British Airways Reveals 747 Retirement Plans

Filed Under: British Airways

Over the past several years we’ve seen airline after airline after airline retire the 747. That’s a shame, since the queen of the skies is an iconic plane that completely revolutionized aviation, and there’s not really a replacement for it. The 747-8 has been a bit of a flop (at least when it comes to the passenger version of the plane), and the A380 unfortunately only seems to be working for Emirates, which just took delivery of their 100th A380.

Instead airlines are opting for more fuel efficient and lower capacity planes, like the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787. These planes allow airlines to operate routes that weren’t previously feasible, and also do a better job of maximizing yields, as there aren’t as many seats to sell.

The world’s largest operator of the Boeing 747 is British Airways, as they have 36 Boeing 747-400s in their fleet. While other airlines park the planes in the desert, British Airways up until now hasn’t announced any plans to retire the plane.

Well, we now have a better sense of what the future of the plane looks like. Per FlightGlobal, IAG’s Chief Financial Officer has said that British Airways plans to retire their fleet of Boeing 747s by February 2024. They plan to phase out the aircraft in stages, with half of their 747s being phased out by 2021.

It’s interesting to get more details on the future of British Airways’ 747s, though it’s also nice to know that the planes still have over five years of life left in them (at least from an aviation geek standpoint, maybe less so from a passenger experience standpoint).

As it stands, in addition to 747s, the airline has a longhaul fleet consisting of 777s, 787s, and A380. The airline has a further 17 787s and 18 A350s on order, so they’ll make up for much of the capacity that’s lost with the 747s being retired.

British Airways’ CFO claims that the more modern aircraft are 30% more efficient than the 747s, and that should lead to a roughly 200 million USD annual fuel benefit within the next five years.

Are you happy or sad to see the 747s (eventually) leaving British Airways’ fleet?

Comments
  1. It is a bucket list of mine to fly upper deck business class on a 747, and I’m happy to say that later this month I’ll get to do that twice, once on a Korean Air 747 and then on a BA 747. Sad to see them go.

  2. Very happy to see BA keep the 747-400 for quite a few more years. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are one of the last 747-400 operators. I think you should try out Rossiya’s 747s. That would be a very interesting review.

  3. Flying on the 747 is an experience that my grandparents had, and I had. It’s one of the longest-serving aircraft types. When I fly overseas, grandpa always asks “Did you get to fly on a 747?” He and grandma fondly remember the grandeur of flying to Europe on them.

    When the last 747 retires, we’ll have lost a link between us and flying in the 70s/80s. I’ll be sad to see that gone.

  4. “A380 unfortunately only seems to be working for Emirates”… BA has 12 and every time I fly them they’re completely full. Have flown SQ, QF and QR A380s, only the latter wasn’t full but other two always at 90%+ capacity. So I’m not sure what you mean?

  5. BA’s problem is that, other than the A380, none of those other planes (777, 787, A-350) have the same capacity. And given how popular routes in and out of London are, the end result could be that BA have to add to their schedules.

    That in turn means extra costs for transporting the same number of people, undoing any saving in fuel.

    I’d prefer BA to buy some more A-380’s or even 747-8’s, but looks like that won’t happen. I’ll settle for 7 more years flying 747’s on BA – will always choose that over another airline or plane for as long as I can.

  6. Emily M:

    Airlines other than Emirates are typically not buying or adding to their A380/B748 fleets. Two engine widebody planes such as the 77W, 789 and A359 are proving to be far more popular and flexible. Note that British Airways COULD choose to order more A380s or B748s to replace their 747s but instead orders other plane types.

    Also, “full planes” doesn’t mean “most profitable plane. I could fill a plane selling seats for a dollar…

  7. In the case of BA…the constraints of slots and only 2 Heathrow runways…will always point towards a hub and large aircraft operation…the UKs regional airports have long ago embraced services point to point with non UK carriers bypassing Heathrow..first with 757s and 767s and now with 777 and 787s and A350s..and even Emirates A380s…BA has no choice but to hang on to large aircraft.

  8. Martin how can BA add to their Heathrow schedule, are there any slots? They want to fly these smaller more efficient models than fly a half empty big big jet no?

  9. I’ll be glad to see them go. They’re so, so tired now. Nostalgia is all well and good, but I’d much rather be flying inside an A350 (especially if I have to be on BA, since that would give me direct aisle access from every seat in J. Can’t wait).

  10. I didn’t care for the 747 in the ‘80’s when I was flying TWA and PanAm and I avoid 747 and A380 aircraft today. I’m glad to see the industry moving to smaller widebody aircraft.

