The fabulous bars, lounges and restaurants of the Boeing 747

By Chris C., January 6 2018
The fabulous bars, lounges and restaurants of the Boeing 747

Over the Christmas / New Year break, Australian Business Traveller will be revisiting some of our most popular articles of 2017. We’re still around to report on any breaking news during this time, otherwise our regular publishing schedule will resume on Monday January 8, 2018.

Step back in time to the early 1970s when the Boeing 747 first took to the skies, heralding a short-lived era of luxury air travel on board the Queen of the Skies.

Pan American (Pan Am): the first Boeing 747

The world's first Boeing 747 set the trend for what was to come, with Pan Am turning the jumbo's entire upper deck into a 'restaurant in the sky' for its first class passengers:

Travellers could share the experience with up to three companions...

... or could make new acquaintances and discuss the issues of the day.

Surveys at the time indicated that around 30% of Pan Am's passengers chose to fly with the airline for this feature alone, and it's one that you can still experience on the ground – just not in the air.

Qantas: the Boeing 747 Captain Cook Lounge

Forget that pre-flight visit to the Qantas First Lounge – after take-off, you could instead enjoy an exclusive atmosphere in what was the Captain Cook Lounge on the Boeing 747's upper deck:

Guests could simply grab a newspaper or magazine and make themselves comfortable...

... or ditch the reading material in favour of fine wines and a little conversation:

While Qantas again provides a small inflight lounge and meeting area on today's Airbus A380s, it's not quite the upper deck of the '70s.

American Airlines' Luxury Liners: the piano bar

American's Boeing 747s came with a fully-fledged piano bar on the lower deck. Not merely a recording of somebody playing an instrument on the ground, but a live piano bar in the air.

However, presented by the difficulties involved with tuning pianos and how easily a little turbulence or a bumpy landing could make a traditional piano change key in an instant, AA opted for electric Wurlitzer organs:

Appreciated by passengers and cabin crew alike, the organs provided live inflight entertainment that was always in tune.

Air France, Continental, United: cocktail lounge bar

Taking an approach more akin to what we'd see today, Air France, Continental Airlines (now merged with United Airlines) and United itself provided guests with spacious seating and cocktail bartender service:

On Air France, guests mingled at the bar or while being served snacks in the surrounding seats...

... and on Continental, the bar was the focus of the room and most seats came in pairs, easily accommodating couples and travelling companions...

... yet leaving an opening at the bar for extra guests or to chat with the crew.

United's cocktail lounge sported a large communal bench and both bright yellow and cool blue chairs in a colour scheme that's a little more on the 'modern' side...

... with flight attendants bringing Champagne to your seat.

Air India, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines

The choice was as varied in Asia with Japan Airlines opting for something simple yet social...

... Air India for something eye-catching and with uniforms to match...

... and Singapore Airlines with a lounge and dining area where the seats could also be converted into 'sleeperettes' once airborne:

But whichever airline you chose to travel with, your ticket would buy more than just a seat between one city and another: it bought a truly memorable journey, which today's generation of travellers are beginning to slowly and once again catch a glimpse of.

45 years later, only a handful of airlines still boast a proper inflight cocktail bar, foremost among them being Emirates' Airbus A380...

... while Qatar Airways' superjumbo also does a classy number.

Also read: Emirates, Etihad and Qatar face off in A380 'bar wars'

Virgin Atlantic no longer flies to Australia, but the cosy cocktail bars on its Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s sport an undeniably 'cool Britannia' vibe.

Closer to home, Virgin Australia has a popular bar on its Boeing 777s flying between Sydney, Melbouirne and Brisbane to Los Angeles.

Read more: Creating Virgin Australia's swanky new Boeing 777 bar


Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Mar 2015

Total posts 55

Qantas should improve on their lounge a bit, doesnt look to good when you compare it to EK and EY

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

08 Jul 2014

Total posts 58

A great compilation, Chris. I have the vaguest of vague memories of the Continental bar (as a child, through the haze of obligatory tobacco smoke) - it seemed to be quite the party in the sky, not that I imbibed (or inhaled), of course.

The EK bar is the best current equivalent, in my experience - designed to promote socialising, with a superb array of drinks (especially the Dom if you're in F). 

