My EVA Air Boeing 747-400 in Seattle, after I landed

My EVA Air 747-400 in Seattle, after I landed

Typically, flying on the upper deck of a Boeing 747 is an exclusive affair. When the jumbo jet was first introduced, the upper section was a lounge for premium passengers. More recently, most airlines put premium seats up top. This means that most don’t have the ability to experience the upper deck. Unless you have the means, a job willing to pay, the miles to upgrade, or some extra luck, you’re relegated to the main deck.

However, there have been a few airlines that have configured their 747s with economy on the upper deck. Today, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, and EVA Air are the only ones to offer the option. With many airlines constantly upgrading their fleet, and the 747-400 thus being phased out, the ability to fly economy up top on the “Queen of the Skies” will soon be a thing of the past.

The upper deck of my Boeing 747-400

The upper deck of my Boeing 747-400

I recently had a flight home from Taipei (TPE) to Seattle (SEA) on EVA Air, and the airline kindly put me in business class (pretty much standard procedure when flying on press-related trips). At first, it didn’t fully make sense to them when I asked if I could give up my business class seat in the nose of the 747 for an economy seat on the upper deck. But that is exactly what I worked hard for; I was never as excited to fly in economy.

Flying high on a 747-400.

Flying high on a 747-400

My first memory of commercial flight is flying on a Northwest Airlines 747-200 from Seattle to Minneapolis. Since then, I have been able to fly on many other 747s and always wanted to experience being up higher. I remember when I was about eight, I had a relative fly in to visit and he had been upgraded to the upper level.

After he arrived (after all the hugs and such) I went right into asking him what it was like being higher. “I don’t know, it was the same, just kind of looked higher off the ground and I had to lug my bags up the stairs.” Obviously he is not an AvGeek and I was disappointed in his “review.” I was hoping my experience would be a bit better.

The business class cabin in the nose of the 747

The business class cabin in the nose of the 747

For my flight, I had pre-arranged to get on the plane a few minutes prior to other passengers to get photos, and it was amusing that the gate crew and the flight crew both offered for me to sit in business versus economy.

BONUS: Flying Business Class on a Hello Kitty EVA Air Boeing 777-300ER

It was hard for me to explain why I wanted to be up top. It felt weird to continue to decline having a business class seat, but I had a mission!

Heading up the stairs of the EVA 747

Heading up the stairs of the EVA 747

Going up the stairs of a 747 (or even an A380) is always exciting. When I arrived up top and saw the economy section, I realized that it was a bit more than just the extra few feet of altitude. There are things that even non-AvGeeks can get excited about. Where the main deck economy has a seat pitch of about 32″, the upper deck has a seat pitch of 35-36″ and is set up as 3-3 (downstairs it is 3-4-3).

Side bins on the upper deck between the economy seat and the window

Side bins on the upper deck between the economy seat and the window

Since there is such a curvature to the side of the fuselage, there is quite a bit of space between the seat and wall. In this space, there are storage bins, giving the window seat passenger extra width. Although the price is the same for a middle seat in the back of the main deck, an upper deck seat is really much more like an “economy plus,” option one might find on a domestic airline.

The back of the upper deck. Behind me is the galley.

The back of the upper deck. Behind me is the galley.

Many larger aircraft (A380 / B747) have their cabins subdivided to make then feel smaller and more intimate. This is really how the upper deck feels. Almost like a very short Boeing 737.

View from the front part of the upper deck

View from the front part of the upper deck

Trying to be good hosts, EVA decided to let me know that even though I was set to fly in economy upstairs, they had an empty seat in business set aside. I couldn’t help but ask which seat I had reserved and they let me know it was 6A (which might as well be 1A, since it is the first seat in the nose). I had never flown in row 1 of a 747 either, so the temptation was high, but I wanted to fly upstairs. After getting my photos, I made my new home in seat 81A.

Economy seats on the 747 upper deck

Economy seats on the 747 upper deck

I knew going into this flight that EVA’s 747s have an old product. But I was not expecting the old product to be in such great shape. Most of the inside of the plane looked quite new — it is obvious that EVA takes great care of their interiors. I had seen interiors that were decades newer, but looked in worse shape; it was almost like traveling in time.

The small and bad resolution IFE screen. But at least it works.

The small and bad resolution IFE screen. But at least it works.

