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Exclusive: On Board Delta’s 747 SEA-ATL Farewell Flight (+Photos/Videos)

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Exclusive: On Board Delta’s 747 SEA-ATL Farewell Flight (+Photos/Videos)

Exclusive: On Board Delta’s 747 SEA-ATL Farewell Flight (+Photos/Videos)
December 21
09:01 2017

Written in collaboration with Chris Sloan

ATLANTA — The airline industry lives in constant motion. Airlines try to survive in the harshest of financial and operational environments with margins that are as tight as few other clusters in the world, while manufacturers try to keep up by producing profit-making machines.

Today, airlines have become unforgiving when it comes to keeping their numbers in the black. And that’s why putting an aircraft to sleep once it becomes slightly unprofitable is not an uncommon thing to see.

Enter the glorious, iconic Queen of the Skies—aka the Boeing 747. The American manufacturer tried hard to keep the four-engined behemoth flying for much longer, even by offering a re-engined, more efficient 747-8 Intercontinental. However, on the sidelines, they also created what ultimately ended killing the 747: a profit beast, the Boeing 777.

The more fuel-efficient, technology-driven, and slightly smaller twin-engine family of wide-bodies have practically abolished the viability of the world’s most famous jumbo jet. And so United Airlines (UA) and Delta Air Lines (DL) have decided to put their Queens to sleep with a set of farewell flights that will hardly be forgotten.

The Queen’s Farewell Tour

Fortunately, all the history behind the 747 and the airlines that operated it, is something that people don’t want to forget. Both United and Delta worked diligently to honor the Queen’s retirement, and Airways was invited to be part of it.

Read More: Farewell Friend Ship 747: Final Curtain Call For United’s 747-400
Read More: United 747 Retirement: Newark Employee Farewell Tour

The Atlanta-based airline planned a tour through its most significant hubs, starting at Detroit (DTW) with a superbly particular flight to where the aircraft was conceived, at the Paine Field (PAE), Everett assembly line.

Secondly, the aircraft was flown from PAE to the neighboring Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), where a large hangar party and the farewell ceremony was to be held with the airline’s TechOps division.

The following morning, on December 19, the third leg of this tour would take numerous lucky employees, 10 Delta Frequent Flyers, and the Airways team from SEA to the airline’s home base in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL).

The last leg would wrap the tour up with a flight to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) on December 20, closing over four decades of history between Delta, Northwest, and the 747.

Minneapolis-St. Paul was not only the one-time hub for Northwest 747s and the departed airline’s home base but was the Jumbo maintenance base right up until the end.

A Party Fit for a Queen

On Monday Night, Delta threw a First Class hangar party for its SEA-TAC based employees. It was an apropos location given that the 747 was born in the Seattle area.

The party was chock full of many activities, including opportunities to autograph the jet, tour the airplane, buy souvenirs to benefit the AirLoom Project, and even a simulated A350 virtual reality experience—the aircraft replacing the 747 as Delta’s flagship.

The star of tonight’s #DL747Farewell party in Seattle, N670US (MSN 24225 / LN 804), was first delivered to Northwest back in August 1990.

A number of special guests were invited to come forward to speak to the party, including Delta 747 Captain, Paul Gallaher, who will fly the last 747 into retirement. “This plane was a flying building. A village. As sweet as she was with 400 people, this was like home. There will never be another plane like it,” he said.

Christie L’Allier, a Delta Flight Attendant, held back tears as she said, “This plane is our story. We have immense gratitude to her for destinations we could never have imagined in our wildest dreams. For many of these pilots, this plane is their finale. I remember the flight attendants taking naps in the overhead crew closet, just don’t tell anyone.”

Tim Steele, General Manager Delta TechOps also remarked that “This airplane drew a lot of talent. I led the crews that inducted 6603, the first 747-400 delivered to an airline. Maybe with it retiring, it’s telling me something. Enjoy the house that Richard (Anderson) built.”

Following the speeches, Delta displayed numerous attention-getting videos on a three-story high screen, shaped like a 747 tail.

Early Morning Celebration

Following the previous night’s emotional ceremony at SEA’s Delta TechOps hangar, a 06:00 departing flight to ATL asked for its excited passengers to arrive at the airport at 04:30.

As people gathered in front of gate S8 at the Delta exclusive boarding area, an army of heavyweight, experienced Captains arrived bearing smiles and their impeccable uniforms, cheerfully greeting all the passengers who were proudly wearing the unique Farewell t-shirts that were available for sale at the event.

Boarding initiated at 05:20 after a few announcements from gate agents, a Flight Attendant, and even a few pilots who took the chance to thank everyone for joining this emotional occasion.

As we made our way down the jetway, two event organizers handed out commemorative lanyards with a Farewell Flight badge and posed for photos.

