Above The Clouds On “The Queen of The Skies”

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Last month marked the 50th anniversary of Boeing’s 747, and around the same time, I read about its final domestic passenger flight. I couldn’t help but reminisce. I’d spent a lot of time on 747s over the years, soaring above the clouds on “The Queen of The Skies.”

Northwest Airlines 747s

My first flight on a 747 was in 1992, when I flew Northwest nonstop from Chicago to Tokyo, en-route to Guam and Saipan.

Remembering Boeing's 747 - The Queen of The Skies

While I’d been on a number of different aircraft before, I remember how stunned I was by the size of the plane when I boarded.

As I looked around in awe, it was easy to understand why they called the 747 the “Queen of The Skies.”

It was so cavernous, in fact, I had a hard time imagining it could even take off, fly & land.

After more than 10 hours, it did land and was the longest flight I’d ever taken to that point.

A few years later, I went to work for a company that had me traveling constantly. To be honest, I spent too much time traveling. But that’s not to say there weren’t a lot of great memories, thanks to Boeing’s 747.

TWA 747s

Because we were based in rural middle America, most of those flights were on TWA, given our proximity to their hub at Lambert Field in St. Louis. Since most of my work at the time was in Europe, that meant a lot of flights on TWA 747s.

Remembering Boeing's 747 - The Queen of The Skies

I flew TWA 747s to Europe so often, in fact, I was literally on a first name basis with some of the flight attendants, who’d say, “Welcome back, Tom. Where are you off to this week?”

Most of those flights were to Frankfurt, where TWA operated a large hub, connecting to other destinations across Europe. Sometimes, that connection was on Czechoslovak Airlines (CSA) to Prague. Other times, it was Lufthansa to other parts of Europe, and ocassionally KLM to Amsterdam.

But no matter what my final destination, the transatlantic segments were always aboard TWA 747s.

Those trips had become so frequent, that one time, I found myself looking at the departure board in Frankfort, realizing I didn’t remember my final destination. I had to check my boarding pass to be sure. Twice, I’d traveled enough with them that I received a hand-signed Christmas card from the CEO of TWA.

The memories from those trips are priceless.

I spent time at Oktoberfest in Munich and enjoyed Beaujolais Nouveau Day in Paris — all thanks to those TWA 747s.

I did a lot of business in London, and those flights were always on TWA 747s — nonstops from St. Louis to London’s Gatwick airport. Other times, it would be a nonstop to Paris, instead.

In July of 1996, the world was shocked to learn that a TWA 747, flight 800, from New York to Paris and then on to Rome, had exploded over the Atlantic shortly after takeoff.

It was even more shocking to me. I’d been on flight 800 the week before.

Swissair 747

In the late 90s, I was in Europe, exhausted, and anxious to get home, when I got the call that I had to head straight to South Africa for two days before heading back.

Remembering Boeing's 747 - The Queen of The Skies

My flight from Zurich to Johannesburg clocked-in at more than 12 and a half hours.

A new record for me, but a short-lived one.

South African Airways 747

Heading home a few days later, I flew on a South African Airways 747 non-stop from Johannesburg to New York. That flight clocked in at nearly 16 hours, and to this day, remains the longest flight I ever endured.

Remembering Boeing's 747 - The Queen of The Skies

Thanks For The Memories, Queen of The Skies

Farewell, 747. You truly changed air travel for the masses, and this traveler, in particular, will never forget going along for the ride.