Qantas to retire its five oldest Boeing 747 jumbo jets

By David Flynn, March 28 2017
Qantas to retire its five oldest Boeing 747 jumbo jets

As Qantas counts down to the delivery of its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner in October 2017, the clock is also ticking away on the airline's dwindling fleet of Boeing 747 jumbo jets – once the iconic mainstay of the Qantas international network.

By the middle of 2018, when Qantas expects to have four Dreamliners in its hangars, its two oldest Boeing 747s – one which arrived in 1991, the other in 1998 – will be put out to pasture.

These aircraft are notable for their inclusion of dated first class seats in the jumbo's nose (shown below), and are most often seen on flights from Sydney to Tokyo, Johannesburg and Santiago.

By mid-2019, with a total of eight Boeing 787s in Qantas stripe, three more red-tailed Boeing 747s will have made their final flight.

These will be largely replaced by the streamlined Boeing 787 or one of Qantas' six remaining long-range Boeing 747-400ER models which currently fly to Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

Farewell to the Queen

Dubbed the Queen of the Skies by its many fans, the Boeing 747 has been overtaken by the larger and more advanced Airbus A380 and the high-tech Boeing 787.

Qantas took delivery of its first Boeing 747 in September 1971, with the jet showcasing a new livery which has since been brought back to life on the Boeing 737 RetroRoo.

The 747 was an ambitious roll of the dice by Boeing, which believed that commercial travel would inevitably embrace the supersonic speeds of the Concorde – and Boeing's own 2707 SST.

The jumbo's long range meant that direct flights and one-stop journeys became the norm, with more passengers enjoying more comfort en route.

It also democratised travel away from the elite jetset, bringing international fares within reach of anybody earning an average wage.

At the same time, airlines temporarily went wild with the prospects of using the jumbo's extra floor space to offer cocktail lounges (including Qantas' own Captain Cook Lounge)...

... dining rooms...

and, courtesy of American Airlines, piano bars.

Read more: The fabulous bars, lounges and restaurants of the Boeing 747

In the decades to follow, however the Boeing 747 lost ground – and sales – to more efficient aircraft such as Boeing's own 777 twin-jet and the Airbus A380 superjumbo.

Boeing proposed several alternatives to the A380 – among them the 747X and the 747-400XQLR (Quiet Long Range) – but failing to find favour with airlines, none made it off the drawing board.

In 2011 the company eventually launched the Boeing 747-8 – a stretched version of the 747-400 which adapted technology from the 787 Dreamliner – but sales of the 747-8F Freighter cargo version embarrassingly outstripped those of the 747-8I Intercontinental passenger model.

Boeing's production of the 747-8 series has slumped to just six aircraft a year, with what could be the final orders coming in as 14 cargo jets for UPS and up to three highly-modified 747-8I commercial jets to serve as Air Force One from 2024.

Meanwhile, airlines around the world are replacing their ageing Boeing 747s with modern fuel-efficient jets such as the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350.

US carriers Delta and United will retire their last Boeing 747s by the end of this year, while Cathay Pacific's final 747 took her victory lap and flew off into the sunset in October 2016.

Qantas hasn't revealed when its final six Boeing 747s will take their victory lap and head off into the sunset, but if they turn in the same 20 years of flying as their siblings, these jumbos – delivered to Qantas across 2002-2003 – could be with us until the middle of the next decade, more than 50 years since the jumbo first took to the skies.

By then Qantas will be drawing close to a replacement for its flagship Airbus A380 such as the Boeing 777X, with non-stop flights to New York in its sights.


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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 165

I know it is irrational but one of the greatest thrills is flying upstairs on a 747 for the first time


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 382

It's absolutely not irrational at all, I still get an amazing thrill walking up that staircase to the upper deck.

08 Jul 2015

Total posts 10

Did that for the first time last week!!! Amazing ❤❤

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Sep 2012

Total posts 240

Great article. Thanks.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jul 2013

Total posts 207

The only thing close to flying on the upper deck of the B747 is a private jet. It will be a terribly sad day when the last QF B747 is retired.

10 Aug 2015

Total posts 117

Love Captain Cook. How deliciously 1970s!

