Written by: Bill Sablesak
MIAMI – This fall United Airlines (UAL) will say goodbye to the Queen of Skies, as they retire the iconic Boeing 747 (B747) aircraft from their huge fleet. The last regular UAL B747 service is scheduled to be operated on October 29, 2017, from Seoul, South Korea (ICN) to San Francisco, CA (SFO).
However, in an awesome tribute to this amazing airplane, United will operate a very special final flight on November 7, 2017, from San Francisco, CA (SFO) to Honolulu, HI (HNL), recreating United’s first B747 revenue flight that took place on this same route during the summer of 1970.
From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro Flight Attendant uniforms and in-flight entertainment from that era, customers will indeed send the Queen of the Skies off in a manner that she deserves.
This flight is expected to be completely sold out and full of aviation enthusiasts including, of course, at least one Airways correspondent. Sadly, there will be no room for any United non-rev Employees, no matter their seniority, due to the overwhelming demand.
However, not to fear! In order to allow employees to also be a part of the goodbye to this iconic plane, United’s leadership, exemplifying the “New Spirit of United”, arranged the Boeing 747 to visit United’s domestic U.S. hubs on a farewell employees only tour in order to give as many of 90,000 employees one last chance to view, touch, and feel the great aircraft.
The United-U.S. hubs include San Francisco, CA (SFO), Los Angeles, CA (LAX), Houston, TX (IAH), Washington, DC (IAD), Newark, NJ (EWR), Chicago, IL (ORD), and Denver, CO (DEN). The Boeing 747 is scheduled to visit each of these airports between October 12 and October 26, 2017, on her final lap around the system.
However, with 90,000 worldwide employees, many of whom are aviation enthusiasts, the demand is still more than available seats, so United held a random drawing for those interested and amazingly my name was somehow selected for the Houston, TX (IAH) “Boeing 747 Employee Hub Flying” visit on a two hour flight set by October 18, 2017. YAY!!
Of course travel to and from IAH, the overnight stay, and any other expenses was my responsibility. Obviously, well worth it. Also, I had to be off that day and not scheduled to fly my normal UAL B737 out of my EWR base.
Somehow, all stars aligned! The only downside, I couldn’t bring along my Delta Air Lines (DAL) A320 Captain wife, Susie, with me. Not enough room for her or DAL. Too many UAL folks. Oh well, I asked twice!
So on the evening of October 17, I headed off to IAH by myself so I could be at the departure gate no later than 0700, bright and early, for next morning scheduled push at 0800.
Upon arrival at the IAH UAL Ticket Counter area, I found a “Welcome Counter” set up for the special flight and I was welcomed, processed in, and presented with my boarding pass. Seat 38J. Then I proceeded through security and headed to Gate D2, where festive balloons and more were set up for the Special Flight.
I was awarded the Flight Deck Jumpseat, along with United’s Chief Operations Officer (COO), Mr. Greg Hart.
UA2774 pushed back a couple minutes late due to all the festivities at 08:20 with Captain Dave Smith in Command, assisted by First Officer Robert Olea. We taxied out to Runway 15L, took off into a cloudless South Texas sky and flew the RITTA5 departure, NGP Transition, then BRO, LTD, CRP, to join the HTOWN2 arrival back to IAH.
We cruised at Flight Level 180 until BRO and then climbed to Flight Level 230. At this point, Houston Center recleared us via after BRO, direct MFE, then LRD to avoid active military airspace. We were also rerouted to IAH via the TEJAS2 RNAV Arrival to join Runway 27 for landing.
Despite the very light landing weight for a Boeing 747-422, Captain Smith smoothly touched down on Runway 27 and taxied the aircraft back to Gate D2, where we were met by a water cannon salute at 1038. Block-To-Block, 2+18.
The aircraft was opened up for IAH Employee tours for a couple of hours before she was to be ferried to Washington Dulles for another Employee Hub Farewell in IAD.
Captain Smith is scheduled to fly the final UAL Boeing 747 revenue flight on November 7 from SFO-HNL.
All in all, an awesome experience and beautiful farewell to the Majestic Queen of the Skies that I was honored to be a small part of.
Thank You, United Airlines