Upon reaching the L2 door of the Boeing 747-400, the 14 Flight Attendants of this unique flight had already begun the onboard festival, posing for photos at the aircraft’s stairwell holding a large carton replica of the retiring airliner.

After the photoshoot ended, we entered the aircraft and walked to the very last row in the economy class cabin to our assigned seats in row 67. We had been assigned to the last row of the last flight between Delta’s SEA and ATL hubs. No complaints!

At the back of the Queen, after settling in, we found a cheerful Flight Attendant named Jeff Zetty, who surprisingly, had been “assigned” on this flight, rather than bidding for it.

“I can’t believe I just got assigned to be on this special flight,” Zetty told Airways. Other Flight Attendants had to bid the trip, however, they were all Seattle based. On this flight, the most senior Flight Attendant had been with Delta for 46 years.

Zetty, however, has been with Delta for 20 years. “I’ve flown almost every airplane on Delta’s fleet. And even though the 747 is marvelous, I have to say my favorite has been the L-1011,” he admitted.

According to Delta, employees were chosen to experience this flight as passengers via an internal contest, in which applications were received and processed based on good standing, emotional connection to the aircraft, seniority, and other variables.

The only non-employee passengers were 10 Delta Frequent Flyers who bid in the SkyMiles Experience program to benefit the AirLoom Project.

According to Delta, this is “an employee-driven, grassroots effort to create a lasting legacy by bringing all Delta employees together, past and present, in honoring our most majestic heirloom: the Boeing 747—ship 6301—the first 747-400 ever built.”

Five separate auctions were held, with winning bids that ranged from 376,000 to 610,000 miles. All SkyMiles passengers were seated in the front DeltaOne cabin.

According to Zetty, the main cabin’s manifest for this Farewell Flight listed 145 passengers, while the DeltaOne cabin on the main deck was wholly booked with high seniority passengers and the special SkyMiles guests.

The upper deck, thankfully, was unassigned so that everyone could spend some time during the flight at the most exclusive section of the 747.

Delta deliberately didn’t fill all 376 seats on the aircraft to give a feel of exclusivity, allowing all passengers to stand up and wander around the plane during the transcontinental flight.

Due to the Atlanta Airport meltdown on Sunday, a number of guests weren’t able to make the flight. In fact, the 747 Farewell Tour faced the very real possibility of being scrubbed.

The aircraft chosen for today’s special DL9771 fight from SEA to ATL was N674US (MSN 30269 / LN 1232), delivered to Northwest in 1999 before joining the Delta fleet at the time the 2008 merger. This plane is the same that began the Farewell Tour from DTW-PAE-SEA on Monday.

A ‘Flying Home’ To Many

For Flight Attendant Lauren Goldman, life aboard the 747 was more than a job. “I own bragging rights here. I am ex-Northwest and have been with the 747-400 since the very beginning!” she told Airways.

Goldman was initially based in Detroit and shared some memories of her best experiences aboard the Queen of the Skies.

“A large part of my life has been on this airplane. We took troops to Kuwait. We flew it to Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, and Bangkok. We’ve been everywhere with it!” she said.

“Friendships were formed here—always 18 people traveling over to Asia for weeks, becoming one united family. The 747 has been our home. It’s sad to see her go!” she admitted.

Lauren will move to what she hopes will be a 767 or 777 once the 747 is retired. “I love flying internationally, and any twin-aisle airplane will continue making me happy,” she said.

Last On-time Departure

With the seatbelt sign finally on, it was hard to get all passengers in their seats for an on-time departure. However, at 06:15, the 747-400 was pushed back from gate S8 under a relentless Northwestern rain.

The four-engined Queen began its long trek over the soaked, pitch-dark SEA taxiways while the traditional Delta safety video was shown on the aircraft’s seatback screens.

At 06:38, the plane powerfully accelerated down the runway, becoming airborne with incredible power and ease. The Queen took to the skies as smoothly as ever before.

Flown by Roster of Heavyweights

As the 747 climbed through the dense Northwestern clouds, Captain Steve Hamlon joined us at the back of the airplane and very eloquently described the tidbits of flying the Queen.

“You see, if you’re new to this plane and apply heavy inputs to the rudders, Flight Attendants at this section of the aircraft will surely yell at you when you land!” he said.

“One day, I gave my new First Officer the landing. He flew the 747 as if it were a Cessna 172. Our Flight Attendants hunted him down after they were thrown from side-to-side!” he joked.

Steve Hamlon is not a regular Captain at Delta. His record with the Queen of the Skies dates to the very beginning when the first -400 was introduced at Northwest Airlines.

“I was hired at Northwest in 1984 when nobody else was hiring,” he elucidated. “I got out of the Air Force, and the only job I could find was with this airline.”

Hamnlon started flying as Flight Engineer on the legendary Boeing 727 at Northwest. “I then transitioned to the classic 747-200, and ever since then, I’ve been in command of the Queen,” he said.

He will be transitioning to the Airbus A350 once the 747 is completely phased out in January. “I’ve already been to the A350 simulator. It’s quite something!” he said. But, according to him, the 747 is “the pinnacle of all pilots’ careers.”

Teaming up with Hamnlon, is the heavyweight of heavyweights, Captain Paul Gallaher. As a First Officer, he not only delivered the very first Boeing 747-400 (Ship 6301) from the PAE assembly line in 1989 to Northwest Airlines but will also be the one who flies the very last to the desert in January.

“I flew the 747-400 for the first time since day-one from Boeing Field to Fargo, where we did lots of touch-and-goes for Pilot training,” he noted. “At the end of the day, we were all exhausted and the Captain allowed me to land the plane in Minneapolis and hand it over to Northwest Airlines.”

And on the same day, Gallaher will have the unique distinction of bidding farewell to both the Queen of the Skies and his career as a Commercial Pilot on January 3, 2018.

“It’s hard to believe. But at age 65, it’s time for me to retire. And I will retire when I land the last 747 at the desert in Arizona,” he said.

“Coincidentally, I’ll be driving home to Phoenix after that flight ends. So it’s all one big happy coincidence.”

Asked about his feelings, Gallaher said, “I’ll keep flying on retirement. I’ve been a captain for 18 years… It’s been a lot of fun! I have a lot of mixed feelings right now.”

Premium Service, Even in Coach

As our 747 surfed through the skies, the sun began to rise in the horizon. We reached our initial cruising altitude of 39,000 feet, traveling at 996kph on an easterly heading.

This Farewell Flight between SEA and ATL was scheduled to last a quick 3 hours 54 minutes, “thanks to the incredible speed of the 747,” as said by a few Flight Attendants in the rear cabin.

The ecstatic crew began preparing the cabin for our first meal, a premium breakfast of either a hot or cold choices.

Walking up the aisles of the 747 we came across two lovely senior Flight Attendants, Lynne Blackerby and Dorrie Simpson, both ex-Northwest with plenty of flying time on the Queen.

They both held glasses of champagne and toasted with every passenger they served, showing how excited they were to be working this special flight.

As every passenger was served a glass of champagne, mimosa, orange juice, or water, one of the enthusiastic flight attendants asked everyone to raise their glasses and “toast for the Queen!”

Cheers to The Queen of the Skies. A champagne toast at 33,000 feet! Photo: Chris Sloan

While some passengers wandered around the cabin, others slept, and some others worked on their laptop computers. The cabin filled up with the breakfast scent emanating out of the large 747 galleys.

Heading into the rear heating station, we found Canadian Flight Attendant Matt Duguay mastering his hot catering serving skills.

“I’ve done this a million times,” he jokingly remarked. “I’m a proud Delta flight attendant, I live in Canada and drive every day down to Seattle to catch flights like this one,” he said while taking out of the oven hundreds of burning trays.

As every passenger was served their choice for breakfast, we sat down and enjoyed a quick bite while trying not to miss any happenings inside the gigantic 747 cabin.

Flight attendants being pampered by their Delta colleagues on the #DL747Farewell flight. Kayla Russell based in SEA and Tucker George based in MSP enjoying Business Class catering in coach!

Breakfast options for all passengers were the typical DeltaOne servings, plated on the new Alessi trays, silverware, and china—very appreciated among all passengers.

The Mastermind Behind The Farewell Tour

Anthony Levo, Global Employee Engagement Events, is the man behind the farewell flights.

He noted that the 747 Farewell Tour’s idea came from the airline’s CEO, Ed Bastian. “This all began a year ago. They asked and we executed,” he said.

“The destinations for the tour were a nod to Northwest Airlines,” he admitted. “We initially wanted to add Los Angeles, as well.”

“Everybody is so grateful that we are doing this. We had 5-6,000 employees register for the hangar parties. We ticketed 220 passengers per flight because we had cancellations, as people couldn’t get out of Atlanta because of the power meltdown.”

According to Levo, a total of 660 total employees bid for the flights, as well as 30 SkyMiles passengers.

In-Flight Trivia, Second Meal

The Delta Team in charge of the in-flight party organized a trivia contest with 747-themed questions, giving away special Farewell Flight bags to the winners. The contests were held cabin by cabin, each given special names like “The Whale”.

Questions were in the range of “How many steps are there from the main to the upper deck of a 747?” and “How many miles of cable on a 747?” with immediate winners awarded among the savvy aviation enthusiast crowd.

