Our seat on the ride of a lifetime – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Groundbreaking. Iconic. Gigantic. Gorgeous. There’s a lot of words you could use to describe the 747-400, but as of 2017 there’s a new word that gets added to the list: disappearing. Most airlines are rushing to retire the aging beauty. A few airlines, like British Airways, plan to keep the Queen of the Skies around for a while longer. But in general, if you want to make sure you get one more flight on the aircraft that — for many of us — is the ultimate AvGeek icon, you should make it happen soon.

A ride on a 747 is special, no matter where you’re sitting. However, it’s extra awesome if you’re in the first few rows of the main deck, which give you a one-of-a-kind partially forward facing view. You can actually see the runway ahead of you as you take off and land! We made sure to include a ride on a United 747 in seat 1A as part of a recent around-the-world Star Alliance tour, and from an AvGeek perspective, it was the flight of a lifetime. We took plenty of photos and videos for your viewing pleasure — read on to re-live the magic with us.

A view that should be on every AvGeek’s bucket list – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

The moment you turn left after boarding United’s 747s, you notice the unique triangular shape of the first class cabin at the nose of the plane. It’s that geometry that allows the first few windows to angle slightly forward.

The walls of the cabin converge at the nose – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

Fun fact: because the front of the upper deck is set back from the nose of the plane, if you’re sitting in the first few rows of the main deck you’re actually sitting farther forward than the pilot.

The passenger in row #1 reaches their destination before the pilot – Photo: Flight International

BONUS: Boeing Celebrates the 1,500th 747 – Is the Jumbo Jet Still Viable?

The fun began as soon as we pushed back from our gate at London Heathrow (LHR), bound for San Francisco(SFO). Being able to look forward during taxi and takeoff was mesmerizing! Don’t just take our word for it — check out our video (we recommend full-screen):

The real Concorde at the Runway 27L threshold is a cool sendoff for travelers out of Heathrow, though it’s not the most dignified display for such a rare bird. Plus, isn’t it cruel to force a grounded plane to look at other planes taking off all day?

A sendoff salute from a real Concorde at the 27R runway threshold – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

We hit cruise altitude over Scotland and powered over the Atlantic. Soon, the inflight service gave us a reason to pay attention to things inside the plane for a while.

BONUS: Flight Review: Lufthansa First Class on the 747-8I

The Polaris signature bloody mary cart came around as we crossed over Scotland – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

After the meal service we were a bit heartbroken when the flight attendants asked everyone to close their window shades. To pass the time we took a walk down the length of the plane. We also poked our head upstairs, though they kept the cabin dark so we couldn’t get any good photos.

BONUS: Flying a United Boeing 747 Domestically on the Upper Deck

As we crossed into the US, we took a look at the inflight map and got a nice reminder that the 747 is still the fastest commercial aircraft in the sky.

Mach 0.87! The 747 has speed to go along with her style – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

After enjoying the second meal service, we opened the window to this stunner of a view as we descended towards San Francisco International Airport:

Approaching SFO from the north means AMAZING views of the Golden Gate and San Francisco – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

It was an uncharacteristically clear day in San Francisco, so the views were out of this world. As if this flight wasn’t sentimental enough for us, it turned out that this was our captain’s retirement flight. Luckily for him, this was his favorite route, and the 747 was his favorite plane. I kept my fingers crossed that he would grease the landing. Watch for yourself to see if he did:

On our short taxi to the gate, we passed two planes that had special significance to the one we were on. First we rolled by N2333U, one of United’s newest Boeing 777-300ERs that will replace the airline’s retiring 747s. Equipped with United’s much-vaunted Polaris cabin and showing off that new-plane shine, this plane was on its way to Hong Kong.

We pass by our 747’s successor, a shiny new 777-300ER – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

BONUS: Taking a VIP Polaris Flight on United’s First 777-300ER

We also passed by an Air China 747-8I, reminding us that while the 747-400 is on its way out, the 747 bloodline is still going strong (well, it is surviving at least for a while longer). I personally think the Dash-8 looks even better than the classic 747, but feel free to disagree!

