MIAMI — After over four and a half decades of flying with Air France, the iconic Boeing 747 flew out of the fleet and into retirement on January 11th as flight 439 from Mexico City operated by a 747-400 (F-GITJ / MSN 32871 / LN 1343) touched down at Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Upon arrival in Paris on the 11th, the final 747 flight taxied in front of Air France Headquarters where hundreds of employees waved farewell. A final water salute was given as the jumbo made one final turn in front of emotional employees. As the final chapter of the Air France 747 comes to a close, we are one step closer to seeing the end of the 747-400 in passenger service altogether.

As flight AF439 arrived from Mexico City, it was saluted with the traiditional water cannon, as part of the ceremony of retirement of the 747. (Credits: Air France)

While the honor flights are restricted to executives, Air France employees, and VIP customers, the general public will also be given the opportunity to visit the Queen of the Skies before she heads to storage. Partnering with the Air and Space Museum at Le Bourget, Air France is inviting members of the public to serve a tour of the 747 on January 16th and 17th by reserving an appointment. The free tour will allow visitors to tour the ramp with 747 mechanics, view business and economy class, and visit the upper deck and cockpit with an Air France pilot.

Air France 747: Over 45 years of glamour in the Skies

The Boeing 747 entered service with Air France on June 3rd, 1970 with a flight from Paris to New York.  In the 747’s cabin, Air France created a culture of service innovation. The introduction of a chief purser enabled the coordination of service and attention paid to customers in an aircraft which could carry up to 500 passengers. Inflight cuisine was of great importance, with menus designed by great French chefs: Paul Bocuse, Gaston Lenôtre and Pierre Troisgros, who forged exclusive partnerships with Air France. And the cabin interior was designed by Pierre Gautier-Delaye, who paid particular attention to the comfort of the seat cushions and seatbacks.

This Boeing 747-100 (F-BPVH / MSN 20378 / LN 177) served with Air France during 22 years, between 1972 and 1994. (Credits: Air France)

Within a few years, the 747 became the flagship of the Air France fleet, primarily operating long haul flights to North America and Asia. Air France took delivery of its first 747-100 in 1970 and received its first 747-200F in 1974. The carrier would later add the 747-200B in 1977, the 747-300 and 747-400 in 1991, and two variations of the 747-400F in 2002 and 2009. In total, Air France operated 52 747 aircraft across seven variants, flying every type of 747 except the 747SP and the 747-8.

Air Canada, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Singapore Airlines began to phase out the Boeing 747-400 from their fleets. In the case of Air France, the carrier began to withdraw from use its 747-400s in 2012, which were subsequently replaced by a mix of Boeing 777-300ERs and Airbus A380s. The last 747F already left the Air France Cargo fleet in 2014.

As the Air France crews of the last five 747-400s in service have been redeployed on the Boeing 777 or the Airbus A320, and since there are no plans to put any 747-400 for long-run display in any museum, the 747-100 currently on display at the Air & Space Museum at Le Bourget will be the sole witness of the Golden Jumbo era at the French carrier.

Despite Air France’s retirement of the 747, the presence of the Queen of the Skies in Europe is guaranteed in the years to come. In fact, in September 2015 British Airways announced it will retrofit 18 747-400’s with new interiors and update their in-flight entertainment options. Other European operators of the 747 include KLM (24 aircraft), Cargolux (22), Virgin Atlantic (10), and Lufthansa (32). The German carrier is the sole operator in Europe of the 747-8 Intercontinental.

On the other hand, the scenario seems to be grim in North America, as Delta Air Lines and United Airlines have planned the retirement of their 747s in the short term. Delta will retire its last 747 in 2017, which will be replaced by 25 Airbus A350-900s. United, with a fleet of 22 747s, began to phase these out as well, and plans to replace the type with the Airbus A350-1000, which is expected to join the Chicago-based carrier fleet in 2018.