to secure your sleeping quarters for the night !!

Or, if you were in the bubble, lie down in the exit row to have a sleep, as I did once on Swissair !!

21 Jul 2020

Total posts 4

So what will Qantas use to fly to Jo'burg? Do they have anything in the roster? 787 not approved is it?

Etihad - Etihad Guest

04 Mar 2018

Total posts 23

I thought the same, as flying to JNB, in a very remote area, with the only 1 other aircraft (QF coming the other way from JNB to SYD) within 100's of KM from us. Felt safe with 4 Fans spinning. Not sure I would have the same confidence with only 2 fans on the 787.

I believe they are planning to SYD - JNB as SYD - PER - JNB, even though this is longer, as the 787 can then have diversion airports at varios Islands

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 58

It was grand to watch the fire tenders spray long and strong over the last QANTAS Queen of the Skies and to see the giant plane emerge slowly and gracefully through the shower and down the taxi way. She passed the crowd ever so slowly as if giving her salute to all who waved, cheered and cried at her farewell. Cynics will say "just a giant metal tube", but to many of us she had a soul and nothing will or can replace her in our hearts. Sharelle Quinn did a superb to make the slow progress for us all on Shep's Mound.

In the dim distant past I saw the first QANTAS 747. This week I saw the last. Let's think, as this beautiful aircraft leaves Australia forever, of her "father", Joe Sutter. He gave the world something special. Thanks, Joe. We love your creation. As you said back in the late 1960s "she just wants to fly", and that she's done, through the skies and into millions of hearts. Rest now, lovely lady.


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