After nearly five decades of service and millions of miles flown around the globe, British Airways is retiring its remaining fleet of 31 Boeing 747-400s with immediate effect, citing the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the airline and the broader aviation sector.
Before the crisis, British Airways had already been slowly phasing out the jumbo jets when they reached the end of their working life, as part of the carrier’s commitment to reducing aircraft emissions. It did, however, refresh the interiors of a number of 747s which were expected to remain in service for several years to come.
But COVID-19 vastly accelerated the retirement process. Noting that aviation is not predicted to recover to 2019 levels until at least 2023 or 2024, BA formally announced on 17 July that the 747 fleet had likely flown its last scheduled commercial service.
It said the aircraft are currently grounded at various locations in the UK and are now only expected to reach heights of 35,000 feet as they make their final journeys.
The news falls hard on the heels of other notable announcements concerning the retirement of four-engined aircraft, including Air France’s A380s, and Iberia’s A340-600s. As large, flagship aircraft are retired, the sunset of first class in industry is also accelerating.
“This is not how we wanted or expected to have to say goodbye to our incredible fleet of 747 aircraft. It is a heart-breaking decision to have to make,” said British Airways chairman and CEO Alex Cruz in a statement about the carrier’s decision to retire the entire 747 fleet.
“So many people, including many thousands of our colleagues past and present, have spent countless hours on and with these wonderful planes – they have been at the centre of so many memories, including my very first long-haul flight. They will always hold a special place in our hearts at British Airways.”
At its height, British Airways operated 57 Boeing 747-400s. The original aircraft featured 27 first class seats and 292 economy seats. The jumbo jet is steeped in nostalgia.
Initially, the upper deck, widely described as the bubble, contained a lounge, with lounge chair seating. It was known as the ‘club in the sky’ and the aircraft also played host to the world’s very first flat bed seat which British Airways pioneered in 1999.
Today’s aircraft can seat up to 345 customers in four classes: First, Club World business class, World Traveller Plus premium economy and World Traveller economy class.
“We have committed to making our fleet more environmentally friendly as we look to reduce the size of our business to reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on aviation,” said Cruz.
“As painful as it is, this is the most logical thing for us to propose. The retirement of the jumbo jet will be felt by many people across Britain, as well as by all of us at British Airways. It is sadly another difficult but necessary step as we prepare for a very different future.”
To mark its centenary, the airline a year ago repainted four of its 747s in heritage colors, including one in a BOAC livery. Aviation enthusiasts and plane spotters were thrilled with the retrojet liveries.
Now they are bidding farewell to British Airways’ 747s on Twitter, sharing countless photos and memories about flying aboard the Queen of the Skies.
Images credited to British Airways
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