Memories of the 744…

G-CIVN in Oneworld livery in May 2011 at Heathrow T5B

The first 747 I ever flew on was out of Heathrow back in 1986, one of the 747-200’s with circular staircase to the upper deck, on my first trip to New York. Going up the staircase was something else, a real experience and there was unquestionably something very glamorous about the upper deck experience. Camera film was expensive back then and I just didn’t waste my shots of the inside of an aircraft. Now I so wish I had!

Long haul flying was something of a luxury back then, your average prices were four times what you’d expect to pay for the same thing now, and proportionately a substantial part of your annual income! That return trip cots me over two months pay!

Over northern Greenland, May 26 2012 G-CIVY BA285 to SFO It was also so wonderfully British to see a pair of Rolls Royce Engines keeping you airborne!

It would be years before the 747 and I would cross paths again, flying on American Airlines MD-11’s and 772’s and even Concorde on two trips, in subsequent years.

It would be 2011 and then 2012 on the way to and from San Francisco when the BA 744’s were next encountered.

In 2011 I was just being tight fisted and chose the very rear most left side in economy, where BA had them down to just two seats in three rows. It was horribly uncomfortable as a seat goes but so much nicer than being in the wider rows forward. The food was terrible.

The sound of the 747 from inside the cabin

In 2012 we flew off on our honeymoon on G-CIVY and back on G-CIVJ, and that last flight was to be my last long haul on BA. We were in Premium Economy and my return meal just exploded, BA wouldn’t do anything about it, and other than a final flight in a disgustingly dirty inside and out 737-400 to Salzburg, BA and I parted ways.

In following years Virgin Atlantic carried us on 744’s G-VBIG and G-VHOT, and then they too, were gone. No matter what anyone says, Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow 744’s were far nicer than BA’s, especially after they were refurbished in 2010-13. I had a long chat with the senior pilot flying over Greenland again, when he asked me as I peered out of the port side No2 Door window, if I was “planning to get off”. Everyone else was sat in darkness with their shades down, while the stunning scenes of arctic ice and Greenlandic mountains of Kong Christian X Land slide beneath us 33,000 feet below, blistering white, grey-black and crystal clear.

G-VBIG over central Greenland

The noise is the first thing about a 744. On take off they are awesome, but far too noisy for a modern airport in a densely populated area. Their climb rate was staggering on the RB-211 engines, and they were quiet for their era, but nothing like the near silence on a modern A350 that airlines and those who live near airports have come to demand and expect.

Many colleagues thought the A380 was less comfortable, especially in bad weather, and turbulence, but to be fair, the aircraft that beat them both for me in overall comfort, until the advent of the A359, was the A340-600.

Right over my house at 19,000 ft – I miss seeing them! G-VBIG
Delta’s old 744 N666US JFK-Tel Aviv 45,000 ft line of sight April 2014

There’s no doubting the historic nature of the 744, nor peoples genuine fondness for it, both in its now classic design and its relentless persistence at being the best for nearly 50 years. Sold in volumes that made it cheap to maintain, relatively easy to update, it was a no brainer to keep them soldiering on.

United 744, gone for good, flying round the bay to SFO over my house, around 9,000ft

Yet everything has its day and eventually comes to an end. The Covid pandemic has seen the end of 744 passenger operations in the UK.

I’m pretty sure from the wording that BA’s press release is suggesting the possibility that one or two final flights for crews of years gone by and some lucky passengers (they’ll pick the top Executive Club members first), might get the chance. For the rest of us its over and out…

Where the BA 744’s are today, 17 July 2020

I’ve spent a long time knowing that history is literally flying by. In the past decade we’ve lost virtually all 744 passenger aircraft in the UK, all A340-600’s, All A340-300’s. Globally numbers have dropped 80% in terms of four engine aircraft and if A380’s are culled at their current rate even they will be history before long.

The harsh realities of commercial aviation have shrunk airline types to a handful, and they will decline in variation even more in coming months and years.