    I recall getting stuck in the middle seat of a five seat row of either a 3-5-3 or
    2-5-2, 747 back in the ‘80’s.

  11. Ah nostalgia… I still remember how awed I was (and I am sure many others share the same feeling) when the 747 first came out. It was a truly massive jump up in size and was the most spacious way to fly for a long time.

    For some reason when the A380 came out it did not wow me so much. It’s just a larger sized plane. It’s also not being used on the massive scale that the 747 was used. Plus few people think that it is a big deal flying them.

  12. All I need to say has been previously commented by ‘the nice paul’.
    In this new age, we don’t need relics anymore, though I’ve always doffed my hat on the sturdiness and gracefulness of the 747s.

  13. Thai still have several 747s flying from BKK to SYD HKG HND AKL and as a previous writer wrote they fly Domestic to HKT at Christmas and New Year. Dated but still a pleasure to fly.

  14. Glad they’ll be flying for a bit longer. I grew up next to Heathrow so have experienced BOAC and PanAm 747-100s right through to todays 744s and the odd 748. Somehow it just won’t feel quite the same without the 747 and I will miss flying on them. The A380 just doesn’t do it for me!

  15. Oh yes…yes…and more yes. The sexiest airplane in the world and so proud of BA keeping it real. Hell, they flew the 747-100 with the extended top in the landor livery for ages. I loved seeing the 747-100/200(RR engines)/400 fly over my house as a kid from Pittsburgh to Philly at 2500 feet. It was a treat when they flew the 747-436 to PHL in May of 1990 on one of their first -400 routes from LHR for a brief time.

    You just can’t beat the sexy shape of the RB-211’s and the yellow swirl and hearing the growl during takeoff and enjoying the old skool club world cradle seat and “Raid the Larder” self serve snacks in the galley. God bless the Lord Colin Marshall for turning BA into a world leader of airlines in the 90’s.

  16. My first 747 flight was in 1977. BA from LHR-MIA. I was seven years old and it felt massive, exiting the plane it felt huge walking from the back and it was a treat visiting the cockpit. I’ve since flown 747s with Virgin, Cathay, Singapore, Thai, Qantas, Air New Zealand and Lufthansa. The most special experiences was flying Lufthansa First class upper deck to Hong Kong, it was the last time my late mother went on holiday and such a great treat to be able to take her in First; and being seated row 1 in the nose of Virgin Upper class.

  17. The only time I’ve ever been on a 747 is back in 2002/2003 flying to Japan on JAL (I actually don’t know for sure that I was on the 747 but it seems like a safe bet to make since it was the backbone of their fleet back then). The most dear plane to me is actually the 777 since it’s the one that has taken me on nearly all of my adventures but I would absolutely love to get on board the queen again. Since I live in Colorado, I’ve considered doing a long weekend trip to Europe out of DEN; flying British Airways one way and Lufthansa the other since last time I checked they both fly 747-400’s to DEN. Hopefully I can find award space in business/first so I can get a chance to fly in both the upper deck and the nose.

  18. Two weeks ago flew from Dulles to Heathrow w a BA 747 after almost 4 hr delay waiting for a part to be driven down from NY. DRIVEN translates to not caring about missed connections. The word “efficient” seems not to apply to BA.

  19. I’ll miss the 747 – for steerage class passengers it feels more spacious. After 3 cramped 3-4-3 aisle seats with Air NZ London to Auckland via Hong Kong and back via LAX it was a relief to get on a 747 and have a bit more room to stretch out or stand. Now they have nothing bigger, I am an Emirates A380 man.

  20. It’s a shame the most iconic aircrafts of the sky is being retired after all this time. It’s been a fantastic airplane. I do not understand why airlines are not waiting to retire the 747 until the 777x comes out. I have heard it is going to be the most efficient passenger aircraft in the sky and it nearly holds as many as the beloved 747. I’m glad I have had the opertunity to fly on the 747 many times on multiple airlines at only the age of 16. You will be missed -Devin

  21. Gordon, any airline can have an issue and delay a flight.

    In fact US airlines are the worst for that, try UAL some time

  22. They were game changers but I’m glad they’re finally going as they’re well beyond acceptable comfort for passengers compared to alternates. Understandable why BA clung onto them for so long as they are all paid off.

  23. They had their day…my one ride on one was between YMX and LHR in 1994. Snagged a seat on the upper deck which was 69 economy seats in those days.

