The Queen Of The Skies Ends Its Reign

Our series on the story of the Boeing 747 at BA continues with its abrupt and unplanned retirement in 2020.

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British Airways Boeing 747-436 Aircraft
British Airways Boeing 747-436 Aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)

Had 2020 gone to plan, around 25 BA Boeing 747 aircraft would now be despatching passengers between London Heathrow and numerous destinations around the world.

Those seeking Christmas in New York or winter sun in Cape Town, heading for the alternative reality of Las Vegas, or skiing in Colorado or Whistler via BA would have been carried on a 747.

Some may have complained about ageing interiors or antiquated inflight entertainment systems on certain aircraft. Those sat on the Upper Deck or in the nose of the 747 would have sat comfortably knowing they had at least another three years to enjoy their favourite seats in the house.

Events, as we know, took a very different course in 2020. 31 Boeing 747s met an abrupt and undignified end, save for four that will be preserved at Dunsfold Aerodrome, Kemble Airport and Bro Tathan Business Park, Glamorgan.

It’s not the first time unforeseen events have had an impact on BA’s 747 fleet.

After the events of 11 September 2001, BA’s 747-236 aircraft followed the 747-136 fleet into retirement. 747s at Gatwick were transferred to Heathrow as the airline switched routes to Africa and Central & South America to the airport.

The 57 747-436 aircraft that remained at Heathrow were still the flagship of the long-haul fleet. They were the first to benefit from refreshed First Class, new Club World, and new World Traveller Plus and World Traveller cabins.

BA Club World IFE Screen
BA Club World 2006 (Image Credit: British Airways)

The aircraft continued to operate on “nose heavy” routes. Aircraft with 38 Club World seats were reconfigured to add 14 additional Club World seats at a time of strong premium traffic growth.

However, the 2008 financial crisis saw the start of the retirement of the 747-436 fleet. The arrival of new Airbus A380, Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 787-9 aircraft also saw the Boeing 747 progressively moved off longer range routes to Australia, Asia and Central & South America.

Those aircraft earmarked to stay with the airline were refurbished with new in-flight entertainment systems and “refreshed” interiors, albeit not with BA’s latest business class seat.

British Airways Refurbished 86 Club World Seat Aircraft (Image Credit: British Airways)
British Airways Refurbished 52 Club World Seat Aircraft, November 2018
British Airways Refurbished 52 Club World Seat Aircraft, November 2018 (Image Credit: British Airways)

This all came to an abrupt end in March 2020. Frequent flyers and staff would never get the chance to step on board a BA 747 again.

Over the remaining parts of our seven part series on the BA 747 we’ll look at some of the most memorable 747 flights and its legacy.

We welcome any thoughts and comments below: