British Airways Retiring 747 Effective Immediately

Filed Under: British Airways

This was first rumored several weeks ago, and has now been confirmed, to the dismay of aviation geeks everywhere.

British Airways is retiring the 747

British Airways has just unannounced that it will retire its entire fleet of Boeing 747s effective immediately, subject to consultation. As the company describes the decision in a note to employees:

The whole airline community is reconciling itself to a bleak outlook for passenger demand. Long haul travel will take years to recover, with the major industry bodies agreeing that we will not see a return to 2019 levels until 2023 at the soonest. The bulk of our fleet is large, wide-bodied, long haul aircraft with many premium seats, intended to carry high volumes of customers. The unofficial flagship of our fleet, the 747-400 has a very special place in the hearts of aviation enthusiasts and many of us. We know how many memories of this extra-special aircraft are shared across the BA family and our proposal to retire the fleet early has only been taken in response to the crisis we find ourselves in.

British Airways 747-400 first class

Unfortunately this decision makes perfect sense

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.

With demand expected to take several years to recover, and with the 747-400 being high capacity and not especially fuel efficient, this decision was inevitable. The cost of keeping the 747 fleet around, only to operate for another year or so, simply doesn’t make sense.


British Airways 747-400 business class

We’ve seen so many airlines retire 747s over the past several years. It’s the most iconic plane still flying, and one on which so many of us have memories of long haul travel. In particular, sitting in the nose or on the upper deck is something that still gets me excited every time.

When I think of airlines that still have the 747 (or at least did prior to this week), British Airways and Lufthansa were the two airlines that come to mind, as they operate the largest passenger 747 fleets.

To see British Airways now retire the 747-400 leaves only one major global passenger airline operating a substantial fleet of these planes, and even Lufthansa plans on retiring some of these 747-400s.

Lufthansa 747-400

While there’s always the 747-8, that plane is only flown by three airlines — Air China, Korean Air, and Lufthansa — and they all have fairly small fleets.

Air China 747-8

Bottom line

British Airways is retiring its 747s effective immediately, which makes perfect sense when you consider that the initial plan was to retire them by 2024. If demand doesn’t recover until 2023 at the earliest, why keep around these high capacity and fairly fuel inefficient planes?

That doesn’t make this any less sad, though. One thing I always loved about flying out of Heathrow Terminal 5 was seeing all those beautiful 747-400s. That’s a thing of the past, sadly.

British Airways 747-400 at Heathrow

Is anyone surprised to see British Airways retiring the 747?

Comments
  1. My great travel regret is that I never got to travel on the top deck of a 747. I did get to fly in the nose almost two years ago, which is some consolation.

    RIP Queen.

  2. I can’t believe it. My last flight with them was 2 years ago to & from South Africa. They’ve become a regular sight every time I depart from Heathrow, especially T5. Will they keep 1-2 on display? Maybe the one wearing the Landor livery, right next to the Concorde? They deserve a special final resting place befitting their importance in BA’s history

  3. @JDS same here. It’s been years since I flew any 747 and only on the main deck. Being London based I was hoping to fly it again before BA retires them. A big shame too that there won’t be a farewell tour! I’ll have to try LH instead!

    Like Ben said, I’ll miss seeing them at LHR as well as flying over my house.

  4. More modern quiet and highly pressurized A350s and less noisy 40 year old design is a good thing in my book. Great decision.

  5. I know many hate BA’s club world seats, but top deck on a BA747 was a nice place to travel — especially if you got one of the window seats by the exit door. I’ve spent many happy hours there, notwithstanding crappy ICE and the vagaries of BA service.

    It feels like a sad but inevitable decision.

  6. Cathay Pacific has two 747-400s in the air right now, and seven 747-800s. Why don’t those come to mind also — are they cargo?

    And, “unannounced” ?

  7. Ahh, my first ever 747 flight was on BA. That was also my first ever transatlantic crossing. And my first ever widebody experience.
    It always made me smile, whenever I saw a BA 747 somewhere around the globe.

