Remembering the 'Queen'
For nearly half a century, the Boeing 747, the world's first commercial jumbo jet, has occupied a special, almost mythological place in the world of aviation. Today, marking the end of an era, United announced it will fly its final scheduled 747 route sometime in the fourth quarter of this year. When it does, United will be the last U.S.-based passenger carrier to retire the venerable aircraft in favor of more environmentally friendly and economical widebody planes.
In a heartfelt letter to employees, United's President Scott Kirby described the decision to cease flying the Queen of the Skies as bittersweet. “There's something very special about a Boeing 747," he said. “It's the one aircraft that even casual travelers can easily identify. And we know that the experience of traveling on one, or flying one, is unforgettable." Scott went on to set the stage for what's to come, saying, “We'll be working with all of you who fly or work on the 747s to ensure a smooth transition to other fleets. And of course we'll honor the 747 with an unforgettable retirement celebration."
Like our customers, many of our employees forged a unique bond with the 747 during its heyday. Take United Captain Jon Russell, who started flying the 747 as a first officer in the early 1990s. Even now, 25 years later, he can vividly recall that introduction.
“I remember waiting in the jetway while the plane was being brought over from the hangar," he said, “and it was an incredible experience – I could hear it approaching from the noise of the engines. Then the nose of the plane came into view, and in short order the fuselage enveloped the entire opening to the jetway. At that moment, I realized the enormity of the aircraft; it was pretty dramatic."
When it rolled off the line at Boeing's Everett, Washington, plant in 1969, the double-decker 747 was not only an engineering marvel, it was the culmination of everything that the “jet age" represented in American culture - an airplane with the capacity to democratize air travel, previously a luxury unattainable for many would-be fliers. But it also signaled a new leap in commercial aircraft performance with its power and long-range capabilities. Calling them “rope starts" (a nickname for the early 747 models), Jon recounted the fun of piloting the behemoths. “That airplane could fly really fast. I remember sitting in the right seat of a 747-100, and I looked over at the captain and said, 'Do you know that you're doing [Mach 0.90] (almost 700 miles per hour)!'"
United and Continental's original 747s, which they began flying in 1970, were assigned to each airline's West Coast - Hawaii routes. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, United boasted the largest fleet of domestic 747s, with 18 in circulation throughout the United States, making the plane synonymous with the airline in the minds of customers in those days.
“It's an iconic aircraft, probably the most recognizable airplane in the sky," Jon said. “Being in one was such a neat experience because of that upper deck – it was almost like an airplane in an airplane."
In spite of the many miles he logged in 747 cockpits flying all over the globe, Jon's fondest memory is from a short trip out of San Francisco to central Washington. “My dad flew with United and flew the 747 just before he retired. He took one up to Moses Lake (site of one of Boeing's testing facilities) with some of United's instructors, and I sat in the jumpseat while he made three 'roller landings.' It was so cool because you had these big commercial airplanes doing pattern work all around you, not to mention the fact that I was there with my dad." The 747 has captivated imaginations and inspired a sense of wonder about the world for generations of travelers but, as so often happens, progress dictates change. “It's like an old friend that you don't want to see go," Jon said. “It's been such an iconic figure around our airline for so long. We'll probably never see another four-engine aircraft on the property; it's the last of something special."
We know people are taking a second look at their travel plans right now. If you're scheduled to travel March 10 – May 31, 2020 and would like to change your plans, there is no fee to do so, regardless of when you purchased your ticket or where you're traveling. This is in addition to our previous waiver, which waives all change fees – domestic and international – for tickets purchased March 3 – April 30, 2020. This is available for any of United's published nonrefundable fares. If you decide to cancel your flight, you can retain the value of your ticket to be applied to a new ticket without a fee. These electronic travel certificates are now valid for 24 months from the date they were issued. This includes all currently valid electronic certificates and all new ones issued on or after April 1, 2020. You might not see this policy change reflected everywhere right away – we appreciate your patience as we work to make that happen.
Eligible travelers on domestic flights and international tickets can request a refund on united.com or may call our contact centers if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United schedule reductions related to COVID-19.
Certain tickets cannot be changed on united.com or the mobile app, including tickets booked through another airline (if the ticket receipt does not begin with 016). Please contact the original ticketing airline for changes.
Follow the steps below to stay up to date, change or cancel your flight.
Change your current flight:
- On the united.com homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your flight information to retrieve your flight.
- Select "Change flight" and then "Edit" to make the following changes:
- Date of travel or destination
- Add a flight
- Remove a flight
- Select "Continue" and choose a new flight option
- Continue through booking to confirm your new flight
Note: The change fee will display as waived, but any difference in fare may apply.
Cancel your flight and rebook later:
- On the united.com homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your reservation information to retrieve your flight
- Select "Cancel flight"
- Confirm flight cancellation
- If you have future flight credit, when you return to the reservation, select "Use Future Flight Credit" to shop for new flights and apply the credit towards a new flight.
Canceling or changing an award flight:
When you select "Cancel flight," you will have the option to cancel your award reservation and redeposit the miles or to cancel your award reservation and use those miles for another trip in the future.
*We're currently experiencing heavy traffic to united.com. If you experience an error while trying to change or cancel your flight, please try again later.
Click through the slideshow below for more detailed instructions:
Start on the United homepage:
User can select 'My Trips' on the homepage widget to find and retrieve their reservation.
When and where possible, we are working to repatriate travelers who are stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our teams are working closely with government officials here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where flying has been restricted to gain the necessary approvals to operate service. In regions where government actions have barred international flying, we have coordinated with the the U.S. State Department and local government officials to re-instate some flights. Additionally, we have been operating several extra flights to countries in Central America and South America as we continue to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world.
We have operated more than 68 repatriation flights from Panama City, Guatemala City, Quito, Lima, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Roatan, bringing nearly 9,200 people home. We will continue working with government officials to operate extra flights to Houston from Quito, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and from Lima to Washington Dulles and beginning April 5, we will begin operating multiple charter flights between Delhi and San Francisco. We continue to review more opportunities for flights between the United States and other countries to bring citizens home.
Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.
Additionally, our Customer Solutions and Recovery team is working with customers in the following markets to rebook them on flights back to the United States as capacity allows, either on our aircraft or on one of our airline partners' planes:
- Quito, Ecuador
- Managua, Nicaragua
- Roatan, Honduras
- San Pedro Sula, Honduras
- Seoul, South Korea
- Melbourne, Australia
We also recently reinstated several international flights back into our schedule to support customers and essential businesses which depend on these routes. As a result, we will be the only airline to offer service between Newark/New York and London, San Francisco and Sydney, as well as Houston and São Paulo, Brazil.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Here's a fun way to take your next video call….from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude. We're introducing United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom, a video conferencing tool that many people are using to stay connected.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started. If you've already downloaded Zoom you can skip ahead to updating your background image (see instructions below).
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.