My alarm went off at 3:45 am, and I rolled out of bed for my 6 am departure to San Francisco. I arrived at the airport, grabbed a quick coffee at the recently re-opened Terminal E United Club, and made my way to gate E-8.
As we rocketed off runway 15L, I went right to sleep. I woke up somewhere over Eastern California, asked for a coffee. My excitement level quickly rose.
Wheels down in San Francisco, as we crossed Runway 28L, I got my first glimpse of the Queen of Skies at the gate in San Francisco for the very last time.
My dad and I rushed off the plane and made our way straight toward the festivities at Gate 86. I should have spent more time browsing the United history exhibit currently on display in the terminal at SFO, but I was too impatient and couldn’t wait to get to the action.
My dad and I arrived at the gate about an hour and a half before boarding, and the gate area was already packed. Security was stationed at the entrances to the gate, but ultimately their efforts proved futile as more and more people explored the festivities. Including someone I spoke with who had been on my inbound flight from Houston to San Francisco, and was only there to attend the party at the gate.
Cake, orange juice, and water were served to attendees during the festivities.
Oscar Munoz, a Boeing VP of marketing, a Pratt & Whitney rep, and a local state senator bid us farewell.
I managed to grab a copy of the flight plan from the captain of the flight, I wish I had him sign it!
After mingling in the crowded gate area, eating cake, and hearing the speeches, it was finally time to board. I’d say 85% of the plane was either Group 1 or Group 2, likely one of the most elite-heavy flights United has ever operated.
As we boarded we were greeted by the “retro-flight attendants”. United had employees at each flight attendant domicile select one flight attendant to be a “retro-flight attendant” representing his or her domicile. They helped the other flight attendants throughout the flight, and were often posing for photographs with customers.
As we boarded the aircraft I was quickly reminded the 747 is no longer one of the more comfortable rides in the sky. I made my way to my window seat in Economy and menus and gift bags were waiting on every seat.
The boarding door closed, we pushed off the gate, and we were ready for....a delay! We sat on the ground in San Francisco for about 45-minutes due to one of the A/C packs being inoperable. There was palpable worry the final 747 flight on UA would be cancelled (looking at you Delta). The pilots discussed the issue with Ops in Chicago, got us cleared, and we were finally able to depart. We took-off and maintained a low altitude to do a pass over the Golden Gate Bridge, one last time for the United 747. Here's Zach Honig's video of the departure (I was on the wrong side of the aircraft).
Pretty quickly after takeoff, the flight turned into a party. Flight attendants tried their best to make their way down the aisle to proceed with the in-flight service, but the entire plane was up 90% of the flight.
I took a quick tour of the upper deck (I'd never visited it before), and as quick as the party started we started approaching Hawaii. We got a little extra time on the Queen of the Skies as we as we approached Hawaii, the Captain took a low (12,000 feet-ish) pass over Maui and we made the right turn towards Oahu.
The captain executed a perfect final landing of UA 747, and the skies opened up and the rain started, see the video of the landing below:
After arrival in Honolulu, we were greeted by Lei's from the Honolulu ground-staff. As I received my lei a ground staff member gave me a huge hug. It was definitely an emotional moment for the staff in Honolulu. Another small ceremony occurred at the gate with speeches by the Governor of Hawaii, the same Boeing and Pratt & Whitney reps. The crowd dispersed and we went to pick up our rental car.
After the "official" events ended my dad, being a retiree, had been invited to the Hawaiian station party with the plane at the maintenance hangar. We meandered over to the maintenance hangar where food was served and tours of the planes were being given. It was amazing being on the ramp, up close and personal with a 747. How close was I? Well see below:
I understand why the 747's were retired, but it doesn't make it any less sad. I'll never forget my first flight in business-class, my trips to Australia, or my time on the last 747 with my dad. We arrived in Hawaii, and relived the day over some Mai Tai's on Waikiki, like so many travelers to Honolulu on the 747 had done before. Thank you, United, for putting on such an amazing event.