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