Inside Qantas’ Boeing 747 Upper Deck Captain Cook Lounge

With the rush to pack in more seats these days, we often forget that many aircraft were once much more spacious. The Boeing 747 is the best example of this amongst modern jet aircraft. In the 1970s, many operators used the extra space to install lounges for premium passengers. Qantas offered one of the best – an upper deck luxurious space, in bright colors, and with a great nautical theme.

Qantas lounge on the 747
The Captain Cook lounge on a Qantas 747, 1971. Photo: Qantas

The Boeing 747 – offering airlines extra space

The Boeing 747 came about from a direct airline desire for extra range and passenger space. Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) had seen great success with the Boeing 707 and wanted a larger aircraft, 2.5 times the size. The extra capacity would build on the passenger growth already seen and allow, crucially, lower prices per seat to be offered. This was entirely new for passenger aircraft, and Boeing created the 747 based on an earlier design for a military transport aircraft (a contract it lost to the C5 Galaxy).

Qantas Boeing 747 and 707
Qantas Boeing 747 and 707, showing the enormous size increase the 747 offered. Photo: Qantas

Pan Am was the launch customer in 1970, and Qantas introduced the 747-200 shortly after in 1971. After it retired the 707s in 1979, it became an all 747 operator (which last until the 767 was introduced in 1985). This makes it especially significant to see the last of their 747s being retired in 2020.

Qantas 747
Qantas has continued to operate the 747 until 2020, although it lost its lounge by the end of the 1970s. Photo: Getty Images

The extra space offered by the 747 allowed more than just extra passenger and freight capacity. Many airlines used the new space of the upper deck for a luxurious lounge area for first class passengers (and some added lounges for economy passengers). This was common in the early days of aviation (when flying was, in general, an expensive and luxurious affair) but had been lost during the development of larger jets and economy travel.

Qanats flying boat
The luxurious cabin of the Empire flying boat, around the 1940s. Photo: Qantas

The Qantas Captain Cook Lounge – full of 1970s color!

Qantas’ offering was the Captain Cook lounge, installed on the upper deck of many of its 747-200 aircraft. This was for first class passenger use. Passengers were seated on the main deck and accessed the lounge via the spiral staircase. There is an excellent look back at this in ‘Roo Tales’ on the Qantas News Room website, including a video interview with a Qantas engineer recalling the design.

Qantas Captain Cook lounge
Plenty of color in the Captain Cook lounge. Photo: Roo Tales, Qantas News Room

The lounge fittings were somewhat extravagant, to say the least. There was seating for 15 passengers, with a central bright orange sofa wrapped right around the back of the upper deck. The lounge added bright orange, marine blue, and checked pattern individual seats (which could turn through 360 degrees), and plenty of wood paneling.

Celebrating Captain Cook

The nautical theme and resemblance of a sailing ship was no accident. 1970 marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of British explorer Captain James Cook in Australia, onboard HMS Endeavour.

Qantas Captain Cook lounge
Plenty of nautical themes in the Qantas Captain Cook lounge. Photo: Qantas

On the wall at the back of the lounge (towards the rear of the aircraft) was a portrait of James Cook. To the sides of this were two replica lanterns, along with a ship steering wheel, imitation sextant, and a wooden globe. The small bar to one corner was even barrel-shaped, with ropes around it. Then throughout the lounge, there were plenty of replica ship ropes, wood panels, and wooden dividers between areas.

Many airlines offered lounges on the 747

It was not just Qantas which provided a great lounge space on the early 747. Other examples include Pan Am, the first operator of the 747, which used the upper deck for a restaurant for first class passengers. American Airlines offered a lounge with a bar and piano, on the main deck. Continental Airlines also opened a large main deck lounge, open to all passengers.

And in Asia, Air India, Singapore Airlines, and Japan Airlines all had upper deck first class lounges. Singapore Airlines even featured seats that could be converted for overnight sleeping.

Getty Singapore Airlines first class lounge
First class facilities on a Singapore Airlines aircraft, 1975. Photo: Getty Images

Back with the A380

Lounge space has started to make a comeback in the past 15 years on the Airbus A380. Several operators, including Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways as well as Qantas) have added lounges or bar areas for business and first class passengers.

The refurbished lounge on the Qantas A380 (launched in 2019). Photo: Qantas.

These lounges tend to be smaller than the full upper deck lounges seen on the 747. However, it is great to see them returning, years after the 747 lounges disappeared. With the use of the A380 rapidly declining, though, it remains to be seen what will be offered in the future.

Do you remember any of the great lounges on the 747s? We would love to hear your experiences of them in the comments.