It was just over five years ago that I wrote a post lamenting the decline of the 747. I’m not here to suggest it should live on. After all, there are far more efficient airplanes with the right number of seats onboard these days. But I have a soft spot for the 747, to say the least, so I figured at least I can honor the airplane as it marches toward the end of passenger service.
At the time of my last post, there were five airlines flying the 747 to LAX. That number is now down to two. Virgin Atlantic is primarily flying the 787-9 and next year the A350-1000 on the route. Delta doesn’t fly to Narita anymore, but its Haneda flight is on a 777-200ER. Qantas is now all A380 and 787-9 to LA.
Today, KLM continues to fly the 747-400 Combi through the winter season when it will be replaced permanently by 777-200s. (The 747s will be retired from the KLM fleet entirely by 2021.) The last flight appears to be May 1.
Lufthansa, meanwhile, flies no 747s to LA in the winter, but the 747-8 returns to the market for the summer on March 29. It has two daily flights that replace the single A380 in the winter.
The only seasonal constant here is that British Airways has returned the 747-400 to the LA market on one of its three daily flights. That is now the extent of scheduled 747 passenger operations at LAX.
I use LAX as an example simply because it’s an easy snapshot (and it’s what I used five years ago), but if we look at North America in general, we naturally see similar trends.
British Airways and Lufthansa remain the only airlines to use the airplane in mass quantities. As they continue to retire 747-400s, those numbers will start to decline more rapidly. Virgin Atlantic still has its leisure 747s flying non-Heathrow routes, mostly to Florida, but those will be replaced as new airplanes come into the fleet. KLM will have its 747s only in New York by next summer. Korean and Air China will continue to fly their 747-8s to some US cities for the foreseeable future, but it’s not a huge footprint.
And that’s it. In 5 more years, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and KLM will all have retired their 747s for good. Only Lufthansa, Korean, and Air China will continue to fly the 747-8s, if they haven’t removed them from service for commercial reasons by then.
So, get on those 747s while you still can, because they’re about to become a lot harder to find.