Trip report introduction: One…I mean…two final rides on the United Airlines 747

01. Introduction: One…I mean…two final rides on the United Airlines 747
02. United Airlines 737-800 economy class San Diego to San Francisco
03. United Airlines 747-400 upper deck Polaris business class San Francisco to San Francisco
04. United Airlines 747-400 upper deck Polaris business class San Francisco to Seoul
05. Asiana business class lounge, ICN
06. Asiana Airlines A330-300 business class Seoul to Hong Kong
07. Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel and Towers
08. The Bridge – Cathay Pacific business class lounge, HKG
09. American Airlines 777-300/ER business class Hong Kong to Los Angeles
10. American Airlines ERJ-175 first class Los Angeles to San Diego

As much as I hate to say it, now is not a good time to be a fan of the 747. What was once the flagship aircraft for a variety of airlines all over the world is now dangerously high on the endangered species list, and it won’t be long until they’re gone for good. That’s really hard for me to digest considering that the 747 has been the queen of the skies for my entire life – and I’ve been around for a while!

United 747-400 tulip colors LAX

Here’s a pic that I shot of a United Airlines 747-400 departing from runway 25R at LAX way back in November 2008. A common sight back then!

Here in the United States, Delta and United (the last remaining US operators of the 747–400) have been busy putting the final nail in the coffin of the queen. Heck, United already retired their last one, which flew from San Francisco to Honolulu on November 7th. Delta will fly their last one from ICN to DTW on December 17. Can someone please hand me a tissue? *sniff* *sniff*

Everybody’s personal experience with the 747 is different, but there is something about the United 747 that pulls at my heart strings more than any other aircraft. My first ever ride on the queen was with United from Los Angeles to Honolulu back in May of 1998 (it was my first trip to Hawaii as well) – an amazing experience that I’ll never forget, and I’m still kicking myself for not taking any pictures or video of the experience. Especially since it was a 747–100, which was a very rare aircraft even at that time. The return flight back to Los Angeles was also loads of fun – despite being very sick with food poisoning obtained from a little hole in the wall restaurant in somewhere deep in the heart of Waikiki. A little food poisoning wasn’t going to spoil my 747 fun, though I did have to pass on the in-flight meal…just in case. Yes, they served full meals in economy class on that route back then.

A United airlines 747–400 was the aircraft that took me on my first trip to Asia back in 2002. Countless others shuttled me to Japan and back over the years to visit family. And whenever passing through SFO in recent times, walking over to the international terminal to get an up close look at all those United 747‘s lined up in a row had been my number one way to kill time between flights. But now, they’re all gone.

United airlines 747 battleship gray colors Hong Kong French please d

N109UA getting ready to fly me from HKG to ORD back in the spring of 2002.

United airlines 747–400 interior

Another United Airlines 747 bringing me home from a trip to Japan in late 2012.

United airlines 747’s at SFO

A once-familiar sight here at SFO that I’m really going to miss! 🙁

Knowing that the time was running out for the United 747, I started looking at the possibility of getting my last ride on one sometime back in September of this year. Much to my delight, I found ample award space (in all classes) on one of the last remaining 747 routes out of San Francisco right up until the day of retirement. I’m not sure why United chose Seoul as one of the last destinations for this aircraft, but it didn’t matter to me since it’s a city I love dearly and I always love finding excuses to visit.

However, while playing around with award availability options, I noticed that this particular flight connected perfectly with an Asiana 747-400 down to Hong Kong. Business class award availability was wide open on that flight as well, so I figured that I would be stupid not to take it. Two 747’s in one day for one huge final farewell to the queen? Hong Kong it is then!

The bummer is that I didn’t have enough MileagePlus or Chase Membership Rewards points in my account to be able to get a return back to the US on the 747 as well. I did, however, have a lot of American Advantage points sitting around doing nothing which ended up being perfect since it gave me the opportunity to try their flagship business class product on the 777–300/ER from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. Was this shaping up to be incredible itinerary, or what?

Here’s the way it looked when I booked it all:

10/19/17 UA621 737-800 economy class San Diego to San Francisco
10/19/17 UA893 747-400 upper deck business class San Francisco to Seoul
10/20/17 OZ745 747-400 upper deck business class Seoul to Hong Kong
10/23/17 AA192 777-300/ER business class Hong Kong to Los Angeles
10/23/17 AA6074 ERJ-175 first class Los Angeles to San Diego

Unfortunately, as it happens sometimes when it comes to air travel, delays and cancellations can come out of nowhere. Making things worse was the fact that the delay I experienced on this trip had to do with the 747 out of San Francisco, which screwed things up and caused me to miss the Asiana 747 down to Hong Kong. Bummer, right? Yes, but at least I can say that the delay was entertaining and provided for some epic blog content which you’ll read about soon. I’m not going to give too much away right now, but…my condolences to the family of the birds that we ingested on our initial departure out of SFO.

united airlines 747 birdstrike

The culprit of our delay. I’ll explain all the gory details later…

That little mishap ended up causing a change of aircraft…and one big, fat, six hour delay. By the time we finally got into the air and were on our way to ICN, I had no idea how the heck I was going to get down to Hong Kong. We would be arriving too late to make any international connections, so it was anyone’s guess as to what was going to happen once we landed. All I could do was try and put it out of my mind and instead focused my attention on my last flight on the United queen.

Thankfully, once on the ground in Seoul, I was given a voucher for a hotel and a confirmed seat in business class on an Asiana flight down to Hong Kong the next morning.

Here’s what the final itinerary look like once all of that settled:

10/19/17 UA621 737-800 economy class San Diego to San Francisco
10/19/17 UA893 747-400 upper deck business class San Francisco to Seoul
10/21/17 OZ721 A330-300 business class Seoul to Hong Kong
10/23/17 AA192 777-300/ER business class Hong Kong to Los Angeles
10/23/17 AA6074 ERJ-175 first class Los Angeles to San Diego

As you can see, I lost my chance to get a ride on that Asiana 747. On the flipside, I ended up getting a ride on two different united 747‘s in one afternoon – which I consider to be a decent consolation prize for what was frustrating day of just waiting around and doing nothing at SFO.

And all in all, when I look back at this trip I feel satisfied for having had the chance to give the queen a proper goodbye – at least the one in United colors. It was a very fun and entertaining flight due to the fact that many people onboard (including the flight attendants) knew that the 747 would be gone in 2 and a half weeks, so it was kind of a party atmosphere up there on the upper deck. As a matter fact, there were several people seated around me who were taking this flight for the sole purpose of getting their final ride on a United 747, and it was fun to chat with them and reminisce about the good ‘ol days when the 747 reigned supreme.

Whether you’re a fan of the 747 or not, I think you’re really going to enjoy this trip report. Bird strikes, fuel dumps, emergency landings, and of course being spoiled rotten in international business class – this one is going to have it all!

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    1. Josh Walton November 22, 2017
      • SANspotter November 24, 2017

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