With the possible exception of the supersonic Concorde, the Boeing 747 is an airliner unequalled in its iconic status. First produced in 1968, the extremely well-known aircraft held the world record for passenger capacity for 37 years. Today, hundreds of 747s are still circulating the globe on a daily basis, but their numbers have been steadily dwindling for some years, and now this much loved aircraft is seemingly being retired.
Cathay Pacific retiring 747
Cathay Pacific have announced that later this month the 747 will fly from San Francisco to Hong Kong for the very last time. This is becoming an increasingly common story, as airlines shy away from utilising arguably the most recognisable passenger jet in aviation history. The major motivation for this is the rising cost in fuel, which is inducing carriers to ground fleets of aircraft such as the 747, in favour of more modern and cost-effective airliners.
Other airlines are following suit with Cathay Pacific's decision. United Airlines has already replaced the Boeing 747 on the majority of its long-haul routes, instead opting for the more versatile 777-200. Aside from the economic motivation for this decision, the more up-to-date aircraft offers passenger amenities and services which the 747 cannot match. These include such staples of the contemporary aircraft industry such as more comfortable seats, Wi-Fi and superior in-flight entertainment.
New travel paradigm
The coming era in travel is to be defined by a new paradigm in which travellers expect to travel more often for less money, while simultaneously airlines are experiencing economic challenges due to the aforementioned spiralling fuel costs. This will require carriers to be creative and innovative in order to meet consumer demands and reduce costs to a desirable level. In accordance with this priority, Boeing has already indicated that it intends to replace the 747 with the Boeing Y3 - as part of the Boeing Yellowstone Project - in the future. Other prominent new aircraft such as the Boeing Dreamliner and A380 are equally symptomatic of this trend.
This phenomenon reflects a changing travel industry in which companies are having to think on their feet and be more flexible in the way that travelling experiences are offered to passengers. The supply and purchase of travel has become increasingly competitive in the last couple of decades, and this has necessitated both travel-related businesses and destinations to produce more modern travel solutions. This is exemplified by the British travel agent Thomas Cook, who brand their website ‘Flexible Trips.’
Although its days may be numbered, the impact of the Boeing 747 on air travel cannot be underestimated. The first and most recognisable wide-bodied ‘jumbo jet’, the 747 is often referred to as the ‘Queen of the Skies’ due to the esteem that it has accumulated. The iconic Boeing aircraft first flew commercially in 1970, appropriately between two of the world’s most prominent cities, on a New York to London flight.
With its mass transit capabilities, the Boeing 747 played a significant part in democratising international travel, and making overseas flights a feasible option for people over the world who had never previously experienced it. The huge passenger capacity of the 747 played a huge part in the lowering of travel costs over the last few decades. The sheer scale and size of the 747 was symbolically indicative of its significance, with the 747 being more than double the size of Boeing’s earlier 707 model.
The 747 as an iconic brand
While the Boeing 747 ultimately has a utilitarian remit, its impact ensures that the name and physical aircraft itself embodies something beyond its mere purpose. The 747 represents an iconic brand which would be akin to a modern consumer product today such as the iPhone. Rather than merely being a large-scale passenger aircraft, the Boeing 747 has symbolically represented a paradigm shift in popular culture, offering vastly increased access to a new way of life, and even ideology, for people from a multitude of economic backgrounds.
Few people consider what happens to retired aircraft once they have been dispensed with. The aircraft boneyard is a destination that isn't exactly common knowledge, but these storage areas in the middle of the US desert potentially offer a niche location for tourists. At present such boneyards are not accessible to visitors, but in the future, particularly as they become stocked with the revered 747, such ‘junk yards’ could become a possible visiting place for those who are passionate about aircraft.
Regardless of this, the inevitable retirement of the 747 represents the end of an era, and the beginning of a new epoch in which travel companies in particular will have to alter their operations and mentality to adjust to the shifting economic situation and evolving passenger demands.
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