HONOLULU — United Airlines promised that its last-ever passenger flight on the Boeing 747 would be a memorable one. And was it ever.
There was a fly-by of downtown San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, giving those onboard a million-dollar view of the Bay Area landmarks. Passengers pulled out polyester outfits like they were coming back in style. And a man proposed to his girlfriend on the jet’s upper deck.
The Tuesday flight from San Francisco to Honolulu — appropriately designated as United Flight 747 — officially sent United’s last remaining 747 jumbo jet into retirement. It was added as a special one-off flight, a chance for passengers to book one last flight on United’s 374-seat jumbo jet; tickets sold out within hours. On Wednesday, the plane was to return empty to San Francisco before flying to an airline “boneyard” by the week’s end. (Archives: The 'boneyard': Where airlines send old planes to be scrapped)
With that, United will not be flying passengers on Boeing’s iconic humped jumbo jet for the first time in 47 years. But, oh what an exit the 747 made for United.
It began with a festive gateside party ahead of the 11 a.m. departure from San Francisco International Airport. Flight attendants readied themselves at a nearby gate, all wearing throwback uniforms from the 1970s as part of United’s retro theme meant to evoke the 747’s debut at the airline in 1970. Dozens of passengers played along, too, donning 1970s-era outfits heavy on polyester and groovy patterns.
There were a few anxious moments after boarding when a maintenance issue seemed to threaten a long delay. But the pilot soon came over the jet’s PA system to say the problem had been resolved and that Flight 747 was set to taxi out for takeoff. Cheers erupted, and — at about noon local time — the flight took off, about an hour behind schedule.
The delay was quickly forgotten as the 747 flew low after takeoff, giving fliers onboard spectacular views of downtown San Francisco before banking over the Golden Gate Bridge for a close-up view of the city’s signature landmark. From there, there was a champagne toast as the 747 moved out over the Pacific and toward Hawaii.
There was plenty more entertainment to come on the five-plus hours of flying left before Flight 747 touched down in Honolulu, where Hawaii Gov. David Ige would eventually be on the scene to personally greet passengers.
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Among the highlights:
An upper-deck proposal
In perhaps the most dramatic moment of the flight, passenger Sean Worsley brought girlfriend Christine Ellis to the plane’s upper deck, where seats had been blocked from sale so passengers could use the area as a de facto lounge. Once there, Worsley, 32, got down on one knee and held out an engagement ring to Ellis. She said yes.
When asked why he chose this venue to pop the big question, Worsley had a good explanation.
“My mom was a flight attendant, so I grew up flying around in these things,” he said to Today in the Sky about his connection to the 747.
When United officials learned of the story, they said they would offer the couple free travel within the contiguous 48 states for their honeymoon.
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1970s fashion revival
It was hard to walk more than a few rows on Flight 747 without stumbling across a passenger who appeared to have come from the 1970s.
John Vanderford, 56, of Detroit, was among the standouts. He was singled out for an award by United for his 1970s-inspired bright yellow-green leisure suit.
“I had to be here,” Vanderford told Today in the Sky as he partied with other Flight 747 customers prior to boarding. “It’s the last 747 flight. I remember flying it as a kid, on this exact route — San Francisco to Honolulu."
A 50th birthday
While the day was a momentous one for United’s 747, at least one passenger was celebrating his own momentous day on the flight.
For Brian Engleman of San Diego, not only was Nov. 7, 2017, the date of United’s 747 farewell, but it was also his 50th birthday. He even had a special T-shirt printed to mark the occasion. The front was a tribute to the 747’s retirement at United while the back called out his own birthday.
Engleman didn’t linger in Hawaii, though. He was due back in San Diego the next day for a previously planned trip to France. Despite the back-to-back trips, he said United’s 747 finale was something he couldn’t miss.
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