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 377

Will be sad to see them go 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Feb 2017

Total posts 25

Never flew on a 747 before but i have a planned trip to South America this year in J and am likely to fly on the Red Roo for this. Even though the hard product in J is dated, this should still be a fun thrill ride in an iconic plane. Probably my first and last. Salute!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 361

Surely someone can bring back the piano bar!


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1513

Everyone entitled to his/her own point of view, but I personally will miss B747 - IMHO A380 comparing to it is no more than huge hangar with wings. It is really sad that almost no-one considering B747-8 and with current trend toward twin-engine plastic-fantastic planes it looks like both B747 and A380 doomed from civil aviation and we will see B747 only as cargo plane and I am not sure what happens to A380 in decade or two because Airbus do not have cargo variant at all, only some plans that never been materialized.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 369

I'll be travelling on a Qantas 747 from New York to Los Angeles later this year. Sadly, I think this may be the last time I'll be able to enjoy the Queen of the Skies. Truly the best aircraft ever made and a joy to ride on. Sleek, elegant and a whole lot more attractive than the whale-like A380. I highly doubt it will happen, but I HOPE Qantas will consider buying the Boeing 747-8 for those extra long haul routes.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 321

I have never been on one but it is on my list to do before they go, I would regret not having a trip on the aircraft that changed travel around the world. 


03 May 2013

Total posts 669

The 747 is sadly now the 'queen mother' rather than the queen. Not sure if the A380 warrants the title of Queen yet?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Feb 2016

Total posts 23

It'll be sad to see these leave the fleet. I'm curious as to how Qantas will manage the routes these fly on now? Seems like the 747 will need to stay on Johannesburg and Santiago for the time being - ETOPS and all. So you would say another route is going to have to downsize first of all, then more into 2019 when the next 3 go. 

Will Hong Kong or Tokyo go double daily with 787's to account for the smaller number of seats? Will BNE get an A380 to LAX to remove that 747? I'm sure there's plenty of options out there but the current route network for the A380's and 747's has been pretty stable for a few years now but I'm just curious to see how this changes over the next 3-5 years. Will keep my eyes peeled!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 369

I reckon BNE-LAX will go to the 787 which will in turn mean the LAX-JFK return leg will also. This should free up two 747's if I'm not mistaken?

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1027

SYD-TYO can't go double daily unless 1 flight goes to NRT or MLIT gives more HND slots for Australian routes.

HKG has slot issues, while QF can easily get more rights to fly to HKG (only ~50% of the AU HKG rights are in use), it is very hard to get runway slots at HKG.

As current announcements and routes sit, the only way to get the two oldest 747s displaced for retirement is if MEL-DXB-LHR A380 QF9/10 is removed when the 787 MEL-PER-LHR starts with the A380s moved to existing 747 routes, such as MEL/SYD-HKG.

Then, to retire the remaining non ER 747s, the 5th-8th 787s will have to be put on existing 747 flights, such as JFK, BNE-LAX and SFO.


19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1423

This will be interesting. Melb-DXB-LHR A380 will be freed up for HK and maybe Singapore. The HK flight on a A380 will free up a 747. Double daily to Haneda on A33s maybe will free up another 747 if they can get another slot. Moving capacity to Melb-DFW (789) may in a round about way free up the Syd-LA 744. I think they will try to keep the first eight 789s through Melbourne if they can for cost reasons. The LA-New York will be on a 789 maybe extending the Melbourne flight (or maybe Brisbane) . Whether there is capacity to have a new Melb-Perth-Paris flight and get rid of five 747s will depend on whether they put more A332s on international routes. One thing is for sure there will be some jugging in 2019.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 1027

Australia is unlikely to get more HND slots any time soon.
The US had 4 night time slots which was split between AA, UA, HA and DL. DL wanted enough HND slots to move their entire hub operation from NRT.
2 years of negotiation later, the US ended up with 5 day and 1 night slot (thus they lost 3 night slots).
HND currently uses 2 aircraft due to the timetable. They can cut it down to 1 by retiming the flight, possibly northbound departing SYD around lunch to arrive HND at 10pm with the return departing around midnight.

