A Look Back At Delta’s Boeing 747-400 Fleet

Three years ago today, Delta Air Lines flew the Boeing 747 on a scheduled international flight for the last time. The Atlanta-based carrier had a complex relationship with the jumbo. Let’s look back at the history of the pair.

Delta 747
Delta was one of the first airlines to fly the 747. Photo: Delta Air Lines

This final scheduled international flight left Seoul-Incheon, South Korea, for Detroit, Michigan, on December 19th, 2017. Ship 6306, holding registration N666US, performed flight DL158. It was the ninth 747-400 produced and the oldest one flying at the time.

One of the pioneers

Delta Air Lines first took on the Queen of the Skies in 1970, the same year the plane was introduced in the industry. However, the Atlanta-based outfit soon took a three-decade break from the type before operating it again this century.

Delta’s first 747-100 began the first round trip flight of its daily operation from the carrier’s hub of Atlanta to Los Angeles via Dallas on October 25th, 1970. Four more units also arrived by November of the following year.

The company would soon use these aircraft to link other major US cities. Destinations included Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, and San Francisco. Moreover, these planes were used on the Delta/Pan Am European interchange. So, travelers bound for London and Frankfurt could enjoy hitting the skies with the jumbo.

Delta 747 Aircraft
During the course of their operations together, Delta Air Lines had mixed feeling about the Boeing 747. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Innovative additions

Delta had ambitious plans for the 747. It introduced the “world’s first flying penthouse apartment” on its units to provide an authentic first-class experience. Inside the special suite was a coffee table with four wide deluxe seats that recline and swivel. Additionally, a two-place sofa could be found on a deep red carpet. Custom soft lighting was the cherry on top. Altogether, the airline sought to give its customers a high level of comfort and convenience.

According to the Delta Flight Museum, below are some of the key features that came with the 747.

  • It became Delta’s first aircraft with a personal audio system in the cabin, which allowed customers to listen to the likes of the Beatles, Bert Bacharach, and Beethoven while in the air.
  • The plane replaced open racks with overhead bins for baggage.
  • The first edition of Sky, Delta’s inflight magazine, was released in 1971, and it featured the 747 on the front cover.
Delta Penthouse
It was a classy affair across all of the aircraft’s cabins. Photo: The Delta Flight Museum

Short runs

Nonetheless, the initial excitement wouldn’t last. The units that first joined soon left the carrier’s holdings as the company felt that the model was too big for its route network at the time. Subsequently, from the fall of 1974, the units were started being handed back to Boeing, and by April 1977, the last of the original five were gone.

It would be 30 years before Delta took the type in again. However, the acquisition was merely a consequence of a more significant move. Delta announced a merger agreement with Northwest Airlines in 2008. The latter had 26 passenger and cargo variants of the type when the transition happened. The planes were split between 747-200s and 747-400s. So, the Queen was once again part of Delta’s operations.

Over the next nine years, the 747 was painted in Delta’s new livery to mark its return with the airline. However, the carrier proved again that it wasn’t such a fan of the plane compared with other airlines. Subsequently, the company retired the 747 for the second time in 2017.

Delta 747
The Boeing 747 didn’t last for over a decade during each stint with Delta Air Lines. Photo: The Delta Flight Museum

A groundbreaking plane

Even though the plane was part of Delta’s fleet for less than two decades in total, it had a significant impact. In a press release seen by Simple Flying, former Delta captain Brian Hollingsworth spoke about the legacy of the 747. Notably, the plane had emotionally touched both customers and employees across the scathing industry.

“I started flying for Delta Air Lines in 1976. All of those years have put me in the fortunate position of being the Senior 747 Captain at Delta and given me the incredible honor of flying today’s flight along with this great crew,” Hollingsworth said, as per the press release.

“The 747 is the most iconic aircraft ever built, and an aircraft that every pilot dreams of flying. Actually, I have been married to a former flight attendant for 40 years now, and she will be greeting me when we arrive in Detroit because today is my last trip. I am retiring after 42 years at Delta.”

Valued across the industry

Another Delta captain, Rusty Bliss, who was also a 747 check airman instructor, spoke of how important the plane was to global aviation. It had the right balance to serve passengers through the years.

“For almost a half a century, Northwest Airlines and now Delta Air Lines have been pioneering the Pacific with the Boeing 747. This wonderful airplane has provided a safe, comfortable, reliable and efficient mode of transportation for our passengers for many years. Historians will compare what the B747s have done for international flying to what the DC-3 did for domestic aviation in the United States,” said Bliss in the release.

“We know there are many of you who are admirers of the B747-400, and I understand you have chosen this last flight to say farewell to the queen of our fleet. Thank you for your loyalty to her and to Delta Air Lines.”

Delta Boeing 747
In total, Delta flew 35 Boeing 747 aircraft, which were split between five -100s, 16 -400s, two 200s, and 12 -200Fs. Photo: Getty Images

End of an era

Altogether, even though Delta didn’t hold the plane for long during its stints, the aircraft was part of the carrier’s operations during two significant eras. Undoubtedly, the 747 is a US aviation legend. However, with many other carriers across the globe also retiring the type, it’s becoming a rare sight in the skies.

What are your thoughts about Delta Air Lines’ Boeing 747 fleet? Did you fly on any of the airline’s units over the years? Let us know what you think of the type in the comment section.