Nostalgia for the Jumbo…and the end of plane spotting?
A wave of nostalgia hit me this week when I heard that British Airways was immediately retiring its fleet of Boeing 747s. BA has the largest 747 fleet of any airline with 31 “Jumbo Jets”.
I’m a plane geek and I’ve always been especially geeky for the 747. When I was a kid I was always drawing jets and 90% of the time they were 747s. You want to see what a plane geek I am? Have a look at this post on my model plane collection.
The 747 wasn’t very economical and many airlines have been moving to replace them. British Airways was going to continue flying the 747 until 2024 but the pandemic ended any hope of that. With few people flying these days, they judged that there was no justification in keeping them flying.
Many of my best travel memories are tied up in the 747.
My most memorable flight ever was flying UTA from Paris to Lusaka (Zambia). I was 18, in university, and I was going to Africa to spend the Christmas holidays with my mom. UTA was a French airline (later gobbled up by Air France). It was an exotic airline, they went to all these strange places that the major airlines didn’t cover. This particular flight stopped in Libreville (Gabon), Brazzaville (Congo), Lusaka, with the final destination being Lilongwe (Malawi). I remember looking out the window, amazed by the red African earth below and the strange cloud formations of the tropics. They treated you well back then, I remember the food being fantastic (filet mignon, croissants, and all the wine I could drink). That was pretty cool for a student. That flight, for me, personified everything “sexy” about travelling.
My 2nd favorite 747 memory was flying Air France from Paris to Montreal. I was sitting there in my chair before takeoff when a stewardess came up to me. “Would you like to sit on the upper deck?”. Sure. I had never been on a 747’s upper deck. It was amazing and I had a whole row up there to myself.
I had a lot of flights on 747s, up to the 90’s most long-haul flights were on the Jumbo*.
* It used to be that twin-engine planes were not allowed to fly long over-water routes, in fact the ETOPS rules stated that they had to be within 2 hour’s distance from a “diversion airport” based on the cruising speed on 1 engine (a twin engine can fly with one engine in worst-case scenarios). Today, with stronger and more dependable engines, ETOPS rules allow twin engines to fly longer routes which previously could only be operated by 3 or 4 engine planes.
My last flight on a 747, just a few years ago, was with Lissette. We flew London – Cape Town with British Airways on a 747-400. It was the best flight we’ve had in the 6 years we’ve travelled full-time (I don’t know what BA is usually like – but we were very impressed by the service, the food, and the level of comfort on this flight).
You can still fly 747s. The Asian airlines still have them. But the plane is definitely on the way out.
The other “Jumbo”, the Airbus 380
Incidentally, the 747 was supposed to be replaced by the Airbus 380. But as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the pandemic has resulted in many Airlines getting rid of their 380’s (Air France notably got rid of its entire fleet of 380’s a few weeks ago). British Airways and Lufthansa still intend to fly the plane although I hear they are grounded until demand picks up. Like the 747, it is the Asian and Middle-Eastern Airlines that fly the most Airbus 380’s (Emirates has the most 380’s, with 112 of them in its fleet).
But like the 747, the A 380 is nearing its end. Airbus is completing a few last orders on the books and will totally cease production of the plane in 2021.
I’ve never flown the Airbus 380 and it’s always been on my list. Other than the 747, it’s the only plane that’s made it on one of my “to do” lists. I’m not sure it will ever happen though considering all that’s going on in the world right now…
So, whether the Boeing 747 or the Airbus 380, the era of the super-large Jumbo jet is nearing an end.
The end of plane spotting?
When I was younger (about 20 years ago) I would take my son (he would have been 7 at that time) to a field close to Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport. We’d watch all the planes come in. He’d get all excited and would make a game of trying to identify the airlines and the plane types. It was fun, there was a lot of variety at that time.
It’s struck me that “plane spotting” will be forever changed by the departure of the big jets. It won’t be the same without the 747 or the Airbus 380. Just as it wasn’t the same when the DC-10 and Lockhead L-1011 TriStar stopped flying.
Today’s new generation of planes are all twin engines. Whether small (the Boeing 737 or Airbus 320) or big (the Boeing 777 or Airbus 330) planes today look like different-sized versions of the same thing. For any plane spotter, that’s really, really boring. And that (at least for me) spells the end of plane spotting.
It’s sad and makes me nostalgic for years past.
Planes over the years.
Note: all the photos in this post from Jetphotos.com. I can spend hours on that site…