  24. The A380 was built for airports like congested airports like Heathrow and global airlines like BA. The fact that it can’t work even under those circumstances – whereas a nearly 50 year-old design like the 747 can – suggests BA might be making a misstep in retiring the Queen rather than upgrading to the newest version.

  25. @James Where is your empirical evidence to support your sweeping statement that the A380 can’t work at congested Heathrow?

  26. @James Doesn’t Emirates fly 3 of them into LHR daily? Isn’t LHR the single largest recipient of daily A380s (BA, EK, QF, QR, EY, OZ, KE)? Yes, not all of these airlines are in perfect shape, but if the A380 did not work they wouldn’t be fly it in. Just because BA struggles with them (for which little to no evidence has been provided in this thread) doesn’t mean others can’t do better.

  27. I have flown dozens of times in all classes of the 747. One complaint- noisy interior. Just done two long hauls on an A380 – a different experience. Quiet and very comfortable. A big step up from the 747.

  28. The 380 is a fine looking plane, although not yet flown one. But the 747 is without doubt a very special plane – it (literally) flew into our lives transforming and opening up long distance air travel to millions 40 plus years ago.

    Living nearby, I’ve watched it land at Heathrow thousands of times over the decades and the fantastic appearance as it slowly descend towards the runway is always amazing. Sometimes visible from several miles out, sometimes just popping out of the cloud at the last minute, always a thrill.

    That wonderful bubble on the top was a first; its comfortable long distance ability was incredible. To be able to go for a stroll around the cabin and not get back to your seat for 10 minutes is great. It is still my favourite plane to fly on if travelling to the US. I also flew to Moscow on a BA747 once.

    And as with Concorde, when I see a 747 fly over my house now I still think ‘I wish I was up there’.

    I hope BA keep the 747 flying for as long as possible.

  29. As a BA very frequent flyer, I really love the 747 (and so do most of my fellow VFF). I think in all classes (may be except F) the hard product is superior to the A380 and 777. Thus retiring them un 2024 is good and bad news … it’s good that we can keep them until then – but it’s sad to have them cut by half by 2021 and eventually totally 🙁

    It will ge interesting to see which routes can keep them (as long as possible)

  30. Flown 747 and 380, ba and lufthansa, the jumbo needs to go,it feels like a rickshaw compared to the 380, that said the 330 is my weapon of choise ,can’t wait to get on the neo, and like the man said filling a plane is easy if the price is right!

  31. Andy,

    I agree, I’d still rather fly a 747 then any 2-engined plane, which is a big part of why I fly BA when I can. I might prefer the A-380, and of course BA has or will have a dozen or so of them, and they are well suited to LHR and the most popular routes out of there.

    I think it is cost that rules out BA using A-380’s more – they are the most expensive plane out there to buy by some margin. Of course, the cost doesn’t really matter to Emirates but I don’t want to go through Dubai all the time

  32. Last year I flew BA295 in the upper deck.
    What a wonderful experience I had imagining I was on a Gulfstream, until I looked Down, from the window…
    Both Pilots were pleasantly available, as they passed to the cockpit…after I revealed I had ‘flown’ the A380 simulator in Dubai and successfully landed it @ LHR in simulated fog, they permitted me to sit ‘up front’ while on ground, in the Co’s Seat.
    A memory I will cherish forever..
    It will be SAD to see her go, I feel the same about AA ‘s Retiring ‘mad dogs’ which were my mainstay whilst traveling to SJD..being replaced by Ninja Warrior seating in their replacement 737 Uber Tights…
    Guess it’s not only ‘size’ that matters, but memorable experiences that do…

  33. I love the 747 and over the years I have been fortunate to fly on them with many different carriers – the first 747 flight i took was with Pan Am and back then upstairs was first class it was excellent although pre lie flat seats. One of the most memorable 747 flights I had was on IranAir’s 747SP, the upper deck lounge was more like a Bedouin tent the centrepiece being an Arabic Samouvar Tea Urn! No booze on IranAir but plenty of good coffee. A shame they are coming to the end of their economic life, but I expect they’ll be flying for many years to come with some lesser known African carriers.

  34. I must be getting old. It’s sad to see people talk about getting to visit the cockpit as a privilege ON THE GROUND. When I was a kid, if you expressed interest in aviation, you were welcome in the cockpit during flight. A privilege was getting to sit in the jumpseat the ENTIRE flight, including landing. Or the right hand seat DURING the flight.

