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The Queen Continues To Fly West: Delta’s Final Regularly Scheduled 747 Service Ends This Week

Delta Airlines Boeing 747-451 Shanghai Pudong - ZSPD, China. Photo shimin (GNU FDL)

On Tuesday, Delta Airlines is saying goodbye to the Queen of the Skies as the 747-400 returns from Seoul Incheon to Detroit. It will be the final passenger flight on a regularly scheduled route that Delta will ever operate with a 747. Once Delta’s farewell flights are complete later this month, the 747 passenger planes with a widget on the tail will completely disappear from the skies.

Delta is the only remaining major domestic airline flying the passenger version of the iconic 747. United Airlines retired their fleet in November. (Ya, we know Atlas Air still operates two pax aircraft for charters but they are not on regularly scheduled routes.) The 747s will be brought to the airline boneyard in Arizona in January. Delta’s new flagship passenger plane is the Airbus A350.

Farewell flights represent the last hurrah for Delta’s Queen Of The Skies

The distinctive 747 jets herald back to a time when the two-decker super jumbos reigned supreme. With their massive size and whale-like hump, 747s became one of the most recognizable planes in the world. Their retirement marks the end of an era in commercial aviation. To celebrate, Delta has an Employee Farewell Tour which starts December 18 and goes through four main hubs.

The farewell flight will go from Detroit to Seattle, from Seattle to Atlanta and make then its final landing December 20 in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Paine Field in Seattle is the home of the final assembly production line that produced Delta’s Boeing 747 fleet.

The Employee Farewell Tour is open to current and former employees at a discount. If you have SkyMiles, you might be able to use them to secure a spot through Delta SkyMiles Experiences. The program lets users bid on the farewell Tour Hangar Party for 15,000 miles or even a seat on board one of the last farewell flights, which are currently going for 40,000 and up. Proceeds will benefit the 747 Experience exhibit at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta. Delta encourages fans of the 747 to share tributes and social media postings using the #DL747farewell hashtag.

File Image of a Delta Air Lines 747-451 on approach. Photo by AF1621 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is Delta’s Second Time Delta Will Retire The 747

According to the delta.com website, Delta’s very first 747, Ship 101, was delivered on October 7, 1970 and was piloted by Captain T.P. Ball, the carrier’s then-Vice President. Governor Lester G. Maddox christened Ship 101 by sprinkling gold dust from Georgia’s Dahlonega mines over its nose and nicknaming it Georgia Belle.

The early 747s in Delta Airlines’ fleet offered the “world’s first flying penthouse” which was located above the first class cabin and featured six seats and a designated flight attendant. Celebrities and dignitaries were known to prefer this exclusive option when flying the Queen of the Skies.

Imagine what it would be like to have to stow your luggage in an open rack above your seat. That is hard to envision and you can thank Boeing for making Delta’s 747s the first-ever aircraft to offer closing overhead bins. The planes were also three times bigger than other passenger jets when they were introduced and revolutionized the aviation industry, boasting four engines and unheard of long-haul capability.

Pan Am originally launched the 747 in 1969. Delta Airlines operated 747-100s from 1970 to 1976 and then inherited 16 747-400s in the 2008 Northwest merger. Delta’s good-bye celebrations this week mark a decades-long history with the beloved plane.

United did something similar last month. During United’s final 747 flight in November, first-class was open as a lounge and the flight ended with the Honolulu crew adding a giant lei over the plane.

The 747 is still being used as a cargo plane and flown by international carriers like Lufthansa, British Airways and Korean Air. Korean Air, Lufthansa, and Air China regularly operate the upgraded 747-8 on international passenger services.

Editors Note:  An earlier version of this story stated that the final scheduled flight will land on Sunday, December 17th.  Delta Air Lines decided to add an additional flight pushing the final flight to Tuesday, December 19th.

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Written by Kim Clark

Former CNN Radio News Network anchor Kim Clark is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in the aviation industry and financial markets. She currently freelances for S&P Global and works as a club and event Disc Jockey in Atlanta, Georgia, after having held positions doing news on radio morning shows and holding down the position of Music Director of commercial radio stations owned by Cumulus and Clear Channel.