There is no 747 SYD-LAX flight. They dumped QF17/18 (the 2nd flight) some time ago. QF11/12 uses a 747 once a week in order to allow for QF7/8 to be daily A380 (flight times and rotations would otherwise only allow DFW to be 6 weekly).

Assuming the MEL-LHR A380 flight is canned, that frees up 2 A380s. Moving them to the SYD/MEL-HKG flights displaces 2 747s.

Replacing the BNE-LAX-JFK 747s for 787s frees up 2 more. Retiming HND to use a single aircraft frees up the 5th 747 and leaves 2 new 787s for new routes.
But a HND retime is unlikely without MLIT giving IASC other HND slot.

I regularly travel Business Class using points and on long haul flights, it's always a 747. I always opt for upstairs window around row 18. First class service from the upstairs crew. 


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1513

I do not know what you doing, but as I can see it is incredibly difficult to score J seat on QF metal using FF points. I have seen only few seats to HKG recently, so "regularly" and "always 747" sounds to say it most politely overoptimistic.

14 Feb 2012

Total posts 37

As with all the other commenters here I will be sad to see the QF 747 go. A recent flight from Frankfurt to Mexico City makes me even more sad. The 747-8 is just such a beautiful aircraft with more character than the A380. Flying in the bubble is truly a wonderful experience.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 211

Sadly aircraft used by airlines have to be about economic return not passenger desire. I first flew on a 747 back in the late 70's - 747-200. I remember doing one of those QF milk runs home from Europe - boarded in Frankfurt, stopping at Rome, Athens, Calcutta and finally Perth. A long trip but a great adventure. I have enjoyed many flights and traveled in F, J, W & Y on various 747's. Used to love the 743 when it ran Per/Syd. There is always special about boarding the 747, especially when seated upstairs. Just not the same feeling boarding an A380.   

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Oct 2014

Total posts 14

Truly an amazing aircraft is the B747. Shortest sectors i've flown in a B747 were between MEL-ADL & Seattle to Portland on a Northwest Orient B747-200 many years ago to crossing the Pacific to/from Australia. She'll always hold a special place in my heart, just really sad I missed flying on the B747SP. Classic jet & hope they get a few more years of service with QF yet.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 464

I did a couple of SP flights, when QF first put them on the non-stops to SFO and LAX (late 80s). Shortest 747 sectors for me were between LAX and SFO and return - again in the 80s, QF used to do tag flights between the two.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 464

Actually that's not right - my shortest 747 sector was CDG-FRA on CX. (Flight routing was CDG-FRA-HKG). In 1988.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Dec 2016

Total posts 31

I really hope to fly on a Qantas 747 before they're all retired. I almost missed the 767, don't want to miss this too


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1513

IMHO 767 is nothing special - apparently I never liked it.

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 13

Serg would you prefer a sardine can 737 instead.What is it about the 767 that you did not approve of.


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1513

It may be more emotional than rational. B767 always seems to me kind of "unbalanced" - body is too big and wings are too small. Plus few times I happens to be in quite a bit of turbulence and bloody B767 was shaking by all parts independently - it was not most pleasant experience. From other hand B737 always appealed to me as small solid trustworthy plane. I use to fly a lot in late 90-s and then B767 was main plane in MEL-SYD route while B737 main one on MEL-ADL route and honestly I do not recall that B737 is "squeezier" than B767. But may be I was younger and slimmer LOL!!! 


13 Jun 2015

Total posts 141

I have never been on the QF 747s but these types of aircraft brought a lot of good memories.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2017

Total posts 51

I frequently fly SYD-HND. QF just can't match the Japanese in J. I'd love to see them introduce the 787. IIRC QF25/26 are normally quite full, wonder what they will do about the capacity loss if they replace it with 787.

03 Jan 2017

Total posts 4

I have flown the 747-8 with Korean Air from HK to Seoul and I have to say what a fantastic plane it is! With Qantas getting the 787-9 it would be a great synergy with similar engines used on both thew 787 and 747-8. Like many others have said I wish Qantas would get the 747-8 to replace the old 747.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

03 Sep 2014

Total posts 8

Will sadly miss the bubble, as others mentioned it was great to climb those stairs. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Jul 2013

Total posts 18

I love the 747 and have always travelled on the upper deck. Sadly to see it go but after my last trip I believe it is time to put it to rest and let go. I found it to be noisier than the A380 and decided not to fly the 747 again. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Jul 2015

Total posts 220

Great aircraft but now outdated. Vary noisy and judging from a recent trip on a BA flight it was very cramped. A great ship but time to move on

03 Jan 2017

Total posts 4

Yes the BA 747 are too old. However as I  and others have said time to move on to the new 747-8i.