  8. This also means that BA will have no more Oneworld livery aircraft. All of BA’s Oneworld livery planes were 747s.

  9. It makes sense for BA to retire its 747 fleet. I got to fly on it a few years ago when BA used to fly it from London Heathrow to Moscow DME.

  10. It will be interesting to see what aircraft will replace them. I have two LAX-LHR RTs November and December.

  11. This is sad indeed, but inevitable. In a sad coincidence, today was Qantas’ last passenger flight of its B747s, a one hour joy flight from the nation’s capital. The 150-odd seats that were available sold out in eight minutes, and crowds of people gathered around Canberra airport to watch it take off and land.

    A BA 747 was my first experience of a flat bed, which at the time I thought amazing, actual sleep happened! I had the pleasure of flying on the upper deck of a B747 a number of times, although on Qantas not BA. I shall miss them, and I somehow doubt there will ever be another iconic airliner.

  12. At least Air India is keeping their 747’s, though I’m unsure what they’re gonna be used for…
    *happy Indian noises*

  13. LAX is not going to feel the same without these monstrosities gracing it’s runways … the 747 will be missed for certain. The wide roomy cabin is lovely indeed.

  14. I have a flight booked on Oct 15, JFK-LHR, seat 62K on the upper deck. As an avgeek, I was hoping to get that experience just before they retire. Best I can hope for now is one of the refitted 777s with club suites.

  15. @the nice paul. Couldn’t agree more. Ba biz is fairly horrible on any aircraft except those window upstairs seats on the 747. I flew them twice from lhr to chi and really enjoyed them both times. Love the storage space, cocoon feel, good leg room.

    A380 in the middle seat of four not quite the same lol. Only issue is that missed out on the Cathay lounge flying out of T5. Now that’s the same if you flyvamerican.

  16. Airlines will emerge greener and hopefully more efficient at some point in the near future. I loved flying onboard a 747 (and the 380), but times have changed. Sad but foreseeable.

  17. I still remember my very first time working as a flight attendant on a 747, in 1980. Previous to that I had only worked on narrow body DC-8’s. All that space! The huge galleys! It was really marvelous.

    The circular staircase to the upper deck took some getting used to (the treads were narrow), and during turbulence I once dropped an entire Black Forest cake meant for First Class down the stairs. What a mess; gooey chocolate and cherries everywhere!

    Over the decades I worked on many different aircraft types; narrow bodies and wide bodies. But the 747 was always my favorite.

  18. I’m kind of heartbroken by this honestly! The 747, specifically the BA one, holds so much childhood nostalgia and as cliche as it may be, it remains my favorite aircraft (from the outside). I need to double down efforts to get in some nose and top deck flights if possible the few remaining 747s now. Of all the airline and aircraft retirements from covid-19, this one really stings the most

  19. I’ve been around a few years and I can remember when the airlines flew 747’s domestically. Flew on a 747 between San Francisco and Seattle, between Dulles and Boston; and got to fly upstairs on one between Chicago and Seattle. If I remember right those were all United flights. Those were the days when the airlines flew a lot of jumbo jets domestically. Flew many times on DC-10’s between the west coast and Chicago, and Eastern had a great flight between Seattle and Atlanta on a L10-11. That was a great plane too.

  20. I’ve travelled on the 747 many times, upstairs and downstairs, on many airlines. Most memorable was Cathay Pacific Business Class upstairs and SAA, also upstairs. The SAA flight was especially nice, they had very comfortable Economy Class upstairs. Was on the JNB – ATL – JNB route with a fuel stop on the outbound sector and non-stop ATL – CPT then on to JNB. Will never forget how impressed some US travelers were with the service, catering, etc. Will miss this beautiful bird but sadly all good things come to an end.

  21. Considering what impact the 747 has had on aviation, it is sad to see them go away, but as a passenger mostly flying economy, I don’t mind. I much more prefer Boeing7x7 and Airbus 3×0.

  22. I hope Lufthansa sticks with the -800 for a while & that they bring back the EWR-FRA so I can get one more 747 flight. My first 747-200 was UA, then TWA. Other 747s were BA, NZ, AF, QF, Pan Am & even one on People Express.

