Is This The End Of British Airways’ 747 Fleet?

Filed Under: British Airways

The 747 is an incredibly special plane. It changed global aviation, and it’s also the most gorgeous plane in the world, in my opinion. We’ve seen airlines around the world retire the 747 long before the current pandemic, given that there are more fuel efficient and lower capacity long range planes nowadays.

When I think of the 747, two airlines come to mind — British Airways and Lufthansa. These airlines operate the largest 747 passenger fleets, and there’s something that’s still so special to me about flying these planes. Well, it looks like at least one of these airlines may be retiring its 747 fleet earlier than expected.

British Airways stops all 747 pilot training

It’s being reported that British Airways has suspended all training and recency for the roughly 600 pilots at the airline who fly the Boeing 747-400.

British Airways currently has a fleet of 28 Boeing 747s, which are an average of 23 years old. Prior to the current pandemic, British Airways’ plan was to retire about half of the 747s by the end of 2021, and the remaining 747s by 2024.

British Airways 747-400

Does this mean British Airways will retire 747s early?

The company has neither confirmed nor denied plans to retire the 747 fleet as a result of the current pandemic. There are a few ways to interpret this development regarding pilot training:

Of those options, it sure seems most likely to me that British Airways may in fact be leaning towards retiring all 747s:

  • It’s expected that it will take at least a couple of years for demand to recover, and the 747s are the least useful planes in a period with low demand
  • Maintaining planes is costly even when they’re not flying
  • If British Airways does bring these planes back into service, they’re high capacity and are gas guzzlers

While British Airways’ 747s don’t feature British Airways’ new Club Suites, there is something I always enjoyed about flying British Airways first class in the nose of the 747

British Airways’ 747 first class

…and also about flying British Airways business class on the upper deck of the 747.

British Airways’ 747 business class

Bottom line

It’s looking more and more like British Airways may just retire its entire 747 fleet early. The airline was planning on retiring half of these by the end of next year, so presumably those planes won’t enter service again.

At that point the question becomes whether it’s worth the costs to keep the remaining 747s active (between maintenance, storage costs, and pilot training) when they’ll likely only end up flying a couple more years at most.

For what it’s worth, Lufthansa had already announced plans to retire five of 13 Boeing 747-400s in light of the current situation. The airline has no plans to retire its 19 Boeing 747-8s, which are only several years old on average.

Lufthansa 747-400

What do you make of the prospect of British Airways retiring all 747s?

  1. The end of an era. It surely is the most beautiful aircraft in the skies. Does anybody else think the A340 is the ugliest, or is it just me?

  2. A truly beautiful plane. Seeing a 747 roll past the huge windows at the airport was always a thrill. That plane wasn’t making a short trip to some random backwater, the 747 meant business, it was going somewhere important.

    I’m now going to do everything I can to fly the Queen of the skies ASAP, just to say goodbye.

  3. While they are at it BA needs to get rid of those pesky fuel surcharges on award tickets! Emirates and ANA have done so in the last month.

  4. It’s been sad to see more airlines retiring. Back in old Northwest days, it was always a thrill the 4 747-400’s lined up at DTW for Asia flights. When the A380 came out, I was thrilled to see it for the first time. I saw it and it was a let down aesthetically speaking. I don’t know why, but the 747 and the “hump” is just neat.

  5. While I will miss the 747 and the engineering marvel it is overall, it is hard to miss BA’s 747 interiors. I flew from DEN-LHR and back in retrofitted Y cabins in November and they were fine, but then flew in one that still had the same 1998 seats and tiny IFE screens from LHR-DEN a few months ago. Even the J seats were falling apart on that plane.

  6. Agree that 747 is a beautiful plane, but probably the numbers are just not working out to keep it flying for a major airline. I would also guess that used 747 have better residual value than A380, since they were designed from the start for easy conversion to cargo duties.

  7. A reasonable move on the part of BA management not always known for their smart moves. Its sad to see the 747 go, I always enjoyed BA’s business class which I thought was better than first. It’s an ending to an era not only for the 747 bit for airlines in general. While no one can really predict how things are going to look in a year or two one thing is certain, all the old metal will either never seethe skies again or days are numbered. Pandemic’s or at least large outbreaks of virus or one form or another will be more common place as the world populations expand at the pace they are and China continues to allow open markets and the slaughtering of most any form of animal today. Sorry for the political comment.

  8. Huge pity. Was considering flying a BA 747 JFK-LHR last year but ended up on an AA 777 due to timing…that flight ended up being horrific for other reasons (long story) but it seems to me I missed my last chance to hop on one of BA’s iconic 747s…

  9. Well, applying USA/FAA terms/regs here (I’d imagine British regs are very similar) …
    If “recency” (training) is what we call “recurrent”, then BA will not have any legally qualified 747 pilots in 6 months.

