Delta’s first 747-100, N9896 “Ship 101” as it looked on her delivery in 1970 – Image: JP Santiago
On 9 September 2015, the very first Boeing 747-400 built, N661US, touched down at Atlanta from Honolulu as Delta Flight 836 for the last time in revenue passenger service. Ship 6301 was the Boeing 747-400 prototype, which was delivered to launch customer Northwest Airlines on 8 December 1989 and came over to Delta with the 2008 merger. There are twelve remaining 747-400s flying with Delta, all of which came over from Northwest. Current fleet planning will have these 747s retired in 2017.
Delta did however, for a brief time, operate the first variant of the 747 family, the 747-100, from September 1970 to April 1977. Only five aircraft were taken on strength with Delta and while the 747-100 was but a short historical footnote in Delta’s history, its legacy looms large to this day with the airline.
In order to understand what the 747 was for Delta at the time, one has to consider that as the 1960s were drawing to a close, Delta was in the midst of transition on several fronts. The first change came with the Southern Transcontinental Route Case of 1961. Prior to deregulation, airlines usually had to make a case for the opening of new services and routes to the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). Often these cases consisted of years of deliberation, and politics played a central role in airlines winning favorable rulings from the CAB. In the 1950s, the CAB favored interchange services as a means for airlines to open up new markets without saturating a given route with an excess of seats, harming profitability.
A Delta Boeing 747-100 (reg: N9897) taken in Miami in 1974 – Photo: Bob Garrard
Having a predominantly southeastern U.S.-anchored network, Delta linked up with several other airlines to offer interchange services which allowed it to fly as far west as California. As traffic grew on the interchange services to the west coast, Delta petitioned the CAB to operate the west coast services on its own, and in one of the more historic decisions made by the CAB, both Delta and National Airlines were given route authorities to California from the southeast in what was called the Southern Transcontinental Route Case.
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
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.
A Qantas 747-400ER and an American 777 on the ground at Dallas-Fort Worth… Soon a sight for Australian airports?
Traveling down under to Australia is one of the most heavily-restricted air travel markets. However, yesterday Qantas and American Airlines make some changes to their services over the Pacific to increase opportunities. As of the middle of December 2015, both American (AA) and Qantas (QF) are going re-add services that were previously cut.
Front part of Lufthansa’s special retro livery on the Boeing 747-8I – Photo: Lufthansa
Lufthansa was the first airline to fly the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental and now has 16 of the type in service. Over the history of the airline and the 747 program, Lufthansa has been a very good customer. They have operated the 747-100, 200, & 400 (with a good portion of those 747-400s still flying).
The airline, as a whole, has been around since 1926 (in some form or another), during which time they have been through a number of liveries. What better way for an airline to receive their latest aircraft than to paint it in an retro livery?