First Flight On The Boeing 747: My British Airways Experience
A few months ago, shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I heard rumors that British Airways was set to retire its fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft. I didn't believe it, not because it couldn't be true, but because I didn't want it to be true. Everything in me wanted it to not be true.
But when British Airways sent me an email on 17 July, 2020 announcing, with great sadness, the early retirement of its Boeing 747 fleet, the sad reality dawned on me. I was saddened in more ways than one. I was saddened that the Queen was leaving the skies earlier than planned. I was even more saddened that British Airways was retiring the entire Boeing 747 fleet, as the airline was my only viable hope of flying on the Queen of the Skies again.
I have been enveloped in sadness since British Airways actually retired the Boeing 747. So, I thought I could pen down this tribute as a way of letting the Queen live on in my mind and in the minds of many that will come across it. Please read on.
When I arrived the Terminal 5 of London Heathrow Airport that chilly winter morning, the ambience was typical and normal. It was on 15 December, 2012 and the flight to San Francisco, the USA was scheduled to depart at 11:15 am local time. I deliberately arrived a little too early so I could have some spare time to look around.
The departure hall was already busy, boarding passes were being issued, bags were being tagged and dropped as smiles and goodbyes were being exchanged. Everything happening within the terminal building just seemed normal. However, the inside of me wasn't as settled as the outside seemed. But not in a bad way.
In addition to being my first time of travelling to the United States of America, it was also going to be my first time of flying on the iconic double-decker Boeing 747 aircraft. You can understand or imagine the level of excitement, and even anxiety, that must have built up within me. My joy was double, but so was my uncertainty. As I made my way through the terminal building to the boarding gate, I couldn't help admiring the several Boeing 747s on the ramps, wondering which one was my ride.
Boarding was orderly and timely. As I stepped into the aircraft, my first impression was that of prestige, luxury, glamour, comfort, elegance, and royalty. Although it wasn't new (I didn't expect it would be), the Boeing 747-400 exuded a certain aura and style.
Being my first time onboard the Queen of the Skies, these attributes impressed me even more strongly. I could tell. The sheer size of the cabin was a significant departure from all the wide-body aircraft I had been on before now. None even came close.
There was a certain je ne sais quoi about the Boeing 747 which I didn't feel about the other aircraft types I had flown on. The difference wasn't only clearly visible, but also comprehensibly tangible. And then the upper deck! Even though I didn't even get to have a peep, seeing the classy staircase that led to it was enough to completely mesmerize me.
For a moment, I froze in awe as I fantasized about what it would feel like to fly on the upper deck. Anyway, after reveling in my new-found glory, I settled in my 33A economy class window seat and looked forward to takeoff. With the aircraft's doors armed and cross-checked, we pushed back and taxied to runway 27L.
Positioned and ready for takeoff, the four high-bypass turbofan Rolls-Royce RB211-524 series engines roared into life and the aircraft rattled down the runway for a takeoff roll. The magic was fast. Within seconds, the big bird gently lifted off the runway and banked to the west, and with that commenced our 11-hour transatlantic flight to San Francisco.
From my window seat, I watched with great interest as the incredibly gigantic 345-seat machine became as light as a feather as it broke into the clouds while the earth below us kept shrinking. I watched as the extraterrestrial elements in the skies seemed to bow to Her Excellency, the Queen of the Skies. I watched as the clouds gave way and the winds paid homage.
And not too long after takeoff, we were cruising over the Atlantic Ocean with an incredibly stunning view that, in no small measures, added to my excitement. As we overflew the Ocean, the aquatic elements seemed to be watching and wondering in astonishment. They knew a different kind of aircraft was passing, and they were right. As it majestically cruised over the Atlantic Ocean, there was something different about the Queen.
The Boeing 747 left an amazing contrail and a daring flight path. In fact, she made a scene! Earlier, while searching for flights between London Heathrow and San Francisco, I considered several factors, but aircraft type was the most important. I wanted to fly to San Francisco and I wanted to fly in style. So, I settled for British Airways Flight BA0285 scheduled to be operated by a Boeing 747-400.
Apparently, I came late to the 'jumbo' party, but that even helped to heighten the excitement. The Boeing 747 performed its first commercial flight in 1970, and here I was flying on one a whole 42 years later. But I was more excited than I was ashamed. As the Flight Attendants cat-walked through the cabin, offering in-flight meals and refreshments, something else was on my mind.
And so, while the aircraft cruised above 35,000ft at a speed of 570 miles per hour, I munched my chicken pasta and drank my red wine, but I was also lost in thoughts. I pondered on the amount of engineering ingenuity that must have gone into designing and building the Boeing 747. I wondered what must have given Joe Sutter and his engineering team the inspiration and the confidence to design this ground-breaking quad-jet.
I marvelled at the wing-span which, at a whopping 195 feet, is said to be longer than the Wright Brothers' first flight. I watched the wings and the 6 feet-high winglets as they efficiently swept through the skies at an angle of 37.5 degrees. I marvelled at the stability of the aircraft and the grace with which it handled turbulence. I wondered and never stopped marveling until we commenced our initial descent into San Francisco Airport, California.
The excitement of my first Boeing 747 flight was capped by a scenic approach into San Francisco International Airport. As we came in to land, we flew over the famous Golden Gate Bridge connecting San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. And then, the Queen touched down majestically on runway 28R. And again, she made a scene.
Since my first flight on the Boeing 747, I've flown on the Queen of the Skies a few more times (all with British Airways) including between Chicago and London as well as between London and Lagos. Today, I count myself lucky to be one of the over 5.6 billion people (about 80% of the world’s population) who have been privileged to fly on the Boeing 747.
Against many odds, I'm still looking forward to having more flights on the Queen. The chances of that happening are getting slimmer as the day goes by, but it's a dream I'm willing to hold on to. Revolutionary in every sense, the Boeing 747 changed the way the world travelled. It made the world smaller and transformed air travel with glamour.
Quite frankly, the aviation industry has seen other great aircraft, including the mammoth Airbus A380 and the powerful Boeing 777, but the Boeing 747 will always stand out as the most loved. A new broom sweeps clean, but an old broom knows all the corners. No aircraft knows the world like the Boeing 747. It has criss-crossed all continents and made appearances at almost every major airport, to the absolute delight of plane spotters.
Perhaps, it's safe to say that the world will never see another commercial aircraft as iconic as the Boeing 747. Thank you British Airways, it was a complete privilege to fly onboard your prestigious Boeing 747-400 fleet. Long live the Queen of the Skies!
Chidozie Uzoezie is a Content Creator and a Travel Blogger. He is the CEO of The Afritraveller as well as the Founder of the African Aviation Group on Facebook. You can reach him via WhatsApp: +234(0)8178379876; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ChidozieMario