Why I Booked a Flight Just to Fly on a Specific Plane

Family, friends, onlookers. This is my #avgeek at 110%

Qantas has recently acquired Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliners’ to their fleet in order to retire the aging Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo’ within the next couple of years. The Jumbo operated on flights between Brisbane (BNE) and Los Angeles daily until December 1, 2018. The last scheduled Jumbo flight from Brisbane was routed Los Angeles-Brisbane-Sydney so the aircraft could return to its base.

Why couldn’t my inner nerd resist temptation? When local media caught wind that the last Jumbo flight departing BNE was on December 1 and making the short hop to Sydney, my ears peaked up with interest. With a busy weekend planned and close to Christmas, I wrote off the idea as not being feasible. Then came Friday night of November 30. We’re out having a few drinks with friends and the topic comes up. Someone suggests that I just do it. I already knew I’d really enjoy the experience, but I had plenty of excuses in the way. After about half an hour of weighing everything up, I booked it, with ten hours to departure and knowing a heavy hangover was coming.

I kept thinking to myself “what had led me to this point? Why am I that obsessed with aviation that I would use my hard earned money into flying on the last service of a flying metal tube? What’s in it for me?”

Flying is magic. That’s a lie, there’s physics and reasoning behind it, but I still feel as though there is an element of magic. This came to me on September 14, 2000, and remember it like yesterday. My father and I were visiting my grandmother in Wollongong, near Sydney and decided to fly as traffic would be crazy the day before the opening of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

The excitement in overload, I had heard so much about flying and how great it was. I had a window seat and watched everything outside like a meticulous hawk. We lined up on the runway. The roar, the thrust, the inertia and finally…lift. Being seven years old, this is actually magic!

Floating above the clouds, the flight attendant comes to us and asks if I’d like to visit the cockpit. I’d never heard that term before I didn’t know what that meant. The door opens and I’m greeted by a chirpy crew, an amazing view forwards of the airplane and what looked like 1 million switches, buttons and computers. I don’t remember the conversations we had, but I knew I had found my home, 30,000ft in the sky.

We descend into Sydney on a partly cloudy afternoon. All the sudden from behind a cloud, a massive stadium decked out in blue seats, with the playing arena looking immaculate stands out like a sparkling jewel. It was Sydney Olympic Park ready to go for arguably what was the greatest Opening Ceremony of all time. The Olympics were here, tomorrow! Nothing can beat today. Not a flood of Australian gold medals, not even meeting Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny with the Tooth Fairy all at once.

Stadium Australia, Olympic Games 2000
Stadium Australia during the full swing of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The view from above was spectacular

You’re probably thinking ‘okay Tyler…so you loved your first flight but what does this have to do with the 747 Jumbo?’ This explanation is more straight forward. My primary school offered an educational trip to Japan and I applied for it quicker than you can say konichiwa. Having flown a couple of times now, I knew what to expect from a flight to Sydney, but having never been on a plane for more than an hour, I didn’t quite know what treat I was in for.

Upon arrival at Brisbane International, my eyes are immediately drawn to the massive piece of metal that’s sitting at the gate. It’s a Japan Airlines Boeing 747-300 and I’ve never seen a machine this big before. My dad gets jealous, my mum was probably worried if I packed enough socks, but none of it mattered to me because I was off to Japan. Don’t get me wrong; the flight wasn’t the best thing about the trip. My entire world changed in two weeks in the land of the rising sun and I was incredibly fortunate to experience this. My world had opened to boundless horizons, and simultaneously my love affair with aviation grew out of this world when I was seated at the window of literally a flying monster that accelerates faster, roars louder and transports me to new and exotic cultures.

Japan Airlines 747-300
Japan Airlines 747-300, the aircraft type used in 2004 for Brisbane-Tokyo flights

Circling back to modern day tipsy Tyler at a Brisbane bar on the last day of November 2018; I’ve got a decision to make. This is the last ever Boeing 747 service scheduled out of Brisbane, my home to everything. It’s unlikely another airline will re-introduce the 747 for Brisbane services. On the same token, there are so many reasons why I didn’t have to jump on this flight; there are still quite a few routes and airlines I