There is littleÂ question that the Boeing 747 is the most beautiful aircraft ever built. Itâ€™s in a class of its own. Thereâ€™s a reason itâ€™s called the Queen of the Skies.
While some modifications (just a few) have been made since the first one took to the skies in 1969, its design is timeless. From the pointed nose that rises gracefully up to the cockpit windows and that distinctive hump.
For decades, it was the undisputed leader in wide-body aircraft. With more than 1,500 ordered, airlines that flew the 747 gained instant credibility and cachet. Bigger isnâ€™t always better, and while the Airbus A380 may be the biggest commercial airplane, it has nothing on the 747’s style and panache. The 747 is a glamorous runway model that turns heads wherever it goes – the way it struts confidently through airports around the globe. And nose onâ€”rotating off the runwayâ€”itâ€™s a thing of beauty.
All good things must end, and so it is that the 747 is in its twilight yearsâ€”eclipsed by the more efficient Boeing 777, bigger Airbus A380, and fuel-sipping Boeing 787/Airbus A350. With only 41 Boeing 747-8Is ordered, the writingâ€™s on the wall. And in the coming decade, we will see fewer and fewer Boeing 747s. But there are still some airports where you can see the Queen, and take one last flight. Such is the case with my home airport in Vancouver (YVR), where EVA, China Airlines, Lufthansa, British Airways, and Qantas still have passenger operations with the type. Albeit, the latter three operate the aircraft only seasonally. This past year, BA began using the Airbus A380 in summer months, but reverts to the 747 in the winter months. Lufthansa is now the only carrier operating daily 747 passenger service to Vancouver.
AirlineReporter recently experienced EVA Airâ€™s Boeing 747 service on the Vancouver-Taipei-Vancouver sector. The 747 once made up the bulk of EVAâ€™s long-haul fleet. It was the aircraft the Taiwanese airline used on its first flight to North America, when it inaugurated service to Los Angeles in December, 1992. Like many airlines, EVA has been replacing its 747s with Boeing 777s, which now do most of the airlineâ€™s long-haul flying. In fact, the airline now only has three passenger 747s left in its fleet, and Vancouver is one of the few destinations to whichÂ EVA uses the aircraft. EVA executives recently told me that 747 will no longer fly the Vancouver route by July 2017, and will be completely retired from the airlineâ€™s fleet by September of next year.
Vancouver (YVR) â€“ Taipei (TPE)
Elite (Premium Economy)
With a flight departure time of 02:00, the check-in counters at YVR were busy around midnight. In fact, the international terminal was a hive of activity, with two flights to Taipei, one to Hong Kong, and another heading back to Manila. Given the number of passengers departing, the security queue was unusually long for the time of day. In fact, it took an hour to check-in and clear security.
I settled into seat 26K, the last row in the Elite cabin. EVA was the first airline in the world to introduce premium economy when it first flew to Los Angeles almost 25 years ago. That early iteration was known as Evergreen Deluxe, and most of the seats on the aircraft at the time were of this type, with only a small economy class section in the rear of the aircraft. Over time, the airline rationalized its configuration and now offers a smaller 56-seat premium economy cabin. Seats in Elite class come with a comfortable â€¨38-inch pitch, compared to (the very generous) 33 inches in the economy cabin, and a wider seat at 19.5 inches. Passengers in Elite are also provided with an amenity kit.
With an announced flying time of almost 12 hours, pushback was on schedule at 02:00, and 14 minutes later we were at the end of runway 08R, and with no delay commenced our takeoff roll. Climbing out under cloudy skies to the east, which is typical during inclement weather, we banked to the right past the BC Ferries Tsawwassen terminal and across the Strait of Georgia tracking across Vancouver Island. By 02:33, we had reached 30,000 feet and we settled into our route that would take us 6,140 miles (9,880 km) along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, passing over Russia and then later Japan, before making for the northern tip of Taiwan.
Once we had reached our cruising altitude, cabin attendants brought around juice and warm towels, along with a dinner menu. Soon after, the meal service commenced, though it would have been nice had the trash been collected before serving the meal. EVA has quietly been known for having good catering on its flights, and on this flight dinner began with a starter of smoked duck breast with pineapple salsa, and a choice of two main dishes. I chose the stir-fried vermicelli with prawns. It didnâ€™t disappoint.
A credit to EVA is that despite the Boeing 747s being the oldest aircraft in their fleet, the cabins are well maintained. The Elite-class seats, in a 2-4-2 configuration, are covered in a pleasing green-hued fabric and have a 38-inch seat pitch.
The Star Gallery inflight entertainment system, with an 11-inch screen, was very extensive, and while I am not much of a movie person, I did appreciate the wide selection of music on offer, and Elite passengers are provided with headphones that are of better quality than those in economy. Despite a recent refresh, I continue to find the uniforms of the cabin attendants to be a little dated. I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s the dark green color, but they lack a little pizzazz.
Approximately two-and-a-half hours before arriving in Taipei, a breakfast service was offered.
At 05:12 local time we touched down on runway 05R and taxied to Gate C6. Most flights from EVAâ€™s North American network arrive in the early morning hours, allowing passengers to easily connect throughout Asia.
My return flight was of similar quality that I have come to expect from EVA. Boarding commenced at 23:25, and pushback at midnight. Other EVA flights to Seattle and Los Angeles were also departing at the same time. After waiting at the end of runway 05R for five minutes, wheels were up at 00:20. A dinner service was offered shortly after takeoff. Not wanting a heavy meal, I asked if I could just have the fruit. The cabin attendant obliged and gave me the fruit, some salad, and dessert.
There were two blemishes on EVAâ€™s usual stellar service. The toilet paper rolls in one lavatory were empty on one occasion, and the cabin was extremely cold. It was as if someone had left a window open. I noticed passengers wearing coats, and one even had a toque on. Normally, Iâ€™m okay with cooler temperatures, but even I had to resort to putting a blanket around me.
Elite class is a great product for a long-haul flight. The larger seats and more space is welcomed on long flights. Does EVA live up to its five-star distinction? Overall, I would suggest they do; however, the airline should never be satisfied with past accolades. In dramatic fashion, there were changes to EVAâ€™s senior executive and Board chair earlier this year. Time will tell if the airline can continue its rise as one of the worldâ€™s best airlines.
This story was written by Ken Donohue for AirlineReporter. Curious by nature, inspired by flight, fascinated by the places, people, and stories that make flying possible, Ken is based in Vancouver. You can see more of his work at www.kendonohue.com.