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How Boeing's 747 changed air travel forever

As United Airlines finally retires the original jumbo jet after almost 40 years, the 747's long and illustrious history lives on.

Next Tuesday, Nov. 7 marks the last Boeing 747 flight for United Airlines. Once one of the largest operators of the original jumbo jet (the airline took its first 747 in 1970), United has slowly been retiring its 747s over the last few years. Newer and more efficient aircraft including the Boeing 777 will take their place, letting the airline cut fuel costs and no doubt pleasing many of its passengers eager for modern amenities such as seatback TVs in economy.

That's fine for them, but as any aviation geek will tell you, the 747's flight into the sunset is a sad time. The Queen of the Skies (yes, it will always have that title) changed the world forever from the moment it first flew in 1969. Its immense size (seating about 500 passengers -- far more than any other airliner at the time) made air travel cheaper and mass tourism possible, its cargo version brought us the age of Amazon and it's carried everything from heads of state, to giant telescopes to the Space Shuttle. Since it first entered service with Pan Am in 1970, Boeing has built more than 1,500 747s in a variety of standard and custom models. Click through the gallery above to see the 747's full history.

But the 747 isn't just about what it could do, it's also famous for how it looked. Its gloriously curved profile made it the most recognizable airliner ever to fly. The upper deck remains the best place in the air -- quiet, intimate and supremely smooth. If you're lucky enough to fly in the nose section, an area usually reserved for First Class, it almost feels like you have your own private house in the sky. Even Economy Class could be comfortable with the aircraft's high ceilings and wide cabin.

Delta Airlines is the last US airline still flying 747-400, but it will say goodbye to its remaining aircraft the end of this year. You'll have better luck finding the jumbo jet outside the country with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Thai Airways, KLM, Qantas and Lufthansa keeping their 747-400s in the air through at least 2020.


The 747-100 first entered service with Pan Am in 1970.

Boeing Images

Unfortunately, the prospects aren't great for the latest version of the aircraft either. Though Boeing is still building the 747-8 Intercontinental, lower-than-expected sales for the model have led the company to indicate that it may shut the production line completely. Still, if you want to catch a ride on the 747-8, book a ticket on Lufthansa, Air China and Korean Air.

Farewell, 747. You flew me from San Francisco to London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Sydney. And I loved every minute.