04 May 2016

Total posts 34

Definitely the queeen of the skies. Elegant and sleek. The 380 is just a fat cow. I was expecting a great advance when I first flew the 380 and was totally under-whelmed. It's funny to read people say they have never flown on a 747. Too young ? Or just been flying with airlines not so 747-centric as QF/BA/CX ?
Shortest 747 legs ? When QF used to fly HKG-SYD-MEL I always tried to get on SYD-MEL in J for not much money or points, usually at the end of an international Y connection from somewhere else. Just so I could sit in the bubble and have hot raison bread for breakfast with silver service (after a lousy cold Y QF breakfast earlier in the morning) !

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Dec 2015

Total posts 9

Wow - now I feel really old! I was a lowly second-year engineering apprentice at QF Mascot back in '91 when that beautiful shiny new 747-400 arrived!

I recall stomping through it many-a-night, checking out how the 'other half' lived upstairs and in the nose whilst on night shift in Line Servicing Dept.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Nov 2012

Total posts 25

One of my early long haul flights was on a QF 747.200 student charter from Sydney to London, sometime in the 1970s. We had the run of the entire aircraft including the Captain Cook lounge, and arranging to sit for a while in the flight deck and chat to the captain wasn't a problem. Can't imagine that happening too often nowadays! 

Apart from my time on the flight deck, I remember that flight as incredibly boring. I don't I don't think there were even large communal screens, although there were ear inserts for audio. I'm not sure how passengers found out about where in the world we were. Maybe on slips of paper passed back from the purser or flight deck (I can remember that on TG flights in the late 1980s).  

747s had 9 across Y class seating (3-4-2 or 2-4-3, can't remember which) when they first came out, although the seats themselves weren't particularly well designed. Most current 747s are a lot squeezer in Y than the original -- less shoulder room and less seat pitch, whatever the spin of airline PR departments. Probably meal size has shrunk in much the same way as the seats, although the quality of the food back then wasn't all that great. Airlines have become meaner in Y, but maybe that's because fares relative to average weekly wages are now a fraction of what they were back then. 

I've had numerous 747 flights since that first flight to London, including QF SP, QF combi, QF300 and QF400, but not the 747-8. 

I also have fond memories of the little bubble, including J class on an SQ 747-200 flight from Taipei to Singapore where I was the only pax upstairs. That was a bit surreal. 

I've only travelled on the QF 380 once, in F, and much preferred it to the 747 -- it's quieter and more comfortable. I do think the 747 is a beautiful aircraft visually, but I won't miss it all that much. As new aircraft come onto the market, most (e.g., 787/A350/ A380) are quieter and smoother than earlier aircraft such as the 747 (although as I say, I haven't tried the 747-8). 

The 747-400 is getting a bit long in the tooth (like me!), and even though they might still be in service for a while, I'm not holding my breath waiting for airline accountants to approve the purchase of any new quad-jets. I reckon it's a matter of enjoying 747s and A380s while we can. 

03 Sep 2017

Total posts 49

Dundas, you brought back lots of good old memories of the flying kangaroo logo. I love the old livery. 

The EY seating is 3-4-2 (or 2-4-3). Have a look at this old photo.

06 Dec 2017

Total posts 110

sadly to see them go.although i never flew qantas till my first and only trip to canada to date i'll never forget my first trip on the 747's.i have flown on the 747-200's and 747-400's.never got to go on the 747sp or the 747-300 on all other trips since.NEW ZEALAND MY FIRST TIME AROUND WAS A 744 but home on a 767-200,singapore second time ago a 742 outbound and 762 home and on my 2006 trip went on a 744 both ways.hong kong on my second trip was a 744 both ways and bali was a 763 over but factory fresh 744 many memories that will be gone fact except for johannesburg,tokyo and a few other places everything for the most part is a330/787/a380 now.

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