An Air China 747-8I – Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter

So did our experience flying seat 1A on a 747 live up to the hype? Absolutely! It’s not something we’ll forget any time soon.

To be fair, the view you get from Seat 1A isn’t quite as forward-facing as what you see in our videos, since we pushed our camera right into the corner of the window to get the best angle — something you probably can’t do with your face. Don’t expect a view like you’d get from the cockpit. But it was still forward-facing enough to blow our minds.

BONUS: Inside the Factory: Photo Tour of Where Boeing 747s Are Born

You might be asking: what about Polaris Global First? Well stay tuned — we’ll be publishing a review in a separate article.

Have you flown seats 1A/K on a 747? Do you have plans for your farewell flight on a 747-400? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Manu is an avid air traveler, private pilot, and a dedicated AvGeek. He enjoys writing about aviation from a millennial's perspective, and co-manages AirlineReporter's social media and video projects. His day job is as a doctor in NYC.

Flying a 737-200 (with my son) at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta

How did you get such smooth video on takeoff/landing….was it hand held and you have a very steady hand? Did you hold the camera against the window? What type camera did you use? Thanks for any info…nice videos!

Thanks for reading, Rick. For the time-lapse videos I used a suction-cup mount for an iPhone — the sort you can buy for your car — and attached it to the window.

Keep thinking that the flight I’m on will be my last — but seems like I keep landing upstairs. Seoul to SFO and back, FRA-SFO and next week back to FRA. I had a year-long stint flying in F from SFO to Singapore via HKG. Always went for row 1. Flying to Kona with babies we also had front row which allowed toddlers to roam around in the nose of the plane.

Great article, awesome video. Thanks for sharing!

Sweet! Well, I am not much of a Boeing Fan, Airbus or Bombardier for me! But still, getting to do a nice little flight with this iconic aircraft would be sweet. Although there are few 747s in YYZ and I doubt my often flight into HKG will be serviced by a 747. That is unless I could somehow do a stopover on an airline that flies the 747 although that would be pretty expensive. Still, the 747 is a beautiful bird. Hopefully the -8 will keep it kinda alive!

Lufthansa flies a 747 into YYZ (KLM used to as well, maybe they still do?). So, you can get to HKG that way. I believe its Toronto to Frankfurt on a 747, and then Frankfurt to HKG on an A380 (which should please the flying nerd in you).

What an awesome video! Thanks so much for sharing.

Michael Berch

My wife and I were lucky enough to snag seats 1A and 1K (the two that are by themselves in the first row), from a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo in May 2016, and even thought I have been on many 747s, in economy, business, and first, this was a very special trip since I’m pretty sure it will be my last in a United 747 as they are being retired very soon.

Since no one passes by you on the way to or from their seat, and you get so many windows (plus the curvature effect Manu mentions) that it’s like being in a private bizjet. And the service was indeed First Class (this was prior to Polaris branding). The flight attendants, whom I am sure are among the most senior, were all great, as was the food and the IFE. Plus we were an hour early, removing any anxiety about making a somewhat close connection to Beijing on Air China.

It was a wonderful experience on the Queen of the Skies, probably never to be repeated. Our trip home, on the other hand, was in BusinessFirst on a 787, which frankly was nowhere near as nice, either the hard product or the service. Perhaps Polaris seating will improve this.

Worst turbulence I ever had was flying F on BA DFW->LHR in 1K. Glassware was breaking, people were getting hurt, and I just did my best to control laughing at how much fun it was.

I have flown several 747s (400 and 8i) since (BA and LH), in J and F. I will never forget though the time I could see where the plane was going out of the front, and not on a camera either.

The other interesting tidbit, is that the 747 cabin in the nose, is pretty much the only way for passengers to sit in front of the nose gear.

Nice video. Superb article. Thanks for sharing.

