DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Honolulu today marks the end of an era. This will be the last time United flies the iconic Boeing 747. Now, when the 747 first started carrying passengers in 1970, this jumbo jet was known as the queen of the skies. And as NPR's David Schaper reports, it ushered in a golden age of commercial flight.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Back when our TV screens were small and needed tubes to show a picture, Boeing came out with a plane that revolutionized air travel.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Chances are, you've heard about the plane with a spiral staircase in first class, the plane the two wide aisles and the three wide-screen movies and the 8-foot ceilings in economy.
SCHAPER: The 747 could carry twice as many passengers as its largest predecessor, the 707, and it has that distinctive hump that allows for a second level.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Now you know, Pan Am will bring you...
SCHAPER: This vintage 1969 commercial announced that the now defunct Pan Am Airways would be the first to offer 747 flights, emphasizing the roominess, the fine dining and amenities that Boeing Company historian Michael Lombardi says few had ever experienced before in flight.
MICHAEL LOMBARDI: One of the great features and then of course that really exclusive opportunity to go up that spiral staircase on those first 747s and go into that upper deck lounge, that was just a very singular experience in air travel.
SCHAPER: But Lombardi says it wasn't just the luxuries that made the 747 a game changer. It could economically carry hundreds of passengers much longer distances nonstop.
LOMBARDI: For the first time in history, anybody in the world could get on an airplane and fly anywhere. That's what the 747 did. It gave wings to the world.
BILL KLINT: To me, it was just, I think, the spaciousness of the aircraft.
SCHAPER: That's 89-year-old Bill Klint, who loved the 747 in its early days and will be on that final United flight today.
B. KLINT: You get in there and you could sit back. It was like being in the living room.
SCHAPER: Klint especially loved flying the 747 to Hawaii.
B. KLINT: The minute you get on board, you heard the Hawaiian music. And actually, the crew was all dressed in native garb, so to speak. No prissy uniforms or anything, it was all, like, a native thing.
MATT KLINT: I do get jealous sometimes, absolutely.
SCHAPER: Klint's 31-year-old nephew is joining him on today's final United 747 flight. Matt Klint is a travel industry consultant who flies 200,000 miles a year.
M. KLINT: The 747 has taken me all around the world - to Asia, to Australia, to South America, to Africa. And it's been a wonderful aircraft.
SCHAPER: But with four engines, a 747 isn't nearly as fuel-efficient as modern twin-engine planes.
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SCHAPER: British Airways, Korean Air and a few other international airlines still fly 747s. And it's still widely used for freight. Delta too will later this year retire its final 747, a plane that in its heyday captured the imaginations of millions of travelers. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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