Delta to retire Boeing 747 from U.S. passenger airline fleet

The iconic Boeing 747 jumbo jet will fly its final commercial flight for a U.S. passenger airline with a Delta Air Lines flight Tuesday.

Delta, the only remaining U.S. passenger airline to fly the 747, is retiring the plane from its fleet and taking the “Queen of the Skies” on a farewell tour with a stop in Atlanta.

Atlanta-based Delta’s last commercial 747 flight will be Dec. 19 from Seoul to Detroit. However, Delta will use the 747 to fly some charter flights this year before retiring the planes to Arizona in early January. United Airlines retired the 747 from its fleet earlier this month. However, foreign carriers and cargo carriers still fly the 747.

Also Tuesday, the employee farewell tour on a Delta 747s will stop in Atlanta with a hangar party, in between stops at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. where 747s were produced, and the airline’s Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul hubs.

Employees and retirees had the chance to buy seats on the farewell flights, and Delta frequent fliers in November had the chance to bid miles for a spot on the flights.

The 747-400s flown by Delta are outfitted with 376 seats, with a cruising speed of 564 miles per hour and a range of 7,365 miles. The 747 is more than 62 feet tall with a wingspan of 213 feet.

Delta is replacing the 747 with Airbus A350 wide-body jets, which Delta has called its “new flagship aircraft.” Delta launched flights on the A350 on Oct. 30 on its Detroit-Tokyo route, and is also now using the A350 for Detroit-Seoul flights.

History of the Boeing 747

1966: Boeing announces it will build the 747, which would be able to carry as many as 490 passengers.

1967: Boeing employees called “the Incredibles” begin building the 747 at a new plant in Everett, Wash. They complete the task in only 16 months.

1969: The Boeing 747-100 makes its first flight.

1970: Pan American World Airways operates its first commercial flight on the Boeing 747 on a route from New York to London. Later in the year, Continental Airlines becomes one of the first carriers to operate the 747 on a domestic flight, from Chicago to Los Angeles to Honolulu. United also starts flying the 747 in 1970.

1970s: Delta first operated the 747 was in the 1970s.

1977: NASA takes delivery of a modified 747-100 to carry the Space Shuttle.

1985: United announces a plan to acquire Pan Am’s Pacific routes and 11 747s.

1980s: Northwest was Boeing’s launch customer for the 747-400.

1988: The 747-400 debuts, with a winsgpan of 212 feet.

1990: Two 747-200s were modified to serve as Air Force One, replacing the VC-137s (707s) that had been the presidential airplane for nearly 30 years.

1999: Assembly of a militarized 747-400 freighter begins for the U.S. Air Force.

2000: Longer-range 747-400ERs debut, with a range of 7,670 nautical miles, 410 miles more than the standard 747-400.

2005: Boeing announces the 747-8, which would incorporate technology from the 787 Dreamliner.

2006: U.S. Air Force’s YAL-1 debuts, its militarized 747-400 freighter for its Airborne Laser program.

2008: Delta acquires Northwest, adding the 747 back to its fleet by inheriting Northwest’s fleet of 747s.

2009: The first Delta-branded 747 flies out of Atlanta for the first time since 1977, on a route to Honolulu. It marks the beginning of the 747’s periodic appearance at Hartsfield-Jackson.

2012: Hartsfield-Jackson’s new international terminal opens, and Delta puts the Boeing 747 on its Atlanta-Tokyo route.

2012: Lufthansa takes delivery of the first Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental.

2014: Delta orders Airbus A350 wide-body jets to replace the Boeing 747 jets it plans to retire in 2017, as well as replacing Boeing 767-300ERs.

2014: Boeing delivers its 1,500th 747 to Lufthansa, the first wide-body airplane in history to hit the 1,500 mark.

2016: A Delta 747 crosses a street on its way to the Delta Flight Museum, where it would be made into an exhibit.

March 2017: Delta opens its ‘747 Experience’ exhibit at its museum.

Nov. 7, 2017: United Airlines operates its final 747 flight on a route from San Francisco to Honolulu, with a “throwback” themed celebration recreating the first 747 flight flown by United in 1970.

October 2017: UPS orders 14 new 747-8 cargo jets, with options for another 14.

December 2017: Delta retires the 747 from commercial service. The retirement of the 747 from Delta’s fleet will also mark the the end of the 747 in the U.S. passenger airline fleet.

Source: Boeing, United, AJC research.


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:

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