One of the best AR posts in at least a year. Thanks! Great video and I look forward to the full review.
Yes, I too have flown in seat 1A, but it was many years ago on an AF 742, CDG-CHI as I recall. Service was superb, but they sent my bags on to Tokyo! Since then, AF’s service has fallen – often badly. Yes, the pointy end view was staggering. Yes, UAL is retiring their (small) 744 fleet, but a FEW airlines have bought the 748-I. A ride is on my bucket list. As the author notes, BA plans to retain at least some 744s and at the moment, they probably have the best service flying long haul, with LH a close second. The Polaris thing or not, I don’t understand why the author chose UA. It must have been a mile/points thing as their service is still one of the worse in the market. Each to his own… I’d like to see far more posts of this quality on AR, but I also dream a lot. -C.
Interesting aside… When I flew AF 742 noted above, we stopped in Montreal for routine service. I don’t think it was a range problem, but more likely cost of ground service and catering. On the return to CDG, there was no stop as the AC had been cleaned, catered and fully fueled just a few hours prior. The turn took about one hour and we had to deplane.

Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts, Cook. You’re right that the choice of UA was primarily driven by a great deal we got using miles, though we’re genuinely very interested in what’s going on with Polaris as well. We hope you get to fly on a 744 some time soon!

In 2002 I was able to sit in 1A on an Iberia 747-200 (MSN 22764 – EC-DNP Juan Ramon Jimenez) from MAD-MIA. I was actually booked a few seats back, but since the flight was not full I was able to move up for takeoff and touchdown without getting hassled. It was a surreal experience sitting in front of the pilots, as well as having a near-view out the front.

As a side note, a few years later I flew on an ANA 747-400D from HND-CTS. I remember boarding and except for the bulkheads, all the seats looked the same from front to back. THAT was weird.

John P Christensen

In 2010 THAI (B747-400) upgraded me to seat A1 on a short domestic trip from Bangkok to Phuket. Great experience!

Jonathan Trent-Carlson

That is awesome! I really hope to be able to ride in the upper deck of one of these birds before they’re all retired.
Jonathan | AirlineReporter

Carsten Borchert

Awesome report !!!!! Got the luck in the past to sit on that seat several time….at least it had the number. But you guys were especially lucky as UA removed the closet and opened the very first window. In BA or KL’s 744’s you sit 1A but you are actuall sitting in 1,5 A which does not give you this perfect view apparently.

Thanky guys for your efforts !!! Really great to read your stuff !!

Carsten (Germany)

Paul Hart

Great report! My wife and I also had 1A,1K on N122UA, SFO-FRA 04Apr. Couldn’t pass up the chance for same great video out of SFO . Returned CDG-SFO on their 787-9, 1A,1B. Sad to see the Queen of the Skies go. N122UA retire to VCV last month. We were one of the last of a couple million that flew on her.
Enjoyed the upper deck of N117UA one month later! SFO-LHR. Enjoy your blog!

ORD Flyer

Why wasn’t there a water canon salute if this was the captain’s final flight?

Al Webster

Around 1999 I had to make a change in my plans and fly to Auckland 1st. instead of Sydney. My only ticket option was 1st class on United. The upgrade from business class in 1999 cost my company $9,500 but I had to do it. Well I flew from PDX to LAX and was greeted at the gate and escorted to the Red Carpet Club International Lounge. Here I was fed and drank the best. Then I was personally taken to the gate for departure. Taken through a special (1st class boarding) I was greeted by a flight crew by my name. Went passed the linen covered table topped with caver, smoke salmon, and drinks of choice, I was taken to seat number 1A. What so special about that seat. Well, you are 1A and you are going to get to Auckland before the pilot! (Who is flying this thing? Me or you?)

Having been a very frequent international flyer my routine was to enjoy the pre-flight, takeoff and dinner and go to sleep with using Tylenol PM to help get through the 14 hour flight. The next thing I remember is the flight attendent waking me and letting me know we were about to land in Auckland.

Without a doubt, best flight I ever had


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