DALLAS — For aviation enthusiasts and frequent flyers, the Boeing 747 has been and still is an iconic aircraft, the one that revolutionized air travel thanks to its capacity to carry more than 400 passengers within its two decks. The Jumbo Jet gave airlines the possibility to drastically reduce costs by economies of scale and gave them the tool to introduce new concepts to improve passenger comfort on long-haul flights.
The last European airline to still operate the passenger variant of the Queen of the Skies today, Lufthansa (LH) received its first unit in 1970 and the type has played a crucial role in the carrier’s history and growth for over 50 years. The aircraft not only helped LH to expand its route network and increase passenger capacity but was also a key piece to establish the carrier as one of the main players in the aviation industry, particularly in the transatlantic market.
While many European airlines such as British Airways (BA) or KLM (KL) have been forced to retire the Boeing 747 due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Lufthansa kept its trust in the aircraft. Since 2022, the German airline has found a new way to make the most of the 747 and its ability to transport more passengers on fewer flights.
Once a year, and coinciding with the rise in demand for air travel in April during the Spring Break and Easter, LH schedules separate Boeing 747 upgrades on regular flights from Frankfurt (FRA) to Palma de Mallorca (PMI).
This flight is a unique opportunity for passengers to experience the iconic aircraft on a shorter route, and it has become a popular event for aviation enthusiasts and Lufthansa fans alike, that dream to have one last chance to fly on board the most iconic airplane in the history of commercial aviation.
In this article, we will delve into this special Boeing 747 short-haul flight operated by LH once a year, and what makes it such a unique experience for passengers.
Why Upgrade to Palma De Mallorca?
A question comes up when discussing this flight. Of all the large European cities which generate enormous demand for air travel from Germany such as London or Paris, Why has LH chosen to introduce the Boeing 747-400 four separate times in April on flights to Palma de Mallorca, a city of little more than 400.000 inhabitants?
Palma is the primary vacation destination for German tourists. One of the factors that made Palma the top destination for Germans is the warm climate and beautiful island beaches, the familiarity of the Spanish people, and the lively nightlife.
Additionally, the easy access on a two-hour flight from Frankfurt or Munich has led to the formation of a large community of German ex-pats who have moved to Mallorca to open all types of businesses, including restaurants, bars, and resorts.
The demand for tourists between German cities and Palma de Mallorca is so high, that carriers such as Condor (DE) regularly schedule their largest Airbus A330, Boeing 757, and 767 aircraft on flights to the island. Additionally, Eurowings (EW), the low-cost carrier of the Lufthansa Group, opened a permanent base at the local airport that still remains in operation today with more than 45 daily flights, expanding to almost one hundred during the summer.
As a result, Palma de Mallorca, the third largest destination in Spain by passenger traffic, has become a significant hub for the German airline prior to the two largest airlines in Spain: Iberia (IB) and Air Europa (UX).
The high demand for travel, mixed with Easter and the Spring Break, made LH upgrade the flights from Frankfurt four times from an Airbus A321, seating just 200 people, to a Boeing 747, seating a total of 371 passengers.
Preparing the Flight
We chose to fly on April 23, 2023, the last one of the four Sundays of April Lufthansa chose to upgrade the flight to a Boeing 747-400. Flight LH1159 is scheduled for departure out of PMI at 16:05, arriving 2h20min later in FRA at 18:25. This is the return flight to Frankfurt, and taking into account that we were flying on one of the “return days” for tourists to their homelands, the flight was not only fully booked but even overbooked.
This is also the reason Lufthansa has chosen the Boeing 747-400 to make these flights. While not the biggest aircraft in the fleet, it is the plane that can carry the largest amount of Economy Class-booked passengers per flight, with a total of 272 Economy Class seats on board. This is because Palma is a destination much more chosen by leisure travelers rather than business travelers.
Lufthansa does own Airbus A380 aircraft with an astonishing number of 371 Economy Class seats, but these are still being reactivated and have not been reintroduced into commercial service. However, who knows if, during summer, or Easter next year, it will be the aircraft selected for these special flights if needed.
The aircraft chosen for this flight is D-ABVX, a 23.4-year-old Boeing 747-400 delivered to Lufthansa on December 22nd, 1999. It is one of the only 8 units remaining operational with the airline, and it is typical to see them flying long-haul on flights from Frankfurt to Shanghai (PVG), Toronto (YYZ), or Vancouver (YYZ).
All Lufthansa 747-400s fly with the same cabin configuration, seating 67 passengers in Business Class, 32 in Premium Economy, and 272 in Economy Class at the back of the aircraft. Interestingly, this particular registration was the 747 assigned for all four flights to Palma de Mallorca this year, happening on April 2nd, 9th, 16th, and 23rd.