  35. It’s just a crying shame that you need to continually need to go to London to get these long haul flights when Reginal airports can do the same job
    Cardiff to London is an extra 170 miles which at a constant 170 miles adds another 2 1/2 hours on the journey and other parts of the country even longer maybe the carrier’s could maybe have cheaper slots regionally and also by sharing it out to others not only can they clear passport/customs quicker they could have a share of the cake.
    I live in Pontypridd and Qatar airways have just Come into Çardiff Wales Airport CWL so yes if they can Commit to there and by the way the large BA aircraft fly’s to CWL which overhaul the planes and yet do not fly passengers from here
    But personally I would rather travel 20 miles to catch a flight and even if I need to transfer half way for a short stop over connection i could even put up with that!!!

  36. My husband and I flew to Heathrow from San Francisco this past August. I researched to death the layout of the 747 and locked in the two best seats on the plane, upper deck, business class. The plane was spotless and the service by the flight attendants was impeccable. Prior to booking our trip, my husband insisted we get bed seats for such a long flight and I’ll never fly a long haul again any other way. The 747 had only 12 seats upstairs in our section. We felt so comfortable in our quiet area upstairs and were treated like royalty.

    We flew the reverse route home on the upper deck on BA 380, business class. Again, I researched the hell out of that plane as well and secured the best seats on it. It sucked. The plane was dirty and worn. The flight attendants were the worse I’ve ever encountered. The plane was so huge that the boarding process took forever. Yes, we had priority boarding, but you still have to wait for everyone else to get on! We could’ve left Heathrow on a 747, but it meant having to leave earlier. Regrets…..shoulda, woulda, coulda…..

    We will be flying to Europe again in 2019 and will be booking the same BA 747 seats we had on this trip. We feel it’s a big mistake retiring this incredible plane. There is nothing like it out there. It would be wonderful if they would replicate the layout/floorplan of a 747 in a more economical model. I wish I had flown this plane a long time ago. What an incredible experience it was and one we look forward to again.

  37. Have always loved the 747, and have been privileged enough to fly her with several airlines. From a passenger comfort level, the problem going forward is going to be as the -400s get phased out, the fewer upgrades the cabin will see, which means the jets will continue to look/feel tired.

    I’ve also flown the 380, and while it is a comfortable airplane, it just doesnt have that sense of “being” that a 747 does.

  38. I agree with most folks that its so sad to see the Queen go to the boneyard.
    The DC3 is still flying !!!
    My first flight on the B742 was LHR/JFK and return in Aug 1970. Yes on PAA. Then again in 1984 NAS/LHR on BA for THE FA Cup final…we lost but the ride was great.
    Regret never getting a ride on the Concorde. I have lived through the best years of aviation. My grand children will never see the same sort of changes…..
    Long live the B747 !!!

  39. I also read from the presentation, that BA is refurbishing their remaining 747’s starting 2018 before retiring them in 2024, which sounds like good news to me, since I will be flying to LAS next summer (currently planned on an unrefurbished 747…). I’m thrilled to get details on the time schedule and routes 🙂

  40. Booked in CW to SFO return in the spring. Was wondering whether I should pay to book on the upper deck, I probably will now…

    One of the keys to happiness is to letting go (Dalai Lama if I remember well).

  41. Anne-Marie,

    BA do switch plane types on the SFO-LHR routes from time to time.

    For a while it was a 747 and an A-380. Then it was a 777 and an A-380. Last I checked it was a 747 and a 777.

    Might be a seasonal thing.

  42. I have always wanted to straddle a 747 and ride it like a colossal metalic dragon, the thought of all that thrust between my legs leaves me weak at the knees. I’m going to miss you. You’re a bad bad boy.

  43. It could be that the A380 is a bit too much for her. But joking apart, (I hope “Jayne” was joking”!)..the problem of hubs and big airplanes has not gone away forever. We could be revisiting the issue in another 20 years as air travel continues to expand exponentially..especially as more Chinese and Indians begin to fly. I doubt that this traffic increase can be absorbed solely by 777s, A350s, 787s and their successors flying point2point…airspace and slots at popular airports will be at a premium.

  44. BA has some from 1999…so theoretically depending on their cycles…they could be kept til 2020+….although if fuel prices head upwards again..refurbishing may be off the table..

  45. I flew across the Pacific and back seven times in the 70’s and 80’s, all on the 747. Pan am, United, Northwest, and TWA. United is the only one still standing. The only plane I ever flew on where I could get up and take a stroll, and the only one where I had dinner and breakfast the next morning all on one flight lol. Such a classic aircraft and I hate to see her go.

  46. Looks like they just phased it out of PHL for Summer 2018…I was booked upper deck and just found out my flight (BA0066) is now operating on a 777. So sad…I really wanted one more trip on the Queen!

