THE PLANE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD

Farewell to the “queen of the skies”: United is to stop flying 747s at the end of this year

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United Airlines is sending the “queen of the skies” to an early retirement.

The airline will take its last Boeing 747 out of service by the end of 2017, a year ahead of schedule. The 747, which first took off in February 1969, helped foster in an era of more affordable transcontinental and international air travel, because so many passengers could fit in the plane. The BBC called it the “plane that changed the world”:

United will join US rival Delta Air Lines in phasing out the model by the end of the year, though you will likely be able to continue flying them on carriers like British Airways after 2017. The famous four-engine plane with a humped fuselage has been falling out of favor with airlines for years as they opt instead for more fuel-efficient (read: cheaper to operate) models.

“It’s a bittersweet milestone—this jumbo jet with its unmistakable silhouette once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel,” United’s president Scott Kirby said in a statement. “Today, there are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable widebody aircraft that provide an updated inflight experience for our customers traveling on long-haul flights.”

“For these reasons,” he added, “we’re saying farewell to the queen of the skies, which has been part of our fleet since we first flew the aircraft between California and Hawaii in 1970.”

Many have also been pulling back from the most jumbo of jumbo jets, the Airbus A380, the world’s biggest passenger plane, in favor of more fuel-efficient, twin-engine jets.

Interest has dropped off to the point that Boeing even said it was considering ending production of the 747. But there is still some demand out there for the plane, which is now mostly used to transport cargo. UPS ordered 14 of them in October. The office of the US president also remains a fan. Since 1990, Air Force One has been a 747-200 aircraft, and the Air Force in 2015 selected the 747-8 as its successor. But the next president seems less keen:

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