Qantas Operates Final Domestic Boeing 747 Service

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Over the weekend, Qantas operated the last of its regular seasonal Antarctica day flights. The popular trips have traditionally been operated by 747-400 aircraft.

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VH-OEH operated the last scheduled 747-400 domestic service this morning. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons

One of the fringe benefits of these day trips is that 747-400 aircraft often have to be re-positioned to the departure airports the day before, or re-positioned back to their home ports the day after. These re-positioning flights offer passengers the rare opportunity of riding a 747-400 for a short domestic flight.

Swapping out a 737-800 for a 747-400 this morning

That’s what happened this morning, Monday 17 February 2020, when VH-OEH, operated QF400, the 06:00 flight between Melbourne and Sydney.

The morning commuter flight is the second of over 30 Qantas flights up to Sydney today. The 747-400 at the gate would have been a surprise for many suits expecting a decidedly less spacious 737-800.

Michael Robinson was a passenger on the flights and posted some images on Twitter.

Today’s flight is officially the last scheduled 747 domestic flight for Qantas. It is also the last Qantas 747-400 departure scheduled from Melbourne. But with a handful of 747-400s remaining and eleven months to go until the final 747-400 is due to disappear, there could be some surprises in store in 2020.

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Qantas is down to five 747-400s, the sixth retired just last week. Qantas wouldn’t confirm the fate of VH-OEF last week but the Mojave Desert retirement village for unwanted aircraft has room to spare.

Time to rule a line under domestic 747 flights?

The remaining 747-400s are all due to be retired this year. Qantas likes to send out its retiring aircraft with a bang (well, not literally) so a swansong around Australia or a couple of Antarctica flights later in 2020 isn’t out of the question.

Plus, the 747-400s periodically crops up on the Sydney – Perth route. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if they slide a 747-400 or two across to Sydney’s T3 over the winter.

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Over the past couple of months, these re-positioning flights have given 747-400 fans the opportunity to fly between Sydney and Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, and Sydney and Adelaide. It isn’t often Adelaide sees a 747-400.  The flights are popular because they are reasonably inexpensive, avoid the hassles of international terminals, and offer a hit of nostalgia.

A Qantas spokesperson said last year;

“The 747 has a special place in the hearts of many passengers and we’re delighted to announce that we’ll be operating a number of domestic services between November and February 2020, giving customers the opportunity to fly on the Jumbo without the need for a passport.”

What will happen to the Antarctica flights?

The retirement of the 747-400s does raise the question of what aircraft will operate the summer Antarctica flights.

The twelve-hour plus flights take passengers far into the southern reaches. They are generally pretty festive affairs with lots of champagne and low altitude flying. One of the reasons the flights have worked is that the 747-400 is not only big enough to make the distance, but it also has enough room on-board for passengers to move around.

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What aircraft will operate the summer Antarctica flights? Photo: Public Domain

Sure, you could do it in a 787-9, or one of the new A350-1000s if Sunrise gets the tick and the aircraft come into the fleet, but 12 hours in the economy class cabin of a 787-9 doesn’t immediately appeal to me.

The lack of personal space in the newer aircraft is one of the reasons why I think a couple more 747-400 flights to Antarctica could be squeezed in later in 2020. That means we might see one or two domestic 747-400 re-positioning flights yet.

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