Boeing 747 In Hawaii. Spanning a half-century.

Boeing 747 In Hawaii | Amazing Half-Century

A half-century ago, the first Boeing 747 first began flying to Hawaii after its launch just a few years earlier. Does the photo above bring back any memories, and how does it compare with your most recent flight to Hawaii?

There were over 1,500 Boeing 747s manufactured over its fifty-year lifespan. Do you remember your first 747 flight? For Beat of Hawaii editor Rob, it was on Canadian Pacific Airlines from Vancouver to Amsterdam in 1980. For Jeff, the first 747 flight was Pan Am to London.

747 Dramatically changed the travel industry.

Pan Am 747 at Honolulu Airport

The 747’s size was both physical and in the unprecedented growth, it created in travel, including to Hawaii. It was estimated that the 747 reduced the cost per passenger mile by 50% compared with previous airliners. The 747 brought with it the beginning of the wide-body jet era. It was the first to feature the nearly vertical interior walls we’ve come to enjoy, which offer a feeling of more spaciousness. Instead of a single long tube design, the cabin was separated into now-familiar sections using divider lavatories and galleys.

Nicknamed the “Queen of the Skies,” it was a plane many of us grew up with and still remember fondly. BOH Editor Jeff was amazed when he first stepped onboard that747. “Now I am in awe when I step aboard a somewhat similar-feeling plane, the Airbus A380,” said Jeff.

In its 50-year history, the 747 transported nearly six billion people, or 80 percent of the world’s population. It was a big gamble for Boeing, and it paid off. Airports had to be modified to accommodate the larger boarding areas, counters, and terminals needed. Ground equipment for fueling and the tugs to push the planes had to be different too to handle giant planes weighing up to 3/4 million pounds.

First Hawaii deals came as a result of the 747.

As the 747 started crossing the Pacific, some of the first Hawaii deals came with it. It was the 1970s, and Hawaii quickly became the affordable yet exotic destination from the west coast and beyond that we know to this day.

Boeing 747 In Hawaii with icon staircase

Now looking back, the 747 was a true luxury.

Air travel in the 1970s was still considered an extravagance, and service aboard the 747 in those early days was quite elaborate compared with today’s no-frills, a la carte, and the basic-economy era of air travel. Just look at the above photo to see how people were dressed, the spaciousness and feeling evoked. It’s funny to note that many thought the 747 would soon be replaced with SST travel, which hasn’t happened so far.

Which U.S. airlines flew the 747 in Hawaii?

Indeed, the most famous and the first to start was Pan American. Their Hawaii flights began in 1970, shortly after the 747 began flying, and ended in 1985 when United Airlines acquired all of Pan Am’s Pacific routes, including Hawaii. Continental Airlines followed Pan Am’s Hawaii entry with their own 747 “air cruises.” TWA flew the 747 to Hawaii. And there was also the short-lived Hawaii Express, an airline that existed in the early 1980s. In 2017, Delta Airlines, which also flew the 747 in Hawaii, became the last U.S. airline to use that aircraft. Other U.S. airlines that flew the 747 to Hawaii included Northwest Orient and Braniff.

United Airlines retired its Boeing 747 fleet in 2017 with a farewell flight.

That was from San Francisco to Honolulu and was retro all the way, with passengers and crew in 1970’s attire and a 70s menu too. When United announced the farewell 747 Hawaii flight, they sold out all tickets in 90 minutes. At the time, United Airlines said: “So many of our customers and our employees have flown on this plane, have serviced this plane, and they’ve served customers on it. So today was both an exciting day for us and a sad day for us.” United made its first Boeing 747 flight to Hawaii in 1970.

Watch the video below showing the plane adorned in a traditional Hawaiian lei.

Boeing 747 in Hawaii incidents, including a number of fatalities.

In 2011, a Delta 747 traveling from Honolulu developed a cracked windshield and was forced to make a landing at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. It did so uneventfully.

United Airlines Flight 811 had a fatal incident on departure from Honolulu to Auckland on February 24, 1989. The 747-100 experienced explosive decompression due to a cargo door failure. The door slammed into the fuselage, creating a gaping 10 x 40-foot vertical hole. It blew out several rows of seats, resulting in the deaths of nine passengers. With over 300 on board, the aircraft returned to Honolulu and landed safely.

Trivia Question: Who flew the last 747 in Hawaii?

Qantas was the last to fly the 747 to Hawaii. That flight was on August 27, 2019.

Does anyone still fly 747?

Actually, yes. While very few are still flying, most of those are at Lufthansa. They have a fleet of 27 models -400 and -8. If you ever see another 747 in Hawaii, it will be a cargo plane. A few companies still operate them.

What are your 747 memories? Please share them with us!

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46 thoughts on “Boeing 747 In Hawaii | Amazing Half-Century”

  1. I was in the Air Force from 1970 until 1974. I was stationed in Hawaii from 1971 until 1973. I flew into Hawaii from California on a 707 in August of 1971. I flew from Hawaii to O’Hare on a red eye in 1972 to visit my parents in Washington, DC. It was a 707 which was struck by lightning mid-flight between Honolulu and Chicago. On the way back I flew through Dallas Love Field. The plane out of Dallas was one of the first Braniff “Flying Colors” 747s. There were more crew than passengers and the food and drink were outstanding. When I returned to the mainland for the last time, it was in First Class on a 747, but 747s to and from the islands had become common by then. But the food and drinks in First Class were awesome.

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  2. After completing military basic and advanced training, I returned to Hilo, Hawaii for a weeks furlough and to get my beautiful, pregnant wife and year old son. We had to get back to California where my first duty assignment was located. This was 1971 and whenever a military member/family travels on a military-discounted ticket (which is all we could afford with help from family), the member was required to travel in class-a uniform. I think the flight originated in Honolulu and stopped in Hilo before returning to the mainland. After all the passengers were seated, a stewardess (as they were called back then) asked if we wanted to sit in first class. Of course we obliged. We were pampered throughout the flight!

