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A China Airlines 747 in a special Boeing livery preparing to land in Los Angeles. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

China Airlines Retires Passenger 747s

China Airlines flew its final passenger flight on a Boeing 747 on Saturday. The flight, operating as China Airlines flight 2747, lasted five hours and 15 minutes and operated exclusively at Taipei, taking a scenic journey to Mount Fuji and back.

The aircraft used is line number B-18215, which was the last 747-400 to roll off the production line, China Airlines said. The aircraft has been operating for nearly 16 years. China Airlines has maintained a 747 fleet since 1975.

The flight included amenities like special meals and gift bags for the 375 passengers onboard. Memorabilia like a 747-400 model aircraft and canvas bag were handed out on the flight as keepsakes.

China Airlines made the day all-747-themed. The ticket counter for the flight opened at 7:47 am. First class tickets cost 9,747 New Taiwan dollars ($343) for the lower deck and 10,747 New Taiwan dollars for the upper deck, while main-cabin tickets went for 7,470 New Taiwan dollars.

This final flight was announced in January. It was originally set for Feb. 6, but it was pushed back in response to heightened coronavirus concerns at the time. China Airlines’ four remaining passenger 747-400s are up for sale, but the airline is retaining 18 747-400F cargo aircraft for the time being.

These 747s will be replaced by Boeing 777-300ERs that seat 358 across three classes. This is a remarkably similar density compared with the airline’s 747s.

Taiwan’s health authorities have warned against non-essential trips abroad since March 21, 2020, soon after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. Since then, however, many airlines have operated “flights to nowhere” similar to this one to raise extra cash on underutilized aircraft. Carriers have maintained transmission of the airborne coronavirus is highly unlikely on airplanes, especially if masks are worn, because of advanced air circulation systems that recycle cabin air faster than it takes to get enough of a viral load to get sick.

Since the onset of the pandemic, so-called jumbo jets like the 747 and the Airbus A380 have been retired en masse. The planes are difficult to fill due to their high capacities and are more costly to operate than their smaller, more fuel-efficient counterparts, even for minimal economy classes that are similar across aircraft. As worldwide air travel is not anticipated to be comparable to pre-pandemic levels until 2023 at the earliest, airlines are choosing to retire fleets rather than store jumbos for years on end.

At the time of writing, only six airlines are still operating the 747: Lufthansa, Air China, Korean Air, Air India, Mahan Air and Asiana all still operate the type, many because they have recently taken delivery of brand-new 747-8i planes. Fleet shifts are still expected, though, and Lufthansa is preparing to retire some of the older 747-400s in its fleet.

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