Each seat has its own in-flight entertainment (IFE) system. Now, the screens are super small and the resolution is nothing to write home about, but that is not what the flight was about. I was still given a free set of headphones and before departure, I was able to see that the system provided quite a few movie and other entertainment options. Heck, you could even move the map and details of your flight on demand, where the newest product on the 777-300ER had no interaction.

Had to really try, from one of the middle, back rows to see the wing and an engine.

If you really stretch, you can see the wing and an engine

One disappointment that I had was not being able to see the wings. I was sitting in row 81 (2nd row) and if I put my head all the way on the window, I could barely see the winglet and navigation light. If I moved back to row 88 or so, then I could make out both engines, but it wasn’t easy. Another down side is that there was a gap between the inner and outer windows of about 6″. I am sure this is due to the angle of the upper deck and helps with sound, but it also removes the passengers from the flight experience a little more (and makes taking photos a bit of a challenge).

BONUS: Flight Review: Eva Air Royal Laurel Business Class on a Boeing 777-300ER

I really wish I could glamorize more what it was like taxiing, taking off ,and flying from the upper deck, but honestly, it was hard to tell a difference visually — although it was late and dark and I know when I have flown on the upper deck on the A380 during the daytime, it was quite different.

Ample storage and the IFE remote

Ample storage and the IFE remote

I had heard that wind noise on the upper deck was quite a bit louder than the main. I had experienced this a bit when I took a visit to the top floor on a Lufthansa 747-8I flight, but during takeoff and flight, I didn’t notice it being too loud on the 747-400.

However, when I tried to listen to a movie and after I went down to the bottom deck, during flight, it became pretty obvious that it was louder. Other than having to turn my movie up a bit, I found the white noise intoxicating and not really a hindrance. Especially since there was a child a few rows back who wasn’t exactly quiet.

My economy class meal up top. Same as the folks in economy downstairs.

My economy class meal up top. Same as the folks in economy downstairs.

Service started shortly after take off, since the flight departed so late. I had the choice between chicken or fish and I went with the chicken. I am not going to say that the food was amazing, but it wasn’t horrid and it was free for economy passengers. By the time I was done with my food, it was well after midnight and I was ready to get some sleep — but this is where I hit another challenge.

More shoulder room, sure... but hard to put your head on the wall to sleep

More shoulder room, sure… but hard to put your head on the wall to sleep

I always try to sit in a window seat, mostly to gaze outside. Another bonus is being able to lean my head against the wall for support and this is typically how I rest. The seats did have a usable headrest, but since there was such a gap between the seat and the window, leaning my head would cause severe neck pain, if I did it long-term. It was not easy to get good rest, but having the extra arm width was better than being on the main deck.

I was weak. What would you have done?

I was weak. What would you have done?

I was only in Taiwan for two-and-a-half days, my sleep rhythm was off, I was getting into Seattle at 7:30pm on Tuesday, and I needed to be back at work at 8:00am on Wednesday. Although the power of AvGeek goodness flying on the upper deck is strong, the need to get a good rest is much stronger. After a few hours experiencing the upper deck, I gave in.

I know it might be weak, but I asked the purser if my seat downstairs was still open. It was, and I made my way downstairs. Yes, I feel guilty. I had been wanting for years to fly on the upper deck of the 747, but the need for rest (and really wanting to also fly in the nose) was too strong. I have to say that it was the right call, since I was able to get good sleep during the rest of the flight, and was ready to function the next day.

Coming into Seattle (from seat 6A).

Coming into Seattle (from seat 6A)

Both in economy and in business, EVA Air did a great job with service, the catering, and providing the best product they could with an aging aircraft. I think I might have had my hopes up that being on the upper deck was going to be some huge magical experience. No question, I enjoyed being able to experience it, and even as a non-AvGeek there are true benefits of flying on the upper deck over the main deck. But when it came down to it, during most of the time on the upper deck, it felt no different than being down below. Does that really matter? No way. There is the unmeasurable AvGeek factor of being up top and that is what made it awesome!

The flight deck of my EVA Air 747-400 at Seattle.

The flight deck of my EVA Air 747-400 at Seattle

The sad part is that many airlines, including EVA, are in the process of retiring their old 747-400s and replacing them with the 777-300ER.

When asked about the 747’s future with the airline, Glenn Chai, executive vice president for EVA Air explained to me, “Now, we use B747-400s for some flights to Seattle and Vancouver. We are gradually phasing out the aircraft and expect to complete the process by early 2017.”

