United Airlines Captain David Smith talks about the retirement of Boeing’s 747 by the end of 2017.
George Spohr / Journal & Courier


Editor’s note: United Airlines made waves among aviation enthusiasts last week with a special Boeing 747 flight between Chicago O’Hare and San Francisco. While it wasn’t the airline’s final “farewell flight” for the plane, it was an unexpected chance for enthusiasts of the 747 to fly the plane on a domestic route before United retires it later this year.

George Spohr, the executive editor of USA TODAY Network’s Journal & Courier in Lafayette, Ind., was among those on the July 28 flight. We’re sharing his experience with our readers here in Today in the Sky just as he shared it with his hometown audience in the Journal & Courier. Enjoy! 

SAN FRANCISCO — Living so close to Chicago affords all of us in Greater Lafayette access to world-class culture, cuisine and sporting events. 

And on Friday (July 28), it afforded me access to one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. 

TODAY IN THE SKYUnited: Final Boeing 747 flight will come earlier than expected

Earlier that week, United Airlines announced a special one-off flight from O’Hare to San Francisco on a Boeing 747. For aviation geeks like me, that’s notable for a few reasons: United doesn’t fly 747s domestically anymore, nor does it use 747s on any routes to Chicago. In fact, the 747 is being phased out completely by the end of this year. The “Queen of the Skies” has largely been replaced by more fuel-efficient two-engine jets like the 777. 

“We had the opportunity to do this flight this week and thought it would be something special for our customers and employees,” United spokeswoman Maggie Schmerin said. 


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Flying in a 747 has long been on my bucket list, and the Chicago flight was too good — and too close — to pass up. 

I spent every mile I had to get an upper-deck business class seat on United Flight 2704. (My mileage balance is down to 167 miles — not even enough miles to fly from Lafayette to West Lafayette.) 

When I got to the gate area, United took a few members of the press onto the plane early to take photos and interview Capt. David Smith.

“With all the new planes we have, (the 747 is) getting somewhat outdated,” Smith told us. “The airplane has a lot of loyalty to it, not just from the passengers, but from the pilots. We love flying this thing, and…