What does the 747 mean to you? Everyone at Boeing’s factory in Everett, Washington, has a story. This is where the last of these iconic aircrafts is rolling out of the door. There’s the quality controller who calls it her family’s “freedom bird” because it was what carried them to the US as refugees from Vietnam; there’s the long-standing Boeing comms person who rolls up her sleeve to show me her forearm tattoo of a jumbo jet. There are a few misty eyes. “Nowadays aeroplanes are all brain,” one Argentine journalist tells me. “But the 747 had heart,” he says, thumping his chest.
He has a point. Though the 747 was a high note of the golden age of travel (the first was delivered in 1970 for Pan Am, and early iterations had a cocktail lounge on the top deck), its scale also made flying cheaper and got the world moving like never before. Today the drive for smaller, more fuel-efficient aircraft is steadily phasing the jumbo out of our skies, though a handful of airlines, such as Lufthansa, keep them flying and they’re still used as cargo carriers.
Boeing’s next-generation jet is the 777X, which is comparable in heft to the 747 but with an efficient twin-engine set-up. All that’s left to do is to start delivering it after a string of delays. Until then, the 747 should serve as inspiration. It might be bulky but the designers made passenger comfort and a premium experience their priority, a profound thought when so much of travel today is about squeezing in and cutting fine. British architect Norman Foster once called the Queen of the Skies “heroic” in scale. I feel compelled to agree.
Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor, based in Los Angeles. Listen to his report on the last 747 on ‘The Globalist’.