  23. I remember flying on a BR flight from SEA to TPE on their upper deck. It was Economy, but still a marvelous experience. It is almost like a private space with minimum foot traffic. On another occasion, was on an OZ flight from SEL to HKG, it was an oldies 747, they put us in the 1st class section, which is in the nose. Those are memorable indeed.

    Will miss the Queen.

  24. It’s not just the retirement of these beautiful planes but rather the collapse of air travel that is making this event seem like the symbol of the nightmare that lies ahead for the next few years.

  25. I’ll never forget my first flight on a 747 from JFK-LHR on BA in the early nineties. I sat in a window seat on the upper deck and looked back at the engines marveling at just how far away they were. That was one of the most quiet and comfortable transatlantic flight I have ever been on untiI my first trip on a 787 from LHR-SEA last year. The 747 is a beautiful aircraft but it’s time has come and gone. The 787 is a huge leap forward in comfort and efficiency.

  26. While this means fewer first class seats, my experience is those cabins in BAs 747s were inexcusably dilapidated with no chance of repairs. Good riddance to old dirty rattly first cabins.

  27. All the comments about business class, but F also was lacking. I quit flying BA because of that. I’d rather fly F on Lufthansa, SFO-FRA-LHR.

    As they always said, “BA’s First Class is the best business class in the skies!” ‍♂️

  28. Sad to see the 747 lose another carrier, but not sad to see BA’s aging 744 interiors go. After flying 2 retrofitted 744s with them in November, I flew one in March that had not received any retrofitting since entering service in 1999. The IFE screens were a joke in all classes. I’m curious to see if DEN-LHR returns to the 777 as it was previously, or if the 787 might come on to the route when it returns.

  29. It’s funny, but I’ve never flown a BA widebody that wasn’t a 747. From my first flight with them on a 747-200 in the old Negus livery to one last year on a tired but not unpleasant 747-400, I’ve never loved BA or their 747s, but it’ll be the end of an era for sure.

    I’ll certainly miss Qantas’ and KLM’s 747s more, although my very first 747 flight, on a TWA 747-100, will always be my most memorable, mostly because I managed to score a tour of the whole plane, including the lounge and flight deck, on the way to Spain. What an unforgettable treat for a 9 year old.

  30. BA retiring their 747s feels like a sad day for me.

    When I was a kid I had an almost assumption that if you were flying long-haul, you were on a 747. As I child I remember looking curiously up the staircase to the upper deck (that I never got to experience) before turning right into economy.

    My long-haul flights as a kid, were two round-trips from New York to London on Virgin’s 747s when I was 8 and 10, with a round-trip from Gatwick to Harare, Zimbabwe thrown in (I’ll never forget descending the stairs on from the BA 747 – that had no personal TVs in economy, Virgin did at the time – on an airplane that was taller than the airport building).

    My next transatlantic flight was on BA when I was 15 flying NYC-LHR-into CPT out of JNB. The first (short JFK-LHR) flight was on a 777 and it didn’t quite feel right, I was happy that the connecting flight from London to South Africa, and both flights on the return were on 747s.
    I’ve since flown inter-continental on plenty of smaller planes (including a Delta 757 from New York to Shannon), and haven’t had the chance for another flight on a 747 (I think at this point flying an A380 which I haven’t done before their gone is my post-COVID priority) but will always think of the 747 as the Queen of Skies and the best plane suitable for long flights.

  31. Thai still has a few, if the airline survives is current closure. Flew it to and from Mumbai last September in business. Decent food, but really tired planes.

  32. My first-ever flight on a 747 was on BA, some 24 years ago, on G-CIVC, still in active service until recently.
    Sad to see these iconic birds go, but that‘s the course of things …

  33. What shall replace this emblem of American exceptionalism on behalf of British Airways?

    Perhaps the Rolls Royce RB211 engined L-1011 Tri Stars could operate the trans-Atlantic routes once again on the British Airways.

    There must be a Concorde in storage somewhere up in Bristol that could be pressed back into service in a jiffy if the French could get their act together for once.

