After 48 years of gracing the skies, the last of El Al’s famous jumbo jets are being retired this October. It is the end of an era for a small airline with a big reputation. Since 1971, El Al’s six 747s have helped open up Israel to the world. Now the clock is ticking for people keen to make that one last El Al 747 flight.
Air Transport World is reporting that El Al will retire its final three 747-400s by the end of October 2019.
Just last week, a fourth El Al 747-400, 4X-WLD, was withdrawn from service after its last flight, LY4 from JFK. 4X-WLD had been flying for El Al since 1994.
The three 747-400s left are 4X-ELD Tel Aviv-Jaffa which has been flying under El Al livery since 1994, 4X-ELC Beer Sheva which El Al has had since 1995, and 4X-ELD Jerusalem. Other than a short spell in 2009/10 when it was leased to TAT Nigeria, 4X-ELD has been with El Al since 1999.
El Al 747’s have flown as far afield as Bangkok, Europe, and North America. They were, for a time, a symbol of Israel’s modernity and progress. Now, the El Al 747’s are considered rather retro, usually in a good way. Brian Kelly from The Points Guy did a recent review of first-class on El Al’s 747-400. He described it as “vintage” – in a good way.
More than just a national carrier
Unlike many national carriers, the El AL 747s have always had a significant place in Israel’s national psyche. Israel’s Haaretz News says the aircraft “had a unique role in bringing Jews together”.
They’ve also played their part in some significant events in Israel’s recent history. The El Al 747s were integral to airlifting 14,500 Ethiopian Jews out of Addis Ababa during the Operation Solomon airlift in May 1991.
In one celebrated flight during that airlift, 1008 passengers were squeezed onto El Al’s 747 cargo plane for a flight out of Addis Ababa. That flight still holds the record for the most passengers ever carried on a single flight.
787-9s replacing the 747-400s
As with airlines everywhere, the age of the 747-400s, their thirsty engines, and the rising costs of keeping the big planes in the air makes them increasingly unviable. El Al is replacing its 747-400s with the lean and fuel-efficient Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. They have 11 in service and are having five more delivered by the end of 2020.
Unlike the 747-400s, the El Al 787-9 aircraft have contemporary interiors and modern seats, including an up to the minute business class cabin with a crowd-pleasing 1-2-1 layout.
As the 747-400s are being phased out, the 787-9s are starting to appear on routes to Newark and London. Throughout the next year, they’ll be seen on routes to Mumbai, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Paris. In a nod to El Al nostalgia, some of the fresh new Dreamliners will be sporting retro El Al livery.
Nothing stays the same, and while airlines around the world are phasing out their 747s, fans will mourn its passing. For their inefficiencies and noise and outdated cabins, there is nothing in the world like being pushed back in your seat as a 747 powers down the runway.
Flying won’t be the same without them.