When the 747 was first shown to the public, more than two dozen airlines had committed to buying it. In 1970, the 747 made its first commercial flight, carrying more than 300 Pan Am passengers from New York to London.
It was an instant public sensation. Much larger than any other aircraft, the four-engined plane can seat up to 10 people and accommodate hundreds of people in a row. The upper deck, accessible by a spiral staircase, features a luxurious lounge. American Airlines installed a piano bar in the main cabin.
Orders started pouring in, bringing much-needed revenue to Boeing. Owning a 747 becomes a status symbol for an airline. Some companies bought the plane even though it didn’t quite suit their needs.
The most important reason airlines buy the plane is that the 747 helps them cut costs. Because planes can carry more passengers on a single trip, airlines can sell tickets more cheaply, making air travel affordable for the masses.
Boeing produced several versions of the plane in the 1970s and 1980s for different purposes and improved its payload and range. In 1989, the company introduced a major upgrade, the 747-400, which became the plane’s best-selling model. Boeing sold more 747s in the 1990s than in any other decade.
But with the popularity of airplanes, the world moved on.
Smaller, more efficient twin-engine planes can now fly farther. Their smaller size means the airline can offer nonstop international routes between smaller cities, such as St. Louis. Lewis and Frankfurt.
In the mid-1990s, Boeing also launched the 777, which is about the same size as the 747 and has only two engines, which is more advanced and efficient. A decade later, Boeing’s arch-rival Airbus introduced the A380, which can carry more passengers than the 747. But Airbus struggled to sell the plane and announced that it would end production in 2019.