It will be interesting to see how VA's new bar stacks up - the promo images are certainly promising. As GgFlyer notes, the QF lounge is woeful - a poky, uninviting space that would be better used as a (much needed) additional lavatory/changing room.

24 Apr 2014

Total posts 272

Singapore seats look similar to today's!

Now.... Just makes me want to dig up mum's short dresses, and get a beehive hairdo done for my SIN-MEL next week. 


On second thought. Nix the idea. It's a silly one. 



... Too cold in MEL on arrival. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jul 2013

Total posts 207

Go on! Do it! I dare you!  Just nonchalantly drape one of her big furs over your shoulders ;-)

Not possible. Dad's already taken the furs...... cheeky bugger


22 Oct 2012

Total posts 319

It's a pity that the lounge area of the QF A380 is such a miserable place.  It consists of a bench that seats about 6 people in a row, the bench seating being low and uncomfortable, with not even a cushion available.

Yet a redesign of the area could produce excellent results.  The extremely wide staircase between the decks could be narrowed, with perhaps a relocation of the CSMs office on the other side, could result in a very usable space for a decent J/F lounge or bar.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jul 2013

Total posts 207

Totally agree!  The QF A380 "lounge" is more a waste of space and certainly doesn't do the job it was intended to, not that I'm complaining as I have no interest in nor ever use the on-board lounges.  I've often thought that the grand staircase on the A380 is a stunning architectural feature that serves little purpose.  Who, other than cabin crew, is going up and down between Business and First during the flight?  A narrower staircase, like that on the B747, offset to one side could see that space used for a descent bar/lounge (though itd be better to have the lounge situated bewteen Business and Premium Economy.  The spacxe could also be used for an extra 1-2 rows of seats.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

06 Feb 2014

Total posts 71

My  ,  how   things   change! Pan  Am   really  went   downhill   and   turned  into   a   terrible   airline! Bring   back  those  Golden  years!

Hanging out at a bar or mingling with other pax is the last thing I want to do on a flight. I feel sorry for the extroverts out there who can't contain themselves and feel the need to engage in what would be a blissful, disconnected, "me" time in the air. Isn't it already bad enough that we have to put up with those types in our modern day open plan office environments?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Jul 2013

Total posts 207

Hear! Hear! As "glamorous" as it looks, is there really any need for these social spaces on a plane? I'm an extrovert and a social butterfly, but I just love the almost complete seclusion of a long flight where I can have absolutely minimal interaction with other people! Let's start a movement to "Banish The Bar" and have all that space given over to more spacious Business Class seating!

03 Jul 2015

Total posts 1

Pan Am, where did these photos come from? In all my years working for them I do not recall Red carpet/seat covers.

03 Jul 2015

Total posts 1

Agree that Qantas A380 'Lounge' is a complete waste of space. You wonder what someone was thinking to even put it in there. 



11 May 2015

Total posts 29

Reminds me of travelling from MEL to SIN in the mid 1970s on a QF 747-200 in first class - Commonwealth Pubilc Servants and their families went overseas on long term asignment in First then!  My wife, 3 young chioldren and I were the only FC passengers so had the run of the upper deck lounge to ourselves - the perfect way to travel with young children. The flight crew were terrific with visits to the flight deck etc. How things have changed.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 569

How times have changed! Now our minister's get savaged by media for even commuting to Canberra and every travel expense scrutinised, let alone a foreign diplomat deployed to the other side of the world!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 569


09 Jul 2012

Total posts 11

I have great memories of the Continental DC10 Pub Flight between MEL-LAX via Nadi in the mid 1980's. The irony was not all passengers realised it was open to all & those in the know headed straight to the Pub for the duration. Many friendships & laisons were developed! The ultimate flight experience though was told to me by my then MD who flew the Pan Am flight between JFK - LON where there was a piano in the upstairs bar for 1st class passengers. Just happen to have Stevie Wonder on board who sat at the piano for the flight & played all his hits to a very exclusive audience. Hard to top that I would think!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 693

Of course, these lounges were primarily the purvey of carriers prior to the introduction of Business Class. American Airlines also included the 'Piano Bar' on their LuxuryLiner DC10-30's and this was, similar to Continental's Pub zone, also open to all classes .. being located in the rear economy zone.

American also had a small (4 person) First Class lounge in their B707-323C which served SYD during their initial Australian foray in the early 1970's.

