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Aircraft

“Queen of the Skies” Surrenders Her Crown at British Airways

“Queen of the Skies” Surrenders Her Crown at British Airways
Joe Cortez

The iconic Boeing 747 will no longer carry the British Airways colors around the world, after the airline made the decision to retire the four-engine airframe immediately. The accelerated retirement date is a direct reflection of the airline’s financial position due to COVID-19.

It was once said that the sun never sets on the British Empire. Yet, the sun has already set on one of its iconic monarchs of the air. In a press release, British Airways announced the immediate retirement of their entire Boeing 747 fleet.

“This is not how we wanted or expected to have to say goodbye to our incredible fleet of 747 aircraft”

Remember when flying was like this? The Boeing 747 was an icon of luxury and comfort in the skies.

Flyers relax in an undated archive photo aboard a Boeing 747 aircraft. Image courtesy: British Airways.

British Airways’ original plan for the “Queen of the Skies” was to slowly retire the fleet of 31 747s as part of a commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Because the aircraft cost so much to operate, the British flag carrier began replacing the double-deck aircraft with newer composite-body aircraft, like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

However, the airline’s financial status as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing the airline to rethink those plans. According to airline projections, the demand for international air travel may not pick up to pre-pandemic numbers until 2024.

“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,” Alex Cruz, CEO and chairman of British Airways, said in a statement. “As painful as it is, this is the most logical thing for us to propose.”

British Overseas Airways Corporation first flew the Boeing 747 on April 14, 1971, from London to New York. With nearly 50 years of history, millions of flyers have flown from the United Kingdom to around the world aboard the iconic aircraft. At their height, British Airways flew a fleet of 57 747 aircraft, with 27 first class seats and 292 economy seats. The airline is credited with creating the first lie-flat premium seat aboard a 747 in 1999, as well as pioneering the in-flight lounge in the upper section.

“This is not how we wanted or expected to have to say goodbye to our incredible fleet of 747 aircraft,” Cruz, said in a statement. “It is a heart-breaking decision to have to make. 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 center of so many memories, including my very first long-haul flight.

“They will always hold a special place in our hearts at British Airways.”

British Airways Boeing 747's at London Heathrow airport showing the new Chatham Dockyard tailfin design

British Airways Boeing 747’s at London Heathrow airport showing the new Chatham Dockyard tailfin design
Credit: NewsCast/British Airways

Accelerated 747 Retirement Indicative of Dark Skies Ahead

The retirement of the 747 is a major loss for British Airways in multiple ways. According to the airline, many of the aircraft went through an interior refresh across all four cabins, in the hopes they would remain in service for several more years. Now, the aircraft remain grounded at several British airports, waiting for their final flights.

The 747 fleet is one of many sacrifices the airline is making as they struggle to say in business. The airline is also beginning to auction their art collection, with the first piece to go on sale later in July 2020.

Share your favorite memories of the British Airways Boeing 747 on the FlyerTalk Forums

FAIRFORD, ENGLAND - JULY 20: A British Airways special liveried Boeing 747 takes to the skies alongside the Red Arrows during the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo on July 20, 2019 at RAF Fairford, England. The Boeing 747 has been painted in the airline's predecessor British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery to mark British Airways' centenary this year. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for British Airways)

A British Airways special liveried Boeing 747 takes to the skies alongside the Red Arrows during the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo on July 20, 2019 at RAF Fairford, England. The Boeing 747 has been painted in the airline’s predecessor British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) livery to mark British Airways’ centenary this year. Photo courtesy: Ian Gavan/Getty Images for British Airways.

View Comments (4)

4 Comments

  1. edgewood49

    July 17, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    Sad day but we all knew this was coming as airlines rethink their operations and planes. I will truly miss the ’74 British had in my opinion a great business class on the 747 frankly immensely more comfortable than the 787 even the 787 first on British sucks.

    Anyway farewell my friend !

  2. Redheadpeter

    July 21, 2020 at 4:14 am

    Business Class in the upstairs cabin on the BA 747 felt like a special place.

  3. yeldogt

    July 21, 2020 at 4:57 am

    Well …. I guess you have to look at it this way. When it first launched in the late 60’s my guess is the designers would not have predicted how many are still around 50 years later …. especially hauling freight.

    Spent many an hour with my parents in JAL and PanAm 1st …. flew countless business class upstairs with BA. I really enjoyed BA business out of JFK … to LHR

    SAA was still flying them a few years ago to Joburg — they had one of the odd split passenger/ freight models. Well, we still have Lufthansa.

  4. BC Shelby

    July 21, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    ….I remember seeing a 747-100 back in the pre-British Airways days with the old “Speedbird” Livery. Looked so elegant.

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