End of the runway: British Airways drops the Boeing 747

The ‘queen of the skies’ has been superseded by smaller, more efficient jets

(Image credit: 2010 AFP)

British Airways has announced “with great sadness” that its remaining Boeing 747 jumbo jets will be retired with immediate effect, as the airline’s fleet is reshaped for the era of post-coronavirus travel.

“It is unlikely our magnificent ‘queen of the skies’ will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again due to the downturn in travel caused by the Covid-19 global pandemic,” the flagship carrier said.

(Image credit: 2019 Getty Images)

The Boeing 747 entered service with BA’s forerunner, the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), in April 1971. The plane’s first commercial flight for the airline carried passengers from a primitive-looking London Heathrow to New York.

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At the front of the plane, passengers in first class travelled in luxury - but without lie-flat beds and personal entertainment systems.

Economy cabins were a little less spacious, but still surprisingly airy by today’s standards.

Until the advent of the Airbus A380, in 2005, the Boeing 747 was unique among modern aircraft in having a second passenger deck - accessed via a spiral staircase on early models.

Passengers in the first few rows sat in front of the pilots, and could see straight ahead through the windows due to the curvature of the nose. This photo shows a BA 747 caught in a sand storm at Riyadh Airport in Saudi Arabia.

(Image credit: 2012 AFP)

Seen here coming in to land at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport, which closed in 1998, the 747 has four engines, making it less efficient than the twin-engined jets which are replacing it.

(Image credit: 2019 Crown Copyright)

To celebrate the airline’s centenary last year, British Airways revived the BOAC livery on one of its younger jumbos. BA took delivery of its final 747-400 in 1999.

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Holden Frith is The Week’s digital director. He also makes regular appearances on “The Week Unwrapped”, speaking about subjects as diverse as vaccine development and bionic bomb-sniffing locusts. He joined The Week in 2013, spending five years editing the magazine’s website. Before that, he was deputy digital editor at The Sunday Times. He has also been TheTimes.co.uk’s technology editor and the launch editor of Wired magazine’s UK website. Holden has worked in journalism for nearly two decades, having started his professional career while completing an English literature degree at Cambridge University. He followed that with a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. A keen photographer, he also writes travel features whenever he gets the chance.