Business Class on the Jumbo Jet
With a total of 67 seats, LH’s Business Class cabin upfront on the Boeing 747-400 is distributed in a 2-3-2 configuration. This layout is no longer common on long-haul airplanes; as with modern-day innovations, the seats have evolved into personal suites, all having direct access to the aisle. However, as this airplane was stored between July 2020 and October 2021, and will sadly be retired soon, it has not received the latest updates, let alone feature the upcoming Lufthansa Allegris product.
The outdated cabin is acceptable. In the end, it is not worth it for LH to make changes if the life of the aircraft is coming to an end. However, we would like to point out some pros and cons of the Business Class product itself. First of all, the entire cabin is very spacious and the big amount of natural light coming in from the outside makes the flight much more comfortable.
However, the distance between our seat and the one in front of us, which contained the IFE and some storage compartments, was very far away and, with the seatbelt fastened, it was almost unreachable.
On the other hand, the service was excellent. There were three members of the cabin crew assigned to the first section of Business Class of around 16 passengers, and the only meal service was a big and very tasty appetizer, which included fresh tartar, a fruit salad, some bread, and a beverage of choice; white wine in our case. This exceeded our expectations for a two-hour flight, as usually there is not much time to eat. However, the crew managed this gorgeously.
One of the most unique features of the Boeing 747 is that the passenger cabin extends through the entirety of the main deck. We were flying on seat number 2H, so this meant that actually we were flying seated further ahead that the very own pilots of the Jumbo Jet!
Moving to Economy at the Back of the Plane
Moving to the very end of the Boeing 747-400, we encounter ourselves with a total of 272 basic Economy Class seats distributed in a wild 3-4-3 configuration. It does sound tight, but thanks to the 20 feet width of the cabin, this layout is more than comfortable. The seat is very thick and the legroom is very spacious. The very good comfort of the Economy Class product is related to the age of the airplane, as modern-day cabins tend to make slimmer seats and decrease legroom in order to increase passenger capacity.
The Inflight Entertainment System, however, was small and old and the screen had some electronic issues. Despite this, the film selection was world-class, including more than 220 movie titles and 67 TV series episodes. This catalog was the same as in Business Class and is more than sufficient to not get bored on a long-haul flight. Universal power outlets were also included, but their placement under the legs was very uncomfortable and the charger was continuously failing to remain plugged.
While passengers in Business Class were offered a very well-sized appetizer, including a main dish, a desert, and a beverage, people at the back of the plane were only offered a little bottle of water after takeoff accompanied by the now very typical little Lufthansa chocolate, nothing more. It is a shame to see airlines keep drifting away from the good tradition to serve, at least, some more options of complimentary beverages, as those were also offered but for an additional fare.
All in all, if we needed to choose any airplane to fly on board a long-haul flight, this Boeing 747-400 would be one of the first options to come to mind. Its large cabin, with the addition of very spacious and comfortable seats, made this two-hour journey very pleasant for us even in Economy Class.
An Enthusiastic Atmosphere
The iconic silhouette and role of the Boeing 747 in the aviation industry have cemented its place as one of the most beloved airplanes not only by aviation enthusiasts but also by airlines and manufacturers. Now, however, that most carriers around the world have phased out their units, many of them also being influenced due to the COVID-19 crisis, it is rare to watch and fly on board the Queen of the Skies than ever before.
Today, if someone wants to experience the true feeling of flying on such an iconic airplane, the most common and easy option is to book a long-haul flight on a very specific route and airline that still uses the Jumbo Jet as part of its fleet. This choice in most occasions is not only difficult to organize, but also very expensive. That’s why when it was announced that Lufthansa was introducing the Boeing 747 on this short-haul hop across Europe, the seats for these flights were filled quicker than ever.
For every 10 passengers on board this flight, we could estimate that at least eight of them were there just to fly the 747-400 like we also did. Upon arrival from Frankfurt, and after terminating the flight, crowds of people recording, and taking photos with their cameras gathered to watch the aircraft, and the pilots and cabin crew received an enormous queue to see the cockpit after landing in FRA.
The cabin crew, who have worked with the Boeing 747 for years, was also very emotional during this journey, and some stewardesses handed out spare safety cards of the airplane to all aviation geeks that wanted to keep a little souvenir to remember this legendary plane.
After announcing the order for 10 Airbus A350-1000 jets at the beginning of March, Lufthansa stated that the Boeing 747-400 will leave the fleet in the medium-term future, with up to six units expected to be phased out sooner than later. However, even though the Jumbo Jet will eventually get retired, it will be remembered as the most legendary and successful aircraft of the modern aviation era.
Featured image: The view of our aircraft, D-ABVX, after arriving from Frankfurt at PMI’s gate C54. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways