Delta’s history with 747 waxes and wanes

11:57 a.m. Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 Business
Former and current employees of Delta Air Lines were invited for farewell tour of Delta 747 at Delta TechOps on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. Hyosub Shin /

It started with a group of workers that people called The Incredibles.

The Boeing Co. took an ambitious bet on the 747 and the technological leap the massive jet represented, and its team of engineers, construction workers and others managed in less than 16 months to build a jet that airlines all over the world would fly.

But Delta’s history with the 747 has been spotty over the years.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, the only remaining U.S. passenger airline to fly the 747, is retiring the plane from its fleet. In 1966, Boeing announced plans to build the 747. In 1969, the Boeing 747-100 made its first flight. The 747's distinctive "hump" could be used as a first-class lounge, extra seating or as cargo space. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines first operated the 747 in the 1970s. In this Oct. 1970 photo, a Delta crew gets set to take off on a pre-inaugural flight over north Georgia. As far

Atlanta-based Delta was among the many carriers that began flying the 747 soon after it debuted, with its first flight on Oct. 25, 1970 on a daily route from Atlanta to Dallas to Los Angeles.

The four-engine 747 was nearly three times larger than the next-largest jet flying at the time.

Delta’s early 747s had the first “flying penthouse apartment” on the upper deck, a set of six seats sold as a unit and staffed by a dedicated flight attendant, next to the first class lounge. Those 747s were also the first Delta planes to have overhead bins that closed, instead of just open racks, and the first to have “Deltasonic” personal audio systems “playing the Beatles, Burt Bacharach and Beethoven.”

But in 1974, Delta decided the 747 was “too large for its routes” and started trading them back to Boeing. Delta stopped flying the 747 altogether in 1977.

It took until 2008, when Delta acquired Northwest Airlines and its fleet including 747s, for the jumbo jet to return to Delta’s fleet.

But nearly ten years later, Delta is retiring the 747 for a second time, replacing it with newer, more fuel-efficient Airbus A350s.

Fun facts on the 747


AJC Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi keeps you updated on the latest news about Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Delta Air Lines and the airline industry in metro Atlanta and beyond. You'll find more on, including these stories:

Never miss a minute of what's happening in local business news. Subscribe to