Once considered the queen of the sky, these days the Boeing 747 ‘jumbo jet’ is becoming somewhat of a rare sight.
Gone are the days when the aircraft was the go to plane for most airlines long haul needs. These days, the far more efficient Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 are the leaders in this regard.
However, there are still more than a few Boeing 747’s in the skies. Mostly the -400 variant. And whilst passenger flights on the type are becoming increasingly rare, it is still popular as a freighter.
If you want to fly on the Boeing 747 whilst they’re still around, here is a list of which airlines continue to operate them on passenger routes. Also included is a rough guide as to which routes they can be found on. Although as airline schedules are fairly fluid, it’s best not to take anything here too seriously.
Information correct as of December 2019.
British Airways (United Kingdom)
Number In Service: 32
London Heathrow -> New York JFK, Los Angeles, Dallas, Dubai, Cape Town, Las Vegas, Lagos, Miami, Accra, San Francisco, San Diego, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston.
Notes: The largest operator of the passenger 747, although numbers have been dropping over the past few years. In fact, G-CIVG was retired just a matter of days ago. As such, it is now tied with Lufthansa for the largest operator of the type. Despite undergoing minor refurbishments over the past few years, the fleet is likely to be completely gone by 2024. Three aircraft (G-BNLY, G-BYGC, G-CIVB) wear retro British Airways colours to commemorate the airlines 100th anniversary.
Number In Service: 32
Variant: 400 (13), -8i (19)
Frankfurt -> Philadelphia, Seoul, Shanghai, Mumbai, Toronto, Seattle, Rio, Denver, Orlando, Vancouver, Boston, Beijing, Newark, Washington, Bengaluru, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Tokyo.
Notes: Now tied with British Airways as the largest operator of the Boeing 747. Although Lufthansa operates the updated -8i variant, meaning that the German airline is likely to be one of the final airlines to retire the Boeing 747 from passenger service. Whilst the airline has bane slowly retiring the older -400 model over the past few years, as the -8i only came online in 2012, it is likely that the 747 will remain in service until the 2030’s. One Lufthansa Boeing 747-8i (D-ABYT) wears a retro livery.
Korean Air (South Korea)
Number In Service: 23 (12 in passenger service)
Variant: -400 (2), -8i (10)
Seoul Incheon -> Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, Denpasar, Bangkok, Singapore, Auckland, Atlanta, Kuala Lumpur, New York, Honolulu
Notes: Another operator of the somewhat rare -8i variant. Whilst much of the Korean Air 747 fleet is the freight variant, there are still a few in passenger operation. Like most Asian carriers, Korean Air use the 747-8i on both intra-Asian flights along with long haul missions. During the summer months, the 747-8i is used to London Heathrow. The airline utilises its two -400’s on intra-Asian routes.
China Airlines (Taiwan)
Number In Service: 22 (4 in passenger service)
Taipei TPE -> Shenzhen, Seoul, Naha, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Hong Kong.
Notes: China Airlines was the final airline to purchase the passenger variant of the -400. Despite this, that particular aircraft is now 14 years old. It’s not currently known when the final passenger flight 747 will take place with the airline, however a number have already left. Two former China Airlines 747’s (B-18271, B-18272) have been converted to Boeing Dreamlifter aircraft.
Asiana Airlines (South Korea)
Number In Service: 13 (2 in passenger service)
Seoul -> Manila, Da Nang, Taipei, Tokyo.
Notes: From checking FlightRadar24, it would appear that Asiana is operating just the one Boeing 747 in passenger service now. HL7418 hasn’t flown since the end of September after arriving from Ho Chi Minh City. It can only be assumed that the solitary Boeing 747 that the airline has in service won’t be around for too much longer.
KLM (The Netherlands)
Number In Service: 13 (10 in passenger service)
Variant: -400, -400 Combi
Amsterdam Schiphol -> Toronto, Delhi, Los Angeles, New York, Paramaribo, Willemstad, Mexico City.
Notes: KLM is the only airline to operate the Boeing 747-400 Combi. This is a variant that is configured for both passenger and cargo operations simultaneously. Like other major European Airlines, KLM will have replaced their 747 fleet with more efficient aircraft (in this case, the 787-10) within the next few years.
Air China (China)
Number In Service: 12 (9 in passenger service)
Variant: -400 (2), -8i (6)
Beijing -> Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Frankfurt, New York.