  34. My one and only flight on the BA 747 was 13 years ago when my wife and I were flying to London in Club World on the upper deck. It was a redeye and the morning we woke up was our 1 year anniversary and the flight attendant had helped me surprise my wife with a card and a glass of bubbly when she woke up. She also gave us a full size bottle to take with us to celebrate properly on the ground.

    This was our first experience in long haul business or first class (used points) and was such a “high level” experience for someone who had only previously flown a bit in domestic first class. Sad to see the planes retired but I get the economic sense of it. Glad to have this memory though!

  35. 32 years ago I flew to England for the first time on a British Airways 747. While checking in for the return flight flight from Heathrow (to Seattle), I mentioned to the ticket agent that it would be great to be assigned to a seat with more leg room. The ticket agent said “I can put you upstairs”. I thought I would have to pay extra so I asked, “What’s the difference (meaning cost)?” He said, “It’s a much smaller space but with more room. I think you’ll like it.” It was a wonderful experience. That was the first of a number of upstairs flights on 747s and many upgrades by British Airways which has earned my undying loyalty (in 32 years I’ve never flown any other foreign carrier and never will). The 747 is an amazing and fabulous airplane and will be sorely missed.

  36. Bittersweet indeed. My first transoceanic 747 flight was on BA, and fortunately in the upper deck. While the product was dated in retrospect, that flight will always be special to me.

  37. So sad, heartbreaking on numerous levels.

    My mind always preferred the BA A380 F experience but I ALWAYS chose the 747 for the return LHR to LAX. The heart always won on the longer flight. The Queen is special.

    DocSteve,

    As I don’t plan on flying until a vaccine I too wonder what we will be getting at LAX. Hopefully still the A380 and would expect another aircraft with F.

    I’ll be A380 exclusively if still available when I fly next.

    Might be willing to try an A350 Biz but will fly the A380 as long as possible.

    I am going to miss The Queen. Let’s hope the A380 isn’t next soon.

  38. My first 747 flight was nonstop SFO-LHR in 1978. It was on Pan Am. Paid $125 “standby” fare!

  39. Sad but inevitable for most operators. Qantas has just done the same now BA – traveling has never seemed so weird as it is now

  40. My first flight was on an orange 747 with braniff international in 1980.Brussels-Boston.It inspired me to become an airline pilot.I flew 727,MD11 and now 737.My only career regret is not have flown the 747.
    I recommend a very nice book:747 from Joe Sutter(“the father of the 747”).

  41. This makes me so sad, and the knowledge that I won’t have the pleasure of travelling in 1A or 1K right in the nose of the plane again is rather depressing.

    However, with BA losing a reported £178mil per week, this was inevitable. Farewell to the Queen after 50 years of BOAC/BA service!

  42. @The nice Paul thanks for the Guardian obituary.

    Agreed they are also eliminating the best seats in the fleet in the old Club World configuration (62A/K on the upper deck) or really anything on the upper deck. Hopefully they speed up the refurb of the 772/773 fleet to get the new club suites rolled over most of the fleet…

  43. Got to fly British Airways 747 in Economy from Dulles to Heathrow a few years ago. The cabin seemed somewhat dated, but it did the job. After that, was able to enjoy Qantas First from London to (Dubai to) Sydney, which was far more memorable. 🙂

    Would like a chance to fly the upper deck of a 747, but seems like the window is closing awfully fast. Farewell to the Queen.

  44. My first long haul flight was on a Landor 747. My last long haul flight before the pandemic was on the retro Landor 747

  45. Before the COVID outbreak, I booked my family of 5 to Europe on BA 747 to London and an A380 back home. We had to cancel our trip. I did this so my family could experience what I’ve been able to do on both these birds, fly upstairs in business. Sadly, now they’ll never be able to do it on a 747 and the A380 looks less likely too.

  46. So let’s talk about the future… With the 772s getting long in the tooth as well, what do you all think will replace the 744s on the NYLON trips? Will it be the A380? The A350? What about MIA and CPT?

  47. I’m heartbroken. I was planning to fly the 747 for the first time next year from SJC to LHR. Any idea what aircraft will replace it?

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