No wonder that some of us 'old-timers' fondly recall this as the 'golden age' of air travel !

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 466

A few posts refer to the QF A380 lounge as a waste of space - I think it is more a case of a left over space that was difficult to use and they have not used it well.  I have used it when wanting to talk to a collegue, but the seating is not very suitable for that purpose.   It is intended to serve F and J, but is really not a very appealing space.  Is the A380 front staircase a standard feature or is it something that can or has been done differently ? 

Wow what wonderful photos! Had a fantastic flight in F on Thai late last year from Hong Kong to Bangkok (before heading back to Aus) when the whole cabin seemed to be in a big party mode as half the cabin was booked by a family on some anniversary treat.

The only downside was they ran out of lobster (first world problems!)

A short but memorable flight but nothing like it looked back in the 60s!

08 Oct 2011

Total posts 52

Yes, the lounge at the front area is probably residue space and the airlines make do with it as best as possible.  Good for short private talks or just simply to stretch out during a long flight. Those lounges in Emirates or Qatar I would call a waste of premium space.  The comfort of our individual seats is so much better in today's biz class seats compared to the "first class" of the 1970-s.
Come to think of it, maybe Etihad use the front space as part of their Residence suite?  But then again, that is really too expensive and only the hyper-rich sheikh tycoons can afford this indulgence.  Normal companies would never pay for this even for their CEOs on business trips.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

06 Feb 2014

Total posts 71

Re   the   comment   about   Public   servants  and    First     class  travel,  we  know   that  their    Junkets    cost  the  taxpayers  a  lot  of   money   and   should  be   controlled. They   still   continue   to    bleed    government    coffers    with   business   class   flights    for  uncessary     overseas   travel ,   while   the   government    struggles   to   find   money  to   fund    healthcare!


19 Sep 2013

Total posts 201

I remember the rear lounges in the Vickers Viscounts that flew from Perth to Port Heldand in the mid-60s. Boozy places when returning from up north.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

07 Sep 2012

Total posts 149

That Continental photo looks like a set from an Austin Powers movie.

12 Mar 2014

Total posts 44

I've been trying to figure out for hours where I'd seen that before, quite disturbing. While you are at 'it', any ideas about the Air India shot? 

30 Aug 2013

Total posts 442

Great article! I cant think why a piano on an airplane wasn't a sustainable idea?!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

31 Jan 2013

Total posts 3

wow... thanks for the memories...

as children of airline staff we got to travel every way... I remember lufthansa had this upstairs lounge for a short time too and this seemed super glamourous..

now I think people want sleep and privacy most!


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1513

Golden age of aviation is gone.

Air New Zealand - NZ*E

17 May 2015

Total posts 94

As a kid in the '70's I had the privilege of 1st class travel on QF B747 - this has brought back some great memories. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 May 2015

Total posts 76

Nice article! I Love the vintage pics!

08 Oct 2011

Total posts 52

Great pix.  How time has changed.  I never had the previlledge of long haul first class travel in those days when I was still a kid.  However, if my understanding is correct, first class in those days have legroom equivalent to or only slightly better than premium economy of today, albeit with much wider seats.  Today's flat bed business class (especially those of Singapore Airlines) beats the "first class" of the 1970-s.  There was also no AVOD.  We have earphones for audio music only and movies (if available) were on a public screen.  So an inflight lounge in those days make sense.  We don't really need a lounge in today's biz class seats with music, movies and even a minibar at arm length in the comfort of our seat whether upright during a meal, relaxing recline position or flat out sleeping.  Except perhaps just to stretch out during a long flight.  I think inflight lounges are a waste of premium space which would be better used for more revenue earning seats or improved comfort of existing seats.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Dec 2016

Total posts 31

If only I was alive around then


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 382

These photos are simply fabulous! Of an age when flying on a 747 was just short of a miracle. And yes ironic that QFs Captain Cook Lounge of a bygone era some 30yrs ago (I just adore the nautical colonial theme) was and still is infamous versus the utter useless and forgettable waste of space they have today on the A380. 

I miss the 747. She truly was the Queen of the Sky. I still remember my first flight on a National Airlines 747 in 1975 and how exciting it was to visit the second floor sky lounge. By Gregg L. Friedman MD

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