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Goodbye ‘Queen of the Skies’. British Airways is to retire its ENTIRE Boeing 747 fleet.

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British Airways sent an email to staff late last night confirming its plans to retire its entire fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft.  It had 30 aircraft in its fleet prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Whilst there has been a lot of speculation online regarding the future of the Boeing 747 fleet at British Airways, the airline has until now been fairly tight-lipped in regard to its future fleet intentions. It has now confirmed:

“With much regret, we are proposing, subject to consultation, the immediate retirement of our Queen of the Skies, the 747-400.”

British Airways to retire Boeing 747 fleet

The original retirement plan was to phase the Boeing 747 out by 2024.  British Airways now wants to accelerate the program and retire the entire fleet in the coming months.

In its email it stated that:

“we would not expect any more commercial flights to be flown.”

The airline has carefully worded its statement, repeating that this decision is ‘subject to consultation’.  Don’t get your hopes up though – this is a legal procedure to ensure that pilots and dedicated Boeing 747 support staff who are now likely to lose their jobs are treated according to UK employment law.  Retiring the entire fleet this early suggests that a lot of staff will require re-deployment and training on other aircraft in the future.

End of an era

Retiring the Boeing 747 doesn’t come as a surprise. In its statement, British Airways called the model “true icons” but an “airliner from another era.”

Aircraft technology has come a long way since 1999, when BA received its last 747 delivery. Both the A350 and Boeing 787 offer substantially better fuel efficiency. According to a study of aircraft efficiency on transatlantic routes by the International Council on Clean Transportation, latest generation aircraft are around 50% more efficient than the 747-400 on a passenger-kilometre basis.

This is compounded by the fact that older aircraft need increasingly extensive maintenance programs to keep them flying safely. Whilst the economics made sense during years of passenger growth, air traffic isn’t expected to return to 2019 levels until 2023 at the earliest, at which point the majority of the fleet would already have been scrapped.

This isn’t the end of the Boeing 747 programme.  A small number of airlines are flying the newer Boeing 747-8i which has a longer top deck, although you rarely see them as Lufthansa was the only European airline to buy it.  It continues to be a successful cargo aircraft due to the large amount of storage space it offers, and it is possible that parts of the British Airways fleet will be sold to cargo operators.  Part of the reason that A380 aircraft are being retired so early is that the cargo capacity is surprisingly small, and at present cargo is a high passenger of revenue for most airlines.

British Airways to retire Boeing 747 fleet

What this means for Club Suite

British Airways was in the middle of a refurbishment program on the 747 to extend its life to 2024. Whilst the aircraft were never destined to have the new Club Suite business class seat installed, a lot of money was spent on making sure that they were outfitted with up-to-date interiors.

The rollout of Club Suite as a proportion of the fleet is now likely to accelerate.  Not because more Club Suites are being made – there is a bottle neck on manufacturing capacity – but because removal of such a large Club World sub-fleet will increase the total percentage of Club Suite fitted aircraft remaining.

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Comments (113)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Dave Barron says:

    Sad to hear but perhaps inevitable – guess I will never experience the upper deck or flying in the nose!

    • Alex Sm says:

      For some peculiar reason this is the thing I’d miss most! @Forum – what the closest experience to that in terms of view from the cabin? Is anything close to that on A380?

      • Rob says:

        Upstairs on an A380 just means that you are higher up than usual. You don’t get the single aisle, the very small number of seats or (in Row 1) the view forward.

        • Alex Sm says:

          Do LH and KE have similar layouts to be able to have a front view from the seat?

  • Stu N says:

    Sad times. Old, noisy, gas guzzlers but still had a sort of old world charm about them and the nose cone or upper deck was a fine place to be.

    We had 1A/1K outbound to MIA and 64J/K booked back from JFK in November. I’ve mentally written that trip off already so I don’t think the retirement of the Queen of the Skies makes any real difference to the probability of that happening given the Covid situation in the US.

  • memesweeper says:

    It’s thanks to this site I got enough Avios together to get a First Class flight back from JFK in the nose last year. I knew the end was coming but didn’t think it would be so soon.

  • Simon Houston says:

    My father was a designer on the project in the 60 s. He was always very proud of his part in it. 2 years I got to fly in 1a in the nose, quite an experience. Sad I will never get to do it again, but glad I got the chance

  • MagNom says:

    Again with help from this site I flew to LA last November upper deck 64 J/K what an experience it was, the space you have compared to a 787 is fab. Booked in again 64 J/K return to LA this December. Not to be though.

  • M Woods says:

    Through this website and the advice of Robert over the last few years I managed to fly a few times on the 747. Twice on the upper deck 64J/K and also upfront on 2A. It was an experience I will always remember. Although the aircrafts where old it didn’t deter from the overall experience which I loved. Made the more special by the BA crew.
    I managed to take my Mother on her first business class flight sitting her in 64K! going to Vegas!
    Thank you HFP and BA.
    She will be missed by many.

    • Alex Sm says:

      What’s so special about row 64 seats?

      • Rob says:

        You get a window seat AND you can get into the aisle without climbing over anyone (and no-one climbs over you).

        • Alex Sm says:

          Yes, thanks, I also found it eventually in the recent HfP article…

  • jkay86 says:

    Very fortunate to have received an upgrade from WTP to CW DEN-LHR last year. Got onto the upper deck and it was quite the experience

  • Paul says:

    I just checked flights to MIA in November – still listed as 747. They’ll be changed up soon to 777 / 787s I guess.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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