There’s so much to say about United’s final 747 flight, but I’ll do my best to keep it concise. It was one of the greatest flights of my life and one that I will never forget.
When I learned that United Airlines would re-create its maiden 747 flight for its final 747 flight, I was ecstatic. I’ve written fondly about my trips to Hawaii over the years on United and this final flight seemed perfect: my favorite aircraft on my favorite airline to (one of) my favorite destinations.
United ended up coming through with an upgrade to business class for me, so the first class ticket was cancelled.
The day before the flight arrived…and I was sick again. Not the somach flu this time, but a vicious head cold that left me feeling (looking and sounding) horrible. Had it been just a normal trip, I would have postponed it. But I could not postpone this.
My uncle and I flew from Burbank to San Francisco, enjoyed a surprisingly nice dinner in the American Express Lounge, then took a shuttle to the Hyatt Regency. Rates were horrible, but I burned 12,000 points (which I thought made a lot more sense than spending $575).
Miraculously, I felt much better the following morning and we tuned up at Gate 86 around 9am, just in time for the pre-flight speeches, which included United CEO Oscar Munoz.
Check out that upgrade waitlist!
Finally, it was time to board. Captain David Smith offered a few opening remarks at the gate and Munoz himself scanned the first couple dozen boarding passes, including my own.
United Airlines Flight 747
San Francisco (SFO) – Honolulu (HNL)
Tuesday, November 07, 2017
Depart: 11:00 AM
Arrive: 2:45 PM
Duration: 5hr, 45min
Seat: 16B (Business Class)
Somehow I found myself on the upper deck of 747, sitting next to of Richard Fair, Vice President of Commercial Engine for Pratt & Whitney and across from Bruce Dickinson, a Boeing VP and General Manger of the 747 (and 767) programs. That alone would have made the flight, but there was so much more. I credit a full downstairs for forcing United to assign me a seat upstairs.
I had the upper deck to myself for several minutes and stopped by the flight deck prior to greet the captain and first officer without getting in their way. They were very gracious.
Upstairs ended going out with one “normal” passenger (dressed in 1970s apparel), invited guests of United, United employees, and the retro FAs. That potentially made sitting upstairs “less” of an authentic final experience, but it was far from that.
As we pushed back, hundreds of United employees waived goodbye on the ramp.
One of United’s Best FAs
The greatest joy on the flight was Sammy Teixeira, one of the FAs who worked upstairs. She’s been flying with United for 51 years and it was abundantly clear she still loved her job. I had the pleasure of being served by her for the entire flight and she could not have better, calling everyone “honey” and never sitting down for the five hour journey.
She epitomizes a primary reason I have been loyal to United over the years: when the service is great, it cannot be topped. She brought leis from home that she made by hand and offered them to passenger upstairs. You can see mine in a picture at the end of the report.
She even decorated the lavatories upstairs–
Royal Hawaiian Service
United offered special menus on the flight that hearkened back to the Royal Hawaiian Service during the 1970’s. Passengers in economy class were offered full meals.
After taking off, Captain Smith made a surprise pass over the Golden Gate bridge. It was a beautiful day outside and the glistening water below made for incredible views.
Lunch began after leveling of with canapés, macadamia nuts, and Mai Tais. The Mai Tais were not original recipe, but still appreciated on this final flight.
Moments later champagne was offered and a toast was conducted by the Chief Purser over the PA system in honor of the final flight.
Lunch continued with a shrimp appetizer, Hawaiian sweet rolls, and a green salad featuring Trader Vic’s Javanese dressing. That’s attention to detail–it has been years since I have seen this dressing on a United flight.
Three Perfect Main Courses
Choosing a main course was difficult–the bacon-wrapped tenderloin, macadamia-encrusted chicken, and Mahi-Mahi all sounded wonderful (and all ended up looking wonderful). I have fond memories of macadamia-encrusted chicken “back in the day” on United, so I ordered that. It was delicious and the portion was so huge I could not even finish it. My seatmate ordered Mahi-Mahi and loved it. The steaks even appeared to come out medium rare.
Note how beautiful the presentation is. United brought Executive Chef Gerry Gulli along to ensure that each meal came out looking perfect.
Around this time things got very busy upstairs. United offered tours of the upper deck during the flight, where passengers could pose with the Retro FAs. Many had never been upstairs so it was nice to see passengers delighted to see the upper deck for the first time.
It was also around this time that Sean Worsely asked Christine Elli to marry him. What I did not mention in my earlier story on this event was that on their way back downstairs, Sammy provided Christine a beautiful lei, placing it around her neck with the love of a caring mother.
As throngs of passengers streamed upstairs, Sammy and her colleague still managed an ice cream sundae service.
The Party Was Downstairs
I spent extended periods of the flights downstairs, checking on my uncle and checking in with friends sitting in first class. Everyone, and I mean everyone, appeared to be having a great time. It was just one of those flights. The conversations may not have been wide, but on the subject of United Airlines and the 747, they were certainly deep. Everyone had their own story.
One last look at first class on the 747:
Landing in Honolulu
We landed in Honolulu to light rain, a sign of good luck in Hawaiian culture. Despite the wet weather, the landing could not have been smoother.
Each passenger received a lei greeting in Honolulu and a short ceremony soon commenced, even featuring David Ige, the Governor of Hawaii. The Queen also received a lei greeting! More cake and punch as well.
The Best Part of the Final United 747 Flight
And as if anything could top all of that, there is something. My uncle, who turns 90 years old next week, was with me. Uncle Bill was on the Lockheed L1011 design team and I give him a lot of credit (or blame) for why I love travel.
As I wrote about here, he was also with me on my first 747 flight. We’ve flown a lot together over the last 13 years…and I trust our flying days together are not over…but this flight was a fitting bookend to our many happy flights around the world on United 747s.
Uncle Bill was like a kid in a candy store on the 747.
Oscar Munoz even scanned his boarding pass!
Click here for an NPR interview on both of our thoughts on the United 747’s final flight.
Every passenger received a goodie bag to commemorate the final flight. It included two great Boeing pins and a special challenge coin from Pratt & Whitney. A custom-label bottle of Coca-Cola was also in the bag.
We suffered a one-hour mechanical delay in San Francisco and the internet did not work during the flight. I can fully understand why United Airlines retired the 747-400 fleet when it did. Nevertheless, there will never be another Queen of the Skies and the only consolation is that several airlines will still fly it for years to come. Thanks to United for the incredible experience. I will never forget this flight.