While an imminent retirement was on the cards pre-pandemic, the haste with which we have had to say goodbye to many 747s across the globe has been, well, a little heartbreaking. Should you wish to make another journey on the Queen of the Skies before she leaves them forever, there are still some airlines that have yet to announce her departure.
While quite a few airlines were getting ready to retire her over the next few years, the outbreak of the pandemic has expedited the exit of the Queen of the Skies from the passenger air travel stage. Virgin Atlantic, KLM, and Qantas have all waved a premature goodbye to their jumbo jets. The latter is operating a series of farewell flights with its final aircraft next week.
Most agree that it does not make much sense to keep her in a fleet as more modern twin-jet models are easier to fill and much more fuel-efficient. That being said, many also lament the early retirement of the iconic aircraft. With so many carriers choosing to move forward the 747s departure from their fleets, where will it still be possible to catch a ride on one once travel restrictions ease up?
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.
Lufthansa is a good bet
If flying to or from Europe, one of your safest bets is to go with Lufthansa. While the German flag-carrier has sent five of its older 747-400s to a Dutch scrapyard, it still has quite a few of the model, plus 19 of its younger sibling, the 747-8 left in the fleet.
The carrier had always intended to phase out the older 747-400s over the coming years. However, Lufthansa’s editions of the later model have an average age of only 6.7 years so they are unlikely to be going anywhere soon.
The airline is planning to split its widebody planes equally between its two hubs Frankfurt and Munich, so you will have a good chance to catch them transiting through either one.
British Airways up in the air
The only other major European carrier still operating the 747, British Airways, has so far made no statement that it would change its plans to retire the model from its fleet by 2024. However, the carrier, which operates only 747-400s, recently confirmed that it had suspended the model from its fleet.
While a spokesperson for BA said that the suspension is temporary and subject to change given the circumstance, it has roused further speculation on whether or not the carrier could, in fact, also be preparing an early exit for its “Queens.” This idea was presented by the airline’s owner, holding group IAG, when presenting its Q1 2020 results in May.
Air China and Korean Air both have the 747-8
Air China still maintains both the 747-400 and the 747-8 in its fleet, although you will most likely only see the 747-400 on domestic routes in China. According to data from Planespotters.net, the Chinese airline still has three of the older aircraft, and seven of the newer.
Korean Air has ten of the passenger 747-8s and is the only carrier apart from Air China and Lufthansa to operate the model. The airline is, thus far, also hanging on to its two older 747-400s. However, they are stored at the moment, and their return to service remains questionable.
The other major carrier in South Korea, Asiana also, under normal circumstances, operates two passenger 747-400s. They are over 20 years old, and it is doubtful whether or not they would survive a post-crisis fleet optimization.
Air India, THAI, and Rossiya
One carrier that has not made any official plans to retire its four remaining 747s is Air India. However, they are quite sporadic on the schedule and seem to operate mostly domestic routes.
THAI Airways still has eight remaining 747s, all currently parked. As the airline has entered restructuring and is bound to emerge with a decimated fleet, it might not be the safest of bets to catch the jumbo once long-haul air travel returns.
Rossiya Russian Airlines still operate an impressive nine of the 747-400s, usually flying from major Russian cities to leisure destinations. Nevertheless, you can also find them on long-haul (indeed) domestic routes from one end of the country to the other. So should you find yourself traveling from Moscow to Vladivostok, that could be an option.
It would seem the most viable option is to get a ticket with Lufthansa from Munich or Frankfurt. Once long-haul, jumbo jet kind of travel is possible again, that is, barring second waves of the outbreak, or when a vaccine is discovered. Hopefully, there will still be enough “Queens” left in the sky until then. Because these days it seems you never know.
Of course, if you are really keen, you could always have a go at becoming President of the United States. Then the Air Force One 747-200 would be all yours to take where you please.