Qantas Boeing 747 retirement: Farewell flights for jumbo jets to go on sale

What should have been a momentous occasion two weeks ago for Qantas - the retirement of its last remaining Boeing 747 jumbo jets - became a footnote in a broader announcement from CEO Alan Joyce, who flagged 6000 job losses due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But now the airline has announced that the iconic aircraft that served the Flying Kangaroo for nearly 50 years will still get a send-off, with three joy flights over Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra in mid-July. The outbreak of COVID-19 in Victoria has seen Melbourne miss out on a similar event.

It was 1971 when the first Qantas jumbo jet took to the skies. Thanks to the travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak and the resulting downturn in the airline industry, Qantas announced last week that its grounded 747s would be retired, effective immediately.


The airline had already planned to phase out its jumbo jets by the end of this year, replacing the double-decker, four-engine planes with more efficient 787 Dreamliners.

Just one 747 currently remains in Qantas' fleet, with most of the others sent to a desert boneyard to be scrapped.

The Sydney farewell flights will take place on Monday, July 13. Brisbane's will follow on Wednesday, July 15, with Canberra's on Friday July 17.

Tickets for the one-hour flights went on sale on Wednesday and sold out in 15 minutes, according to Qantas. Seats were available to the public in both business and economy class, while premium economy will be reserved for Qantas staff. The airline will also hold celebratory events for staff at the airports following the flights.

Tickets were priced at $747 for business class and $400 for economy (representing the 747-400 jumbo jet series). The number of available seats was limited in order to allow passengers to enjoy the view and extra space on board.


The flights will operate on a "cost recovery" basis and profits donated to HARS Aviation Museum near Woollongong and the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach.

Boeing rolled out the first 747 on September 30, 1968, with the first commercial flight on January 21, 1970, going from New York to London on Pan American World Airways.

The giant aircraft ushered in a new era of long-haul travel, flying further and faster than most of its predecessors. It also brought new levels of luxury to the sky, with premium passengers enjoying a bar and lounge on the upper deck with some carriers. When the first Qantas 747 took off, its 'Captain Cook Lounge' was the largest on any commercial aircraft at that time. 

The 747 remained the largest commercial aircraft model in the world until 2007, when Airbus launched the A380, which was quickly nicknamed the "superjumbo".

The jumbo jet's long-range and four engines made it ideal for long-haul flights over vast tracts of ocean where emergency landing sites were few and far between. It allowed Qantas to fly unusual and occasionally record-breaking routes.

The plane was able to fly from Australia to South Africa via a southern route, allowing passengers to spot icebergs from the windows as it crossed into the Antarctic circle.

Qantas used the 747 to launch its non-stop Sydney-Dallas route in 2011, which for a time became the longest route in world after Singapore Airlines cancelled its Singapore-New York service in 2013 (restarting it five years later). 

Qantas also set a record in 1989 by flying a 747 non-stop from London to Sydney. There were no passengers on board and special fuel was required. It was the first non-stop flight between London and Australia until Qantas launched the Perth-London route, using a 787 Dreamliner, in 2018.

The 747 was also the jet of choice for scenic flights from Australia to Antarctica, operated by Antarctica Flights leasing the Qantas jumbos and using the airline's pilots and cabin crew.

Qantas 747 Fleet Captain Owen Weaver said the 747 has a special place in the hearts of many Australians.

"The 747 has been a magnificent aircraft and it's fitting that we celebrate the end of five decades of history-making moments for the national carrier and aviation in Australia," Captain Weaver said.

"There is an enormous amount of nostalgia and affection associated with our 747 and for those who miss out on a seat on the flight, they will at least be able to catch a glimpse of the aircraft as it takes to Australian skies for the last time."

The final 747 in the fleet will depart Sydney at approximately 2pm on July 22 as flight QF7474. It will fly to the US for storage in the Mojave desert boneyard before being handed over to an (unnamed) new owner. 

See also: On board a Qantas jumbo jet to Antarctica

See also: Masks on, seats full: Our reporter flies the Sydney-Melbourne route