  47. The cabins are disgusting on some of the retiring 747’s and it leads to a inconsistent soft product- glad to see them go! Everytime I’ve had a 747 flight with BA in the last few years something (minor technical) has gone wrong with the jet. Great plane but all good things must come to an end…

  48. I can’t wait for them to be retired. During my last flight last week the economy seat was totally worn through and I was sitting on metal rails.

    Tiny TV screen with terrible resolution and many of them weren’t working. No power outlets to power your tablet in case you wanna use that instead.

    747 is a real “beater” of a plane.

  49. I know what you mean, the oldest are used on the LHR South African routes. BA are waiting for their deliveries of A350s to commence..but telling passengers and analysts that the 747s will be phased out until 2024..didn’t help you!

  50. The 747-400 fleet has to go at some point, but British Airways should order the 747-8 passenger aircraft to replace some of the 747-400 fleet.

  51. No one is ordering 4 engined aircraft ex for Emirates and their A380s. ETOPs and the accompanying route mapping has done for them. BA has said it expects to retire the fleet in full by early 2020s..its youngest 400 series aircraft will hit 19 years old this year!

  52. Iconic plane. First flew in one in Summer 1972 from Boston-Logan to San Francisco. Couldn’t believe how big it was. Not that full either. Great to see they still around, sad to see them all go by 2025’s.

  53. @penny Don’t forget, they’ll be gone for BA but there will still be plenty flying around on Lufthansa, Korean Air, and Air China.

  54. Love this big bird,

    Flew two round trips from Seattle to London, 8 hour each way. With the two aisles you can get up and walk around a little bit. I love seeing them flying over my home either outbound or inbound. They look like they are moving soooo slow but surely are not. They have a distinctive sound that is readily recognizable. Overall neat cool aircraft, want to take a couple of more trips before they are gone forever.

  55. We got to fly first class for the first time in November, we loved it and it was a experience I will always remember,, like to do again before they retire, Flights home were on different aircraft not quite as nice or majestic,,, sad to say no don’t retire them,,

  56. I love the B747 it is still the best looking plane and I have flown on them many times since 1980. my first trip on one was on Pan Am to San Francisco. I remember my first trip on Singapore Airline B747-400 they called it big top…Unfortunately the passenger experience unless you are in Business class on A BA 747 is not great. The crews are fantastic but the seats and entertainment systems are poor. They seem to use the really old ones to South Africa which again I will board next week when I travel to Cape Town love the flight but not looking forward to no power poor tv screen etc.I flew Emirates A380 last week I had Wi-fi and made calls to my family the whole way was like i was still on the ground. But you cant beat the BA service the crews are always the best

  57. I agree that the 747 is one of the most beautiful planes in the sky, matched only, in my opinion, by the B707 and the sleek and beautiful B727-200. In contrast, the A380 is an ugly brute and doesn’t look right in flight.

  58. Was looking at these old birds at LHR recently and they really do look tired. I think BA is pushing the limit with this late retirement which is somewhat foolish due to fuel cost, carbon and poor passenger experience.

  59. cannot understand why they did not upgrade to 747-800 on some routes they do it actually makes a lot of sense like lufthansa is doing.

  60. First flew as a kid in a 742 in 1976, couldn’t believe how big it was, especially the interior. Shortly after flew in SAA’s brand new 74SP just after she established a new world distance record, on the delivery flight Seattle to Cape Town. Fantastic aircraft with a sense of majesty all its own, nothing modern really compares in image terms, and the plane has been around for us boomers all our lives. I’ll make a definite plan to fly on one again before they’re all gone. It’s a credit to technological advancement that a plane that was unbeatable in terms of seat-mile costs not that long ago is now a gas-guzzler. Will be sad to see them go – and let’s hope we can preserve one in the UK.

  61. Glasgow Airport is currently building a gate for Emirates A380, so perhaps others may use it – BA? Only flown in an A380 once, BA to Miami it was very quiet and an excellent flight on upper deck in cattle class. Still like the 747 although a bit dated now, reckon it must be a nostalgic age thing with me.

  62. Have flown on a few, last week was my latest on a BA747 LHR-MIA, but boy is the interior showing its age, world traveller plus with a screen I could barely see, so far gone was the contrast, duck tape on the arm rest (both sides) and a foot rest that even the crew said had seen better days, comparing that with WT+ on a not so much younger 777 LGW-YYZ with the new Wt+ cabin was a different class, indeed my connecting flight from MIA to BOG the main cabin extra on the AA A319 was much better. I think my next BA747 will be JFK – LHR, let’s hope it’s a reverb.

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