    I guess they could be suspending “recency” for a few months, let the pool of qualified pilots dwindle down as they prep to retire half the 747 fleet, then restart recency training in 3-4 moths to keep the smaller pool qualified. But that seems as if it would be a waste to me. What if a 747 Captain (who wishes to remain on the 747) is due for 6 month recency next month. Training being suspended, that Captain would need to move (and get retrained) to a different fleet type (bumping down a less senior Captain of that type) or be offered an early retirement package/furloughed/etc. Meanwhile, a less senior 747 Captain who completed recency last month would get to stay on the 747 since recency would have been restarted by the time they’re required to complete it again.

  10. Some airliners are just another aeroplane and there’s no sense of them being some sort of progress, but others have a sort of mystique about them. The B707 did when it arrived and more recently the A380, as an exemplar of an aircraft that pushed the limits. The B747 had that in spades. When the B707 was withdrawn it was sad, but there was a sense that the world was moving on to something better and the Jumbo very much embodied that.

    I haven’t flown on a BA B747 for some years (and only in J, not that pointy end F), and I missed the chance (or rather didn’t chose to take it) of flying on one of the QF commemorative domestic B747 flights. And I did, at least, have a final flight a couple of years ago on a QF B747 to and from SFO, but the chance of another final flight seems to have slipped away.

    I’ll miss the Queen of the Skies, and sadly a flight in a B787 doesn’t bring the same sort of thrill. I can only hope that I don’t see the A380s fade away without the opportunity to fly in one again, having missed an opportunity Christchurch to Sydney on EK in January.

  11. I don’t get why this means 747s would all be retired immediately. If they have ended training, surely that means current pilots could still keep flying them. Maybe the 747s will be retired sooner than 2024, but the fact that BA has ended 747 training doesn’t necessarily suggest that they will all be retired immediately, right? Am I missing something here?

  12. Still irked by United a few years back when my wife and I had two seats in J upstairs booked. It would have been the first, last and likely only chance to fly upstairs and I was looking forward to it. We had a round trip to London booked on the same reservation returning to SFO. Welp, when we went to check in at Heathrow somehow they lost my wife’s reservation. After over 30 minutes of investigation while worrying that we’d miss the flight, they came back and said we’d cancelled just her return on the day of the outbound. What that what?!?!?! A while later they said they found it again, but my wife’s upstairs seat was already taken. Yadda, yadda, yadda we got two seats together next to the galley on the main level instead and 20K miles I think.

  13. Well, in all fairness, the AA 772 are quite nice as compared to the BA 772. The 744 is much better in terms of passenger comfort, than the 772. Therefore definitely a loss for those of us flying BA frequently.

  14. The 747 will always be the queen of the skies but I said back in March this would be the end of the 747 at BA and I’ll eat my hat if they ever fly again with passengers

  15. I believe Boeing still makes the 747-800 – which I think is the best plane out there. Super Quiet in F. I think on hindsight some airlines should have bought 748s instead of 380s.

    Yes the 2 engine are more efficient, but I still think there is a need for some 4 engine aircraft.

    Unfortunately, the current situation, makes this unrealistic.

    LH has stopped flying their A380s, but have they grounded the 748?

  16. Oh I would miss the 747, so many favorite flights! In the mid 80’s Swissair had such roomy Eco on upper deck, I loved the LH upper deck Business Class, and seat 1A in First on a LH 747-8 was my best flight…and spoiler for life…ever.

  17. While the 747 is definitely a good looking bird, I never found it particularly comfortable to fly. I first toured a 747-100 at an airshow in August 1969 prior to its certification in December of that year in Abbotsford, BC. YXX. It was the first appearance of the aircraft in Canada.

    I have flown the 747 painted with operator’s British Airways, Quantas & Air India.

    My most recent BA itinerary included A380 F JNB-LHR & B747 F LHR-YVR. Unfortunately, as good as the 747 looks, everything behind the BA livery was utter crap. The A380 flight was slightly better but the B747 flight was deplorable.

    Not at all disappointed to see it go.


  18. I mostly agree with things said on this blog, but one thing I have to absolutely disagree with. While the 747 is gorgeous, nothing beats the SR-71 Blackbird IMHO. King of speed, perfect curves, and – literally – smoking hot while flying. No need for a galley when you can just hold your food against the window of the SR-71 😉

  19. Ba upper deck on the 747 is imo about the only decent ba biz seat. I really enjoy it. Though I think aa is better I always tried to get the ba back from London for work for the novelty. Although that meant missing the Cathay lounge at heathrow :). First world problems.

