For the overwhelming majority of people hopping on an airplane every year, very little thought goes into what type of airplane they're getting into. The lack of legroom on a 737 and the lack of legroom on a 747 registers the exact same. But for the Avgeek community, who still stop to look at airplanes every time they fly overhead, it's been a quietly tragic couple of weeks for our hobby.
No, not just because we've seen air travel across the world come to a screeching halt (Though it's difficult having our airline industry friends and coworkers in danger of being furloughed or laid-off). The sad historic geek note is that we've had to watch our "Queen of the Skies" retire early -- the Boeing 747.
The 747, identifiable even from the ground by its unique high hump, is the OG Jumbo Jet. She's the rare piece of technological advancement that simultaneously seems wildly out of date and yet modern at the same time. In the air for literally just a couple of weeks over 50 years now, the jumbo just doesn't have the same relevance in today's aviation landscape. Airlines have found it to be better for a number of reasons to fly smaller, more fuel-efficient airplanes such as the A220 (and we're not gonna get involved in the airplane naming turf war here) from point-to-point rather than using big planes.
What this means is that there were already planned retirements for many of the world's 747s. United, for example, retired its Friend Ship a couple of years ago.
You can make fun of me all you want, I cried at the end when the pilot patted her frame and said, "I'm gonna miss you, girl" the way a pet owner does with their dog on their last trip to the vet. Now, because of the current global pandemic, these scheduled retirements are coming in a lot earlier than anticipated. Australian airline Qantas was scheduled to retire its 747s in 2020 and made its last flight on March 28, before putting them into storage for the time being (though we know what that really means). While KLM, which had been planning a fleetwide retirement in 2021, made its final 747 passenger flight a return to Amsterdam from Mexico on March 29.
The pilot there gives a beautiful speech aimed at plane spotters (who he knows are listening on the tower frequency, probably recording him), saying that he wishes they could have a better farewell to one of the most beloved and iconic aircraft of all time, and thanking them for their love.
Part of the reason this is sad for Avgeeks worldwide is that we were fully anticipating a longer period in which to prep our little goodbyes. For example, when the Mad Dog got its retirement in September of 2019, Avgeeks lined up -- and in some instances paid stupid amounts of money on the resale market for a flight from Dallas to Chicago -- just to be able to ride one last time on the old bird. Plenty of people were plotting routes and anticipating one final flight with the Queen of the Skies, be it with KLM or Qantas or perhaps some other airline, but won't get that chance anymore. The 747 may still be used in cargo operations or other such ways, but its days as a passenger stalwart are essentially through.
It's sad, and while it may be a silly thing to be grieving over during this time, everyone's entitled to their own feelings and processing them however they need to. And if this crisis ends soon, that may just take the form of a long plane ride. God save the Queen.
Top Image: PatrickE/Pixabay