Review: Final British Airways 747 Flight – London to New York on the Upper Deck

The author's final BA 747

By Jonathan Spira on 11 October 2020
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Heading to Heathrow Airport on a rainy evening in March, I had little idea that the flight I would board would not only be my last for many months, but that it would also be my last flight on a British Airways 747.  Perhaps more significantly, it would also be one of the final 747 passenger flights operated by the airline.

While I grew up flying on countless Pan Am 747s and have flown on numerous others including KLM’s, Japan Airlines’ (a high-density, 560-seat, short-haul version), Lufthansa’s (including the new 747-8 Intercontinental), and Virgin Atlantic’s, this was only my second flight on a BA 747.  My first had been in the very last row of coach with my partner – middle seats – but seats we were very happy to get because it saved us from an eight-hour delay on our American Airlines flight back to New York.

This experience, however, was a bit different.  I was booked on the upper deck in seat 64A, a standard, rear-facing lie-flat business-class seat that had what appeared to be unlimited personal space.

The upper deck of the 747 on the author’s final flight

BA AND THE BOEING 747

The Boeing 747 entered service on January 22, 1970 with launch customer Pan American World Airways on a flight from New York to London.  The aircraft had the lowest operating cost per seat at the time of its introduction, but only when it was fully loaded.  Nonetheless, many flag carriers purchased the 747 for the sheer prestige of being able to say they had the Queen of the Skies in their fleets.

British Airways predecessor BOAC operated its first 747 flight, flying from London to New York, in 1971.

In its historic fleet, BA had 18 of the original 747-100s, 15 747-200Bs, one 747-200F (freighter), three 747-200Ms (M was the Kombi model, which could carry freight in the rear section of the main deck via a side cargo door), and 57 747-400s.

U.S. carriers retired the Boeing 747 in 2017.  Delta Air Lines and United Airlines were the last two U.S. carriers to operate the type.  British Airways was originally slated to make redundant its 747s in 2023, before the outbreak of the pandemic, but the coronavirus-induced drop in travel resulted in the early retirement.

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