  20. Thev747 is certainly special. But disagree with the person who said the A340 was ugly. For my money it was a lovely looking plane. Reminded me of the 707 and for what its worth the VC10 was striking.

  21. From 99 to 07 we annually flew YVR-LHR in the BA upper deck. Nothing better then or now. A calebration at the start of the summer holidays and eager anticipation on the return for the fall semester. The AUH-LHR legs were on the 777 which was bearable but not the Queen.

    Have flown every model of the Queen from the AC -100 to LH – 748. But BA was the first with J beds in upper deck and still remains my favourite. Flew QR YVR-SYD UD in 2018 but the soft product was dismal.

    For iconic aeroplanes nothing beats our Concorde LHR-JFK followed by JFK-YVR in CX FIRST 747.

  22. Till this day I haven’t had the chance of flying the 747. The only time I’ve gotten close to flying a 748 Korean changed it to a 77W. Hope I’ll fly them before they’re gone.

  23. Very, very sad.

    I actually prefer the BA A380 F vs the BA 747 F for a number of reasons but my heart still requires me to fly the 747 home. But to LHR it is always the A380.

    Something special about being in the nose.

    Sad to think I flew my last 747. Going to miss The Queen dearly!!!

    Marty, i actually do like the looks of the A340 but not As much as the 747.

  24. So many wonderful BA flights on the 747 (and on old DC-10s) on the ORD-LHR-ACC route. When I first started flying this route, you had to transfer from LHR to GAT to catch the West Africa portion of the trip. Riding the hump in Club World was a treat — your own private sanctuary, ridiculously well-staffed and plenty of room. For me the most iconic and beautiful aircraft is the Boeing 707 but the 747 runs a very close second! British ground staff in Chicago were top flight — recognized frequent travelers and shared evocative stories of being stationed in all sorts of exotic places. Sadly, BA out-sourced these employees in favor of contract workers a few years back. I’m grateful to have traveled with BA when working for BA meant something and often was a family business with several multi-generation ground staff and flight attendants working for the airline. I count myself lucky, Lucky, to have traveled during a time that we may not ever see again. . .

  25. Marty, while the 747 will always be the Queen of the skies, for me the A340-600 will always be my favourite aircraft. Regrettably I’ve flown on many 747s but haven’t never flown on an A340-600. Have flown on all the other A340s -300 and 500.

  26. Flown 747s since the earliest days, including BOAC’s inaugural flight JFK-LHR May 1971. Flown BA YYZ-LHR in F in 1A 1975. Flown 747s all over the world in Wardair, BOAC/BA, Malaysian, KLM, Air Canada, CPAir, SAA and Pan Am. Will miss it, although A380 still the nicest plane to fly in.

  27. @Sarah LOL I was thinking the same thing

    Lucky is showing his age. To me, there are many airlines I associate more with the 747 than BA and Lufthansa. Back in the eighties, the row of 747s lined up for evening departures from Joburg to Europe headed by several from SAA. Back then, Alitalia, KLM, UTA, El Al, BA, Lufthansa, Olympic and even Luxair would do it. Then in the nineties Far East airports were 747 paradises- Changi, Kai Tak, Don Muang, Manila, KL and obviously the Japanese airports. JAL, ANA, Cathay, China Airlines, Korean Air, Singapore, Thai, Qantas are all airlines I also associate with the mighty 747.

    Many smaller operators also had them – think Air Mauritius, Air NZ, SAS, Sabena, TAP, MEA, PIA. First time I saw a Qatar Airways aircraft was in the mid-nineties and it was a 747.

  28. Sad to see these go.

    I flew many a work trip on the late night BA 747s to London. The upper deck was always quiet and cold — perfect way to get to London.

    On the conversation above, I think the 747 and the A340-600 are the best looking. Both are awesome 😉

  29. I agree with the guy above, I always chose where possible club world upper deck exit row seats on BA 747.

    But if between the AA 777 and current old business product on the ba 777/787, I will be using American or Iberia more now as the preferred partner. I dislike the BA 777s in business and economy.

  30. As a retired flight attendant who worked for several decades aboard various models of the 747, I too will be sad to see them go.

    Luckily, in addition to the 747’s I worked aboard, I was also able – beginning back in 1971 – to fly as a passenger on 747’s belonging to more than a dozen major airlines including TWA, Pan Am, Sabena, Swissair, Olympic, and Braniff; as well as the Jumbos of lesser-known carriers such as Metro International, Air Gabon, TIA, Alia.

    Yes, I will miss the 747. (But truthfully, not as much as I miss the Super VC10 and the Caravelle!)