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  3. Great history unfortunately for Hawaii I have begun taking my money to Florida.
    I feel welcomed by the locals and the government as a whole is very welcoming.
    $20,000 a year added to the Florida economy.

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  4. I agree you have an excellent history there. I have to mention that I always preferred the 747 to the Airbus because of its backup systems. Airbus is 100% fly-by-wire so if electronics goes, flight control goes with it. We were all very nervous about the fly-by-wire concept when first introduced. Now we have drive by wire cars (the accelerator and everything but the steering wheel, that is). That would be a good question for the readers. Do you trust fly-by-wire?

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  5. Loved your history of the 747s. I flew for 35 years as a flight attendant for first Cp Air then Canadian airlines and finally Air Canada! Worked alot of those Yvr to Ams plus Hnl from Vancouver. Loved the spacious feeling onboard.That aircraft went to Hong Kong…Japan…everywhere! Loved it!

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  6. First 747 was a -400 on SQ SFO-HKG-HKG-CGK. Only 747 to Hawaii was a -300 also on SQ SIN-TPE-HNL-LAX. Would’ve loved to have flown on a PA or TW 747 to Hawaii.

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  7. Worthy of note that the USA is producing 2 VC-25B’s based on the 747 8i Platform (assuming it is not canceled by this or any future White House incumbent) whereas no World Leader in Europe or outside has opted to fit out an Airbus A380 for Head of State use. Interesting. The Vc-25B’s will probably be around for a long time to come.

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    1. I watched the first 747 land at Honolulu and taxi to the ramp.

      It was flown by a Boeing crew and had dozens of flags on the nose. I have slides somewhere.

      I was flying Air Force C-141 Starlifters, mostly between California and Vietnam.

  8. Korean Air still flies the 748i to Honolulu from Seoul. Lufthansa and Air China are the only other passenger airlines that have it.

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  9. My first 747 flight was from San Francisco to Honolulu in 1982. I couldn’t believe how big it was both outside and inside. Since then I have flown over 1.5 million miles around the globe in lots of different planes but my favorite is still the 747. I haven’t yet experienced the A380…who knows…will my favorite change? I suspect not because the 747 is part of so many memories. Including four round-the-world trips and one trip from Taipei to Hong Kong in the cockpit of a Cathay Pacific 747…obviously before 911.

    What a great plane!!

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  10. One of my earliest memories of flying is having a meltdown because I lost a stuffed animal in the bin on the upper deck of a TWA 747 STL to either HNL or KOA. I was also apparently very good at falling asleep just at the right time to be carried down the spiral staircase from the upper deck.

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  11. I was a flight attendant in the early 70s and was lucky enough to be able to work some flights on a 747. They were indeed luxury flights. Oh to have the good ole days back!!!

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  12. Remember flying TWA 747 from STL to HNL in the 90’s. The check in at the gate was always a shambles with so many people. I also remember the foot stools in First used to collapse. TWA had sunk to rock bottom by then. The 747 though was always my favorite and so sad to see them relegated to a few 8i’s with Lufthansa, Korean Air and a Chinese carrier. It was a beautiful plane and a joy to fly. The larger size led to less bumping around in light chop and it felt so spacious. The 777, 787 and A350’s are OK but they definitely traded passenger experience value for cost cutting.

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  13. Your statement saying if you ever see another 747 in Hawaii it will be cargo, is untrue. Korean Airlines flies a 747-800 from Seoul on a daily basis right now.

    My very first 747 flight was Honolulu-LAX on Continental in 1973.I’ve also flown Qantas, United, TWA and Pan Am 747’s to/from HNL. I flew Hawaii Express numerous times between LAX and HNL but it was always on DC-10’s. I didn’t know they had 747’s

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  14. My husband & I had the absolute pleasure of flying United’s 747, flight Heavy 1, Chicago to Honolulu,Heavy2,Hon to Chicago about 35 times.We belonged to mileage plus so we were able to upgrade to 1st class. We dressed up and felt our vacation began we boarded our flight.champagne and orchids everywhere,including on dinner plates, in bathrooms.Flight attendants treated you like royalty and were so friendly. And the food…oh, the food!So comfortable, the sometime 11 hr flight was a total joy!
    We consider ourselves so blessed to have been a part of the 747’s history! Mahalo United, for the wonderful memories!

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  15. I was 10 years old when I experienced my first 747 flight, which was with SAS between JFK and Copenhagen in December 1971. The plane was a 747-283B “Huge Viking” (pronounced “Hoo-geh Vee-king”) (reg. SE-DDL). It was a very fascinating experience on that first flight, especially during the takeoff, feeling the power of all four Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A turbofan engines with the smooth hum as the airliner climbed into the night sky and reaching cruising altitude where the engines would have a soft gentle roar. We returned home on the very same plane in January 1972. Since then, I have flown many of them. More than any other widebody I’ve flown.

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    1. The Pioneer and historic
      Pan American Airways, we miss it
      with those luxury services .
      Thanks for bringing it up.
      Looking forward to see more.
      ✈✈

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  16. My first 747 flight began in April 1983 with a NW 727-200 flight from PDX-SEA the night before. There were 6 people on that flight, including my 3 other family members, stayed at the Red Lion hotel SEATAC, and stayed up all night watching SEA flight activity. Morning flight was SEA-HNL on a 747-200. Beautiful flight, window seat, insane takeoff. Miss the 727, 747, and also the DC-10. Will be sad when there are no more 757’s. Those are my fave planes of all time.

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