A happy winner of the inflight trivia contest. Photo by: Chris Sloan

Once the trivia ended, a second meal option was offered—one hour after breakfast! A choice of a turkey wrap or a cobb salad were available, with most passengers indulging in the enhanced food offerings despite being full from the hearty breakfast.

Living Delta Legends

As we roamed around the cabin, we came across one of Delta’s proudest living legends. Her name is Christine L’Allier, an energetic Flight Attendant who was initially hired by Northwest in 1986 at the airline’s Minneapolis base, and the one who spoke at the previous night’s event.

“It was right after the merger with Republic Airlines,” she explained. “Even though my first flight was on a 727, I was called to fly my first international trip on the 747. The catch was, I had to fly with the Seattle crew! I was terrified,” she said.

Since then, L’Allier became the biggest fan of the 747. “My fondest memory is all my fellow crew members that shared those unforgettable trips with me,” she said.

“These are people that you’ve never seen in your life, and within 15 minutes, they become family.”

Now that the 747 is leaving, L’Allier tells Airways that her next favorite plane will be Airbus A330, as the A350 “still needs some work to get up my ranks.”

Airways will be featuring a full interview with Christine L’Allier in an upcoming issue.

Throughout the convivial flight, nostalgic passengers swapped stories, snapped selfies, cued to visit the Upper Deck and even autographed the overhead bins with kisses.

More Experienced Pilots Taking Shifts

With less than an hour left of flying time, First Officer Hank Allen came to the back of the plane to share a few thoughts with Airways.

“My time with the 747-400 begun in 1990,” he said. “But this is my 40th year with Northwest and Delta combined.”

Allen is proud to be onboard this flight because of his father—a former Eastern Air Lines Boeing 747 Captain—was in a DeltaOne seat enjoying some flying time with his son.

Hank Allen’s history with both carriers began with the DC-9. “I then transitioned to the Boeing 737 as an instructor, and then climbed up to the 747-400! It’s been a fun ride,” he said.

Asked about his favorite flight decks, he admitted that “I don’t like the 737’s cockpit. It’s too tight! I prefer the 747-400’s better.”

He will now transition to either the Airbus A330-300 or Boeing 767-400 and will be upgraded as Captain. Allen and other pilots operating the 747 Farewell Tour had earlier autographed the distinctive hump on the 747 from the cockpit escape hatch.

A few minutes after our conversation with Allen, Captain Rusty Bliss, one of Delta’s most renowned and senior pilots, introduced himself and revealed that he will be transitioning to the A350 once the 747 is out.

“I’m very excited about the technology the Airbus has to offer. But I have to be honest—I’m going to miss the redundancy of having four engines!” he said.

Similarly, First Officer Michelle Dietz, who flew the first part of the flight with Captain Bliss, will miss the Queen of the Skies. However, she is very much looking forward to being upgraded to Captain on the Boeing 737-900(ER).

“I’ve been with Northwest and Delta for 20 years,” says Dietz. “I was a Flight Engineer on the Boeing 747-200 and then First Officer on the DC-9, on and off for 20 years.”

“I have to say, upgrading to Captain on the 737-900 makes me very happy. I love the idea of upgrading. It’s going to be amazing. I’m looking forward to making decisions and the challenges that the four stripes bring on the table,” she confessed.

“The only thing I need to be aware of, I’d better not flare as high as when I flare the 747!”

The Last Descent into Atlanta

The end of this final flight to Atlanta came too rapidly. Flight Attendants prepared the cabin for arrival, and the 747 blissfully approached Delta’s largest base under typically sunny skies.

Before touchdown, the fantastic group of Flight Attendants and Pilots agreed to sign a safety card of the Boeing 747-400—a memento that will remain as a precious item of flying history.

The last minutes of this Farewell Flight were captured through video and hundreds of photo cameras. The Captain invited all guests to take as many photos as they could, especially after landing as a water cannon salute awaited.

Even with connections to make, passengers seemed very reluctant to disembark Ship 674 in Atlanta.

The next day, she would continue on to MSP for the final leg of the 747 Farewell Tour. Her final mission is scheduled to be flying the Clemson football team for the Sugar Bowl. After that, Captain Paul Gallaher, with his family aboard, will fly her to retirement at Pinal Airpark, Arizona in the Desert.

The Queen of the Skies may be retiring but she will never abdicate her throne.

Airways thanks the Delta team for making this story possible.


About Author

Enrique Perrella

Enrique Perrella

Commercial Pilot and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Graduate. Aviation MBA, Av-Gas Addict, Spotter, Globetrotter, Airplane Collector, Cook, AS Roma fan, and on my free time, I fly the Airways Ship. Favorite airline, airport and aircraft: Viasa, Tokyo-Haneda, and MD-11. Love to Fly, Fly to Love.

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