Eva Air Boeing 777-300ER - Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren | JDL Mutlimedia

Eva Air Boeing 777-300ER – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren | JDL Mutlimedia

Sure. There is a good business reason here. The 777-300ER is 20% more fuel efficient and lets EVA connect TPE to cities in North American and Europe that the 747 can’t. But, even Chai has a special place for the plane, “The Boeing 747-400 is a magnificent aircraft and our appreciation for its service is heartfelt.”

Sea-Tac out the windows of the EVA Air 747-400

Sea-Tac out the flight deck windows of the EVA Air 747-400

Don’t get me wrong, I love the 777-300ER, but it doesn’t have the history or character that the 747 has. I almost felt my flight was a piece of history, experiencing something that future generations might never be able to.

But when it comes down to it, most passengers are going to care less about the aircraft that they are flying on and more about getting an improved product (better IFE, inflight Wi-Fi, etc.) that the 777 offers.

An EVA 747-400 coming in for landing - Photo: Woody Images | FlickrCC

An EVA 747-400 coming in for landing – Photo: Woodys AeroImages | FlickrCC

In the end… it was one amazing flight. Having two major firsts of flying on the upper deck and the surprise of flying in the nose of a 747. Even if, on paper, other products might seem like a better option, there is nothing quite like flying on an EVA Air 747-400.

View more photos of EVA Air’s 747-400 on our Flickr.

Note: EVA Air provided my airfare from TPE to SEA. All opinions are my own.

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: david@airlinereporter.com

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18 Comments

This article really speaks to me, for some reason. I too always wondered what it was like to ride “on top”, and this piece helped me understand just a little bit more. I guess it’s an Avgeek thing, to appreciate the little things like viewing the wingtips and beacon from the window, or the increasing curvature of the interior as you get higher.

And I was going to say, good on you for holding out and embracing your inner Avgeekness by flying econ on top – until I got to the end! I’d have probably done the same mid-flight…

Hey Fred,

I think every AvGeek has a love for the upper deck. Sure, it might be louder, harder to see, have to climb stairs, but all of that does not matter! Just being up there is what gives us that smile.

Although, I did spend a few hours on the bottom deck, at the end of the flight, I had to go back up and see it again :).

David | AirlineReporter

heriberto

The upper deck of the 747 has always been a wonder to me since i was a kid. And i always thought it is only reserved for first class passengers obviously because of its location, being on top & separated. Up to this day i have never flown on the Queen of the Skies and i feel that my chance is getting slimmer as years pass by. But still hoping someday this would still happen and if got luckier experience the Legendary Upper Deck. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience on the Upper deck of the 747 and your flight as a whole. It made me felt closer to the 747 and almost certain how it feels like inside the first jumbo jet. Truly there is NOTHING like The 747. The Most Beautiful Aircraft in the World. The Icon of Aviation.

Hey Heriberto!

I know it might seem crazy to your friends, but next time you are taking a trip, look at your options. I know a lot of people will fly WAY out of their way just to fly on a 747 (or another type of aircraft). Often, it might not be that more expensive, it will just take time, but then you get to fly on the 747. Even if not on the upper deck, you should try to fly on either a 747-400 or 747-8I just for the experience — it is quite a bit different than even the A380.

David | AirlineReporter

I’m pretty sure Iran Air has economy on their 747s as well. And they’re still flying the SP!

They might. Keeping track of what Iran Air is flying and how they have their 747s configured isn’t as easy as other airlines.

David | AirlineReporter

I Still enjoy flying in my 1972 Boeing 747-200 model Jetliner. usually up front in the Cockpit !
Heres a short Video of the old Dog : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_sB2PZ0gC0

Real or virtual — the 747 is an amazing plane!

David | AirlineReporter

For many years I flew on 747s from London to Bangkok and return. Business Class was upstairs and Premium Economy was at the front downstairs with Economy behind. Premium Economy then had huge seats and lots of space. I always flew on the front row in the middle which had a coffee table in front so that you could put your feet up. It was such a good seat that I specifically asked NOT to be upgraded to business whenever I flew! Back in those days the flight attendants use to line up and bow while the plane was still taxing to the gate! These days they use the 777-300ER on the route and while Premium Economy is more cramped in the new configuration they have terrific pods in Business Class with flat beds. I love EVA, one of the best airlines around.

You had the best of both worlds, David! I recently rode up top for the first time ever going from NRT to SFO on United (though it was business class and not economy). I loved climbing up the stairs for the first time, those awesome side bins, and looking down from way up. Like you I discovered the window view wasn’t as spectacular, but just being up there more than made up for it. I also liked the extra noise because it helped me sleep.

I once sat in the second row of the nose on Continental, but have always wanted to be in the first row because I hear the curvature of the plane allows you to almost see forward – did you have a chance to experience that?

I keep hoping the 747-8 will find more commercial takers, truly love the Queen of the Skies!

Hey Andy!

You know I heard that you could see the curvature of the plane from row one, on the main deck, but I didn’t really see that. To my defense, I was a bit jetlagged, and most things looked curved, but it also could have been EVA’s layout.

David | AirlineReporter

Malcolm Hebert

My gf and I will be on the top deck last row on the right side after the stairs. Is there space behind the seats to the wall. Also is the audio headset connection the old style two prongs? I really enjoyed this post and pictures. What do u recommend for inflatable for neck rest? Malcolm in Vancouver. Our flight departs 2am April 7th. I specifically wanted to do this flight. Was either 380 out of LAX or 747. I did the Queen of the sky back in July 2002 With Canadian Airlines when it was bought by Air Canada Toronto to Vancouver on a 930am flight. The take off and landing was spectacularly smooth. I would compare it to the 340. I was hoping a easier on the neck window seat … oh well my whiplash will need painkillers. I’m more excited flying than going to my destination the Palawan Islands.. lol and I’m a avid flyer .

We loved Eva Air 747 upper deck. Better and faster service and a lot quieter. Would fly again on this flight instead of the newer Dreamliner 787. Dreamliner has nicer window and better air but the seats are terrible. Eva air seats on the 747 are very cushiony and extremely comfortable

Enjoyed your post on the 747. I have flown several times from YVR-TPE-BKK on the 2:00 am flight and been quite impressed with the level of service. They now have a 5-star ranking from Skytrax and listed in the top 10 international airlines.

Usually try and scoop an economy seat on the upper deck, but sometimes this becomes a difficult task since I no longer have “G” status and they block seats (presumably for frequent flyers); releasing some of them closer to departure date. Luckily, have a window seat up there for my next outbound flight in the fall however. Fares seem reasonably stable as well, about $900CAD return.

Flew Oasis several times from YVR-HKG and they used old Singapore airline 747’s; you could book a $1500 CAD business class return ticket, which effectively gave you two seats together on the upper deck. Unfortunately, their business model wasn’t well thought out and they eventually folded.

David, I have an Oasis 747 model sitting next to me on my desk. Loved their livery and I too was able to fly business class on their upper deck. an enjoyable experience. A shame really they couldn’t make it work. A few things stacked against them at the time – high fuel prices, incumbents (Cathay) that loaded up capacity with triple daily flights to Vancouver, and I surmise an ownership couple that were a little too hands on. Some of the one-stop fares to HKG from YVR today are not too far off from what Oasis was offering.

Great post! Thanks for sharing. It’s sad to see the “Queen of the skies” go. I had the pleasure of flying her when I was younger. I remember flying on BA and JAL back in the 80’s on the upper deck and super excited as you can imagine for a 5 year old. Last I flew her with Lufthansa J class in 2012. I will always have those sweet memories. 🙂

loved reading your post. i’m just leaving Bangkok with a dodgy belly so they’ve put me upstairs! super excited but reading your post it seems it will still be economy ( for a second there I thought I may have been upgraded )…still going upstairs on a 747 jumbo is enough!! ✈️

TheLegend

Trust me even if its tag economy, it surely beat economy plus and the service and seats are those of business class. Sadly the A380 and 747 have been discontinued and we will see a lot less of them as passenger jets.

More airlines are starting not allowing any type of pets on the plane and iam excited of these new policies, Also, like to add , Airlines on the timetable of the day ,would restrict parents from flying on red eye departure times and the first morning flights .

People pay huge amount of money for quietness in First and Business class and the economy class on late night and early morning flights are those going on to a getaway vacation. Babies under 2 should pay for their own seat the inconvenience it brings to the passenger next to them. Children under 12 should be seating behind row 30 on smaller aircraft and row 50 on Jumbos.

On the 747, it was nice always never to see any children upstairs. Adults only Club d’ Affaire!
These seats are blocked out online, but you can always called Eva 1-800 and have them if avail. Also Airport attendants at the desk within the 24 hour departure time, have full access to give you free upgrades, but only if they see a problem with your primary booking or passenger load. Most wont because they were burnt from past customers using their name when they got an upgrade when they shouldnt have.

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