How Delta Air Lines Ended Up Operating The Boeing 747 Twice

The Boeing 747 is a legendary aircraft that has created countless memorable moments over the last 50 years. Delta Air Lines first operated the Queen of the Skies in 1970, the same year it was introduced. However, the Atlanta-based carrier and the plane took a thirty-year break before reconnecting this century.

Delta Boeing 747
Delta’s relationship with the 747 spans back half a century. Photo: Getty Images

The original model

On October 25th, 1970, Delta’s first 747, nicknamed Georgia Belle, started the first round trip flight of its daily service from Atlanta to Los Angeles via Dallas. Four more units also arrived by November 1971.

Shortly, the operator would use these planes to connect other key cities of the United States, including Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, and San Francisco. Additionally, these 747-100s were used on the Delta/Pan Am European interchange, causing many heads to turn when landing in London and Frankfurt.

Delta 747
The 747 in Delta’s classic livery. Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi via Wikimedia Commons

High expectations

The carrier had big plans for the jet when it took it on. It even turned the upper deck into a ‘flying penthouse’. Former Delta SVP of marketing T.M. Miller spoke about how the plane is in a class of its own compared to its counterparts.

He said the below, according to the Delta Museum.

“The 747 is totally unlike any other aircraft, piston or jet. A triumph of American technology, the 747 will bring to our passengers a standard of comfort and convenience no longer limited by the size of an aircraft cabin.”

However, despite the high hopes, the original units did not last long within Delta’s fleet. The carrier soon felt that the model was too large for its routes. Therefore, from September 1974, the airline started to trade its units back to Boeing. Eventually, the last of the original five departed in April 1977.

Even though it was a favorite among its rivals, the company chose not to bring back the type for over three decades. However, the 747 did make a return as a consequence of a more significant event.

Into the new millennium

In April 2008, Delta announced a merger agreement with Northwest Airlines. The Minnesota outfit held 26 of both passenger and cargo variants when the deal was struck. These were split between 747-200s and 747-400s. Subsequently, Delta snapped up the jet once again following the agreement.

Northwest 747
One of the 747s in Northwest livery. Photo: Ken Fielding via Flickr

Over the next nine years, the 747 performed a comeback tour in the skies. However, it didn’t take long for the airline to grow tired of it once again. Eventually, the company retired the 747 for the second time in 2017.

Despite both stints not lasting over a decade, the 747 was a pioneering aircraft for Delta. Below are some of the other important additions that the 747 brought.

  • In 1970, it became Delta’s first plane with a personal audio system in the cabin. Passengers could listen to seven channels played by the likes of the Beatles, Bert Bacharach, and Beethoven.
  • It was the carrier’s first plane with overhead bins for baggage. These units replaced open racks. 
  • In 1971, the first edition of Sky, Delta’s inflight magazine, featured the 747 on the front cover.

Altogether, the 747 has such a rich history and partnered with several groundbreaking airlines over the last half a century. While operators continue to let go of the aircraft, it is continuing to become a rare sight in the air. However, it has left a legacy that is felt by millions of passengers across the globe.

What are your thoughts on Delta’s two stints with the 747? Have you had the opportunity to fly on both incarnations? Let us know what you think in the comment section.