Notes: Another of the few airlines that operates the most recent -8i variant of the 747. Details on their -400 retirements are hard to come by, but with just a small number in passenger service it’ll be safe to assume they wont be around for too many years. As the -8i variant are on average just 5 years old, it’s likely they will be around for a good 15 years or so.
Air Atlanta Icelandic (Iceland)
Number In Service: 10 (7 in passenger service)
Who knows! Being a wet lease charter airline, the Air Atlanta Icelandic 747’s could end up anywhere.
Notes: Picking up used Boeing 747’s on the cheap when the more major airlines retire them from their fleet. Former operators of the Air Atlanta Icelandic fleet include Malaysia Airlines, Air France and a single All Nippon example. This airline will likely be one of the final out there to retire the -400 from service. They ran the classic -200 well into the mid-2000’s long after the major airlines had retired them from their fleet.
Thai Airways (Thailand)
Number In Service: 10
Bangkok -> Sydney, Phuket, Delhi, Sapporo, Tokyo, Mumbai
Notes: A number the Thai 747 fleet was retired between 2013 and 2015. However there appears to be a bit of a discrepancy between how many actually remain in service. Some sites claim 6. Planespotters say it’s 9. Airfleets say 10. Thai themselves say 7. The fleet was supposed to have been retired by this point, however with the ongoing issues concerning the Rolls Royce engines fitted to the airlines 787 fleet, the 747 retirement has been delayed.
Number In Service: 9
Moscow Vnukovo -> Phuket, Bangkok, Zanzibar, Goa. Its also worth noting that Rossiya appears to use their 747’s on various other routes as and when too.
Notes: The entire Rossiya Boeing 747 fleet was originally delivered to Japan Airlines between 1998-1999. After JAL retired them, Transaero acquired them. Following the bankruptcy of Transaero in 2015, fellow Russian carrier Rossiya picked up the entire fleet. As the 747 fleet is reasonably new to the airline, it’s unlikely that they will be retired any time soon. And as they were picked up on the cheap, the break even point on these jets is likely to be significantly lower too.
Virgin Atlantic (United Kingdom)
Number In Service: 7
London Gatwick -> Barbados, Orlando, Montego Bay
Manchester -> Orlando, New York, Atlanta, Barbados
Notes: The Virgin Atlantic 747 retirement is being done in two waves. The first was complete back in 2016, when the final scheduled 747 flight left London Heathrow. The second wave of retirements began in November 2019 when G-VBIG was retired. This will continue until 2021 by which time the type will have been replaced by the Airbus A350-1000. The 747 was the backbone of the fleet since the airline was founded in 1984.
Number In Service: 6
Sydney -> Johannesburg, Tokyo, Santiago
Notes: Another airline that has been on a 747 retirement spree lately. Gone are the airlines -400 variants. The final flight took place in October 2019. This leaves the -400ER as the only variant of 747 in the Qantas fleet. This particular variant is unique to the Qantas fleet, who wanted the extra range to enable them to fly between Los Angeles and Melbourne without any load restrictions. The final 747 will leave the Qantas fleet by the end of 2020.
Number In Service: 5
Madrid -> Cancun, Punta Cana, Varadero
Notes: Three of the Wamos Air 747 fleet has come from Malaysia Airlines. One from Air New Zealand and the other from Singapore Airlines. All are over 20 years old. The airline is mostly used for charter missions. In addition, other airlines lease Wamos 747’s to cover their own aircraft being out of service. Most notably, Wamos was used during Project Matterhorn when Thomas Cook failed in September 2019.
Where Are The US 747 Operators?
Strangely, the Boeing 747 was never all that popular in the US. PanAm was famous for operating the type. But other than American operating a comparatively small number and Delta Airlines initially operating just a handful, the 747 sold in relatively small numbers in the US.
The 747-400 found some success with the US airlines when launched. Northwest was the launch customer for the updated variant. United Airlines followed this up, by adding to their ageing fleet of 27 747 Classics.
These aircraft remained in service until the late 2010’s. The Northwest examples eventually ended up wearing Delta Airlines livery when they were acquired by them.
The United 747’s still wore United titles in their final days. However the livery worn was that of Continental. Which meant a bit of a throwback to the early 90’s when Continental themselves operated the classic 747’s.
It’s much the same story these days with the Boeing 777-300ER. The successor to the 747-400 has had a similarly slow start in the USA. It took 9 years from launch until American Airlines took delivery of their first. United Airlines have only recently taken delivery of their fleet in the last couple of years. And Delta are seemingly uninterested in the type, despite operating the smaller 777-200/-200LR.