Scott Kirby’s Letter to United Employees Announcing the End of 747 Service

United is accelerating the retirement of its Boeing 747 fleet. Instead of flying the Queen of the Sky through the end of 2018, they’ll fly their last 747 during the last quarter of this year.

United’s livery of my youth. By Torsten Maiwald, GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s Scott Kirby’s letter to employees sent out this morning:

    Farewell to the Queen of the Skies

    There’s something very special about a Boeing 747. It’s the one aircraft that even casual travelers can easily identify. And we know that the experience of traveling on one, or flying one, is unforgettable.

    As deeply connected as we all are to this iconic aircraft, the time has come to retire our 747 fleet from scheduled service. Last March, we announced that this would occur by the end of 2018; now we plan to operate our last 747 flight in the fourth quarter of this year.

    It’s a bittersweet milestone—this jumbo jet with its unmistakable silhouette once represented the state-of-the-art in air travel. Today, there are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable widebody aircraft that provide an updated inflight experience for our customers traveling on long-haul flights.

    For these reasons, we’re saying farewell to the Queen of the Skies, which has been part of our fleet since we first flew the aircraft between California and Hawaii in 1970.

    We’ll be working with all of you who fly or work on the 747s to ensure a smooth transition to other fleets. Our forward-looking fleet plan will cover 747 replacements and anticipated growth opportunities. And of course, we’ll honor the 747 with an unforgettable retirement celebration — we’ll keep you posted with more details on her final flight in the months ahead.

    Thank you for all that you are doing. I am so proud and excited about the great future we’re building together as we create the best airline in the world.


United 747 in San Francisco

I know an airline that could be looking for some used 747s

About Gary Leff

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  1. Do you know if this letter was typed or handwritten? As a shareholder, I hope the latter. It’s a shame to see the art of cursive script slowly dying.

  2. I hope that a lot of these birds get donated to museums rather than sent to the scrap heap. It would be a shame if in the years to come, we wouldn’t have any left to experience even if only on the ground.

  3. >Do you know if this letter was typed or handwritten? As a shareholder, I hope the latter.

    Wait, what?

    I like eggs.

  4. While fuel efficiency and maintenance supplies and expertise are contributory, I find it frustrating that United (and the blogs) continually fail to mention the primary driver for this retirement schedule: the FAA is requiring fuel tank fire-suppression retrofits on all 747s (and other older models) by December 26, 2017. This is the result of investigations and decisions that date back to the fuel tank explosion on TWA 800 more than 20 years ago. Full details on the FAA advisory here:

    (This is probably also a driver on the 757 retirements.)

  5. Scrap heap? I just flew on one of those not too long ago. I think Boeing was still building them until last year… I’m sure they will be flying for years, traded to other smaller airlines…. Sad to see them go, they are beautiful planes.

  6. This makes me really sad. I’ll never forget my first trip on a 747, upstairs in that sweet, cozy little deck where you could almost forget you were on a huge plane.

  7. By far the best part is the upper deck.
    There’s a quality of recluseness and personal quiet that will be sorely missed.

    But the erlier replacement also means we’ll get the Polaris seats a year earlier on our route.
    Kind of a big deal for me at 6’6″ and my wife at 6’1″.
    Let’s see if United really follows through …

    Polaris flown FRA->SFO a couple days ago in a 747 is nothing but a joke.
    Except for that Cabernet out of WA … Wow!!

  8. What sucks about getting old is everything that you love gets changed or retired. I was praying that United would move to 747-8 to keep the best jet ever in the sky. I’ll have to take one more ride this year to Japan or HK in the old gal. She is far and away my favorite aircraft ever.

  9. Curiosity: why are we not seeing these old 747 turning up with LCCs in Asia and other developing, regions with massive traffic numbers? If they’re being sent to the boneyard, I’d think that the acquisition cost would be pretty negotiable, even with seat retrofits to an extremely high-density configuration. Given that the technology is so mature, one would suspect that the availability of maintenance staff and parts would be high. Are these really THAT uneconomical to fly?

  10. Unless Kirby is lauding the A380 or A340 as being more reliable than the 747, I see no commercial jet with two engines as ever having better reliability compared to a four engine aircraft.

  11. Yes they are that uneconomical. And any 4 engine aircraft is going to have trouble matching reliability of a similar sized two engine craft, simple logic. And in an era where 772’s and 772-ER’s are being retired, why would you pick up a 74, even if it was free? You will burn enough fuel eventually to make it uneconomical.

    That said, I have my ride booked in the upper deck in a couple months and I’m really looking forward to it.

  12. The 747 reminds me of the original Hawaii Five-0 episodes, with the opening scene showing it landing (or taking off?). I read somewhere that the original plane used was a UAL four engine DC-8, but that it was changed to the 747 when United started flying that craft to Hawaii.

  13. A few months ago, I flew KLM’s ORD to AMS on a B747 demi freighter. KLM’s World Business Class was just fine. Fully flat seat. Lots of room around the seats. Truth is UA doesn’t want to put any more money in their 747s. Delta has the new Delta One seats on its 747s. But, Delta is getting rid of their 747s as well. Sad to see an era end.

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