As United Airline becomes the latest airline to finally wave goodbye to its iconic Boeing 747-400, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) salutes the much-loved aircraft with an emotional farewell. And while we’ll all remember the affectionately nicknamed ‘Jumbo jet’ for the good times, AFA has also paid tribute to the work of its members during some of the tragic events that have befallen the aircraft.
Today saw United Airlines operate its last commercial 747 flight – bearing the rather apt flight number of UA747 from San Francisco to Honolulu. Filled to the brim with aviation enthusiasts, United has pulled out all the stops to celebrate the retirement of its iconic aircraft.
Recreating the very first United Airlines 747 flight in 1970, flight attendants will dress in vintage uniforms and the in-flight dining will be inspired by the gastronomic delights of the ’70’s. Even the aircraft has been renamed in honour of United’s original 747 – the Friend Ship.
United became the last U.S. operator of the 747 when Delta Air Lines retired the last of its fleet in September and now only a handful of airlines around the world operate the aircraft. Even British Airways – the world’s largest operator of the Jumbo – has, at last, announced a retirement plan. The final BA 747 will be grounded in 2024 and the majority will be retired by 2022.
“Flight Attendants around the industry are raising a glass to our ‘Queen of the Skies,” says Sara Nelson, the international president of the AFA.
“Millions travelled safely on this great plane, and Flight Attendants played a big role in making sure safety, heroism and wonderment is the legacy that she leaves as the 747 and AFA members fly over the horizon for the last time.”
Over the years, AFA has represented thousands of flight attendants from numerous airlines who have operated the 747. Many of those airlines were consigned to the history books long before the Queen of the Skies. They include Pan Am, Braniff International Airways, People Express Airlines and TransAmerica.
AFA even claims that its work as a union, stopped Boeing making the aircraft less safe – and helped introduce a safety rule that is still followed by aircraft manufacturers to this day. In 1984, Boeing tried to remove two of the 12 emergency exits on the aircraft – an attempt to reduce costs and squeeze more seats onboard.
While Boeing argued flight attendants could easily evacuate passengers through 10 doors within the crucial 90 second time limit, they failed to account for slide failures or hazards outside the aircraft. AFA’s lobbying resulted in the FAA taking action – stipulating that aircraft exits couldn’t be any further than 60 feet apart.
— United (@united) November 3, 2017
Sadly, though still a very safe aircraft, the 747 has seen more than its fair share of tragic accidents throughout the decades. AFA has paid tribute to the lives of passengers and crew that have been lost or changed forever by these terrible incidents.
“Although we continue to honour those who we lost throughout the history of aviation, the 747 will live on in fond memory for all that we gained. The 747 embodies the magic of flying,” Nelson said.
United Airlines flew our Queen longer than any other airline and we are grateful to celebrate her extraordinary history with the Friend Ship’s final flight.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.