  31. I have a soft spot for the 747 as I had my first overseas trip on one in the late 70s, a Qantas 742SP, in business AKL-SYD – and never realised it till the leg home on Pan Am’s shabby old SP in which they had desperately tried to create a so-called Clipper Class (glorified economy with little more than free headsets) to compete with QF’s then industry-first biz product.
    Then came the UA 742 flight AKL-HNL-LAX to live overseas for a bit followed a few years later by a memorable AKL-PER-SIN-LHR round trip on brand new BA 744s, and the chance to spend 30 minutes in the cockpit with the Sydney based AKL-PER crew being shown every detail of the new, 2-crew glass cockpit.
    LHR-LAX-AKL and back on Air NZ’s 744s and then, urrgh, they switched some legs to cramped 773s with 10-abreast steerage seating. After three legs LHR-HKG-AKL-LAX with my knees up around my ears and being constantly bumped by other pax and trolleys, blessed relief after a few days in LA to find the LAX-LHR plane home was a 744 which seemed so spacious after the cramped 777s (Air NZ once had 34” economy seat pitch).
    Then came the reckoning. The Airbus A380 arrived, Emirates began serving my local airport with three Dubai flights on 777s (then two with 380s) and the three 380 flights DBX to AKL a day via Australian cities (2-hr connection in DBX) became one 17-hr marathon single shot without the Aussie stop. My 747 love affair was over.
    I have had one BA Club World round trip to the US in the old yin and yang seats – out downstairs, back in the extra-charge upstairs which is a superb cabin many will miss. But the 747 is 19th century technology and the planes are old and shabby, the business class that was cutting edge in 2000 is obsolete in 2020.
    The 380 is much more spacious (especially if you get assigned a seat in the small economy cabin upstairs in place of First on EK’s 2-class versions). The whale is also much quieter and a dream on the premium upper deck with its showers and bar, if you can afford it.
    Time to let the old girl retire. With fond memories.

  32. Agree SuperVC10. I took my first jet flight on a new Super VC10 London to Montreal. emigrating to Canada in 1966. Since then I flew on them LHR-JNB return, twice, as well as LHR-BOS. Beautiful plane.

  33. Marco, just out of curiosity, how come the A340-600 is your favorite aircraft, when you’ve never flown on it ? The one thing I remember from my Eco days, is that the restrooms in LH are down a flight of stairs, which I consider one of the most genius ideas.

  34. Marco, I’m a huge fan of the A340-600 as well. It’s a very elegant-looking plane. Several times I passed on a more convenient flight and scheduled myself instead aboard Qatar Airways and South African Airways ‘600’s.

  35. Super VC10 OMG South African A340-600!! She came to Toronto and I had no idea :(. Great to know you are a retired flight attendant, would love to hear your stories

    mauipeter, I don’t have to fly it to love it :). She’s all so beautiful from the outside. On the contrary, I find the A380 ugly from some angles, but oh boy is she beautiful on the inside, spacious and a comfortable ride.

  36. @John F-L

    Thanks for the memories. Had forgotten totally about Wardair (CF-DJC my favorite) and CP Air. CP LHR-YVR business was far better than anyone else’s F in my view.

    Didn’t know SAA ever had 747’s.

    The problem with A340-600 was always the humidity – on one flight JNB-HKG I arrived in HKG and had a massive nose bleed due to dried out membranes. Horrid.

  37. I love the iconic BA 747s, but! I last flew one in Early March JFK-LHR on the upper deck and whilst its always a treat to be up there, it was clear that these aircraft are way beyond their best now. If BA wanted to keep them they would surely need a full refurb, and that would have cost a huge amount. So farewell 747, but to be fair its probably a little overdue.

  38. I will miss the 74. I took it every time I have had the chance. I* love the intimate F class, particularly 1A or 1K.

  39. Sad to see it go. Last Dec flew 1st class Heathrow….then back business class up in the bubble with BA. It didn’t look tired to me. It was comfortable. At moment when you book first flight in the day London to LA with BA from.November it says aircraft is a 747.

  40. Considering BA are currently selling LHR-DEN on 744s as far ahead as May 2021 (check 5/3 out, return 5/4) either BA are just after the cash in return for “vouchers”, or the 744 will still fly (or they just haven’t yet updated the type). That said – you can get to choose seats on a 744 layout which is empty right now.

  41. Yes I agree. First flight to LA from London from November is 747 and booked and reserved my seats. I won’t be happy if I’m put on A380

  42. I loved the BA747 400 kept me safe for years a joy to work on very happy days , but the best bit was always the sight of that red white and blue tail when you were on the other side of the world and boarding that big beautiful aircraft Knowing you would soon be on your way home , a little bit of Britain in the sky . Oh and going to the bunks Up in the tail , Absolute bliss on long range . Heartbreaking to see all those aircraft parked up over the last months who would believe a virus could bring aviation to its knees … Best Boeing best aircraft I’ve ever had the privilege to worked on …

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