Somewhere in Massachusetts, a mid-’90s family photo album possesses the first photo I ever took of a Boeing 747. It was a Virgin Atlantic bird at Orlando International.
I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw the photo, but I can still recall it clearly twenty-five years later: poorly framed through the window of a Delta 737-200 that I definitely did not appreciate enough at the time; the distinctive Virgin red tail towered over everything else, glowing in the humid, golden-hour Florida air.
While Disney World itself might have been the highlight of going to Disney World for most kids, the airport and the airplanes were the far and away winner for me. I loved every detail that I didn’t hate (turns out younger me found flying absolutely petrifying, but that’s another story).
The curbside chaos at Boston Logan, with barking state troopers and bustling skycaps. The busyness of the terminal, filled with people and the promise of going to new places. All the different airlines and airplanes, many of whom are no longer with us. The smell of the forced air on boarding (gosh I love that smell). Riding that skytrain thing, I don’t know what it’s called, at the airport in Orlando.
It was thrilling to ten year old me.
Yet craning my neck out the window, trying to steal a glimpse of the Virgin 747s after landing – that was always the highlight. Every time.
Several years later, license and camera in hand, I’d drive my ’93 Oldsmobile the 45 minutes into Boston to plane spot. Boeing 747s were still very common then, and an evening plying the terminal B garage would reward you handily: Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, Northwest all came and went in the daily Eurorush.
Virgin’s colorful 747s, though, were always a highpoint. Especially if Lady Penelope, clad in birthday girl livery, came through, as she often did.
I had to have photographed the jets dozens of times during those early spotting years, but I couldn’t tell you where those photos are now. I probably stashed them on a hard drive in some stupid, poorly organized folder tree that made sense to 2003 me. If I ever find them – and they have eluded me so far – it will be a good day. But I think they’re long gone.
I left Boston for Seattle in ‘08, and haven’t seen the old birds much since. Occasional sightings in New York, a lucky break during a layover in Vegas. The last time I saw one in flight was four years ago. It was such a pleasant surprise, and I took the time to watch it disappear from view.
I never flew on one. Well, not on Virgin anyways, and following today’s COVID-related retirement, I never will.
That makes me sad. Part of me doesn’t feel like the loss of a machine should make you sad, but here we are.
I had planned to fly on one this fall. Planned to recreate that photo, too. Landing in a humid Orlando, under the soft, golden hour sun. The big red tail in a poorly framed composition, waiting for me.