British Airways made it official to crew this evening: the 747 will leave its fleet effective immediately. The move was first tipped a month ago when pilots were informed that all future training would be suspended. Now we know that, subject to consultations with employee unions, the Queen of the Skies will not carry passengers for BA again.
This is not how we wanted or expected to have to say goodbye to our incredible fleet of 747 aircraft. It is a heart-breaking decision to have to make. So many people, including many thousands of our colleagues past and present, have spent countless hours on and with these wonderful planes – they have been at the centre of so many memories, including my very first long-haul flight. They will always hold a special place in our hearts at British Airways.
As painful as it is, this is the most logical thing for us to propose. The retirement of the jumbo jet will be felt by many people across Britain, as well as by all of us at British Airways. It is sadly another difficult but necessary step as we prepare for a very different future.– Alex Cruz, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO
The accelerated retirement comes as the company indicates that travel is expected to remain depressed through 2023. The planes were initially scheduled to leave the fleet by 2024. Quite simply, there is little good reason for BA to keep the 747-400 in service, especially as it is, by far, the least efficient long-haul fleet operating for the company.
Instead the A350s (and maybe the A380s; their future is not entirely clear) will pick up the slack for BA’s highest passenger volume routes while the 787s will cover more of the thinner routes. The 777s will fill in the gaps. The company still operates a range of long-haul aircraft, but it will no longer have the Queen at its service.
The news closes out nearly 50 years of service for the type at British Airways. From the 747-100s beginning service for BA predecessor BOAC in 1971 through the –200s later that decade and then the –400s starting in 1989, it is hard to imagine British Airways without the 747 in its fleet. But now that is very much a reality.
British Airways joins Qantas and Virgin Atlantic in retiring their 747s in recent weeks. Qantas held a farewell party with its finally tour flights while Virgin Atlantic simply ferried the aircraft to St. Athan for disposal. British Airways similarly ferried its 747s in the past month. There’s nothing really left to do now but figure out how the fleet swaps will flow through the system.
The move also likely affects thousands of crewmembers at British Airways, from pilots to cabin crew to maintenance and more. The company is working through significant disputes with those unions to determine what level of furlough/redundancies are necessary given the expected reduction in capacity for the coming years.
I’ve flown the 747-400 with BA eight times, all between JFK and Heathrow. I’ve also been fortunate to have most of those flights in business class (5x), with another pair in premium economy and one in first class. In none of the cabins was the product the best on the market, but it was reliable and consistent. And for the short hops across the Atlantic I rather enjoyed the yin/yang seating in Club World, facing backwards and looking out the window as we chased the sunset to New York City or catching a quick nap before landing in London.
There was something special about climbing up those stairs on board, and there still is for the handful of airlines still flying the type. That also carries over, to a slightly lesser extent, on the A380, though boarding directly to the upper deck can change that experience a bit.
Alas, like many things I didn’t really know in January, it turns out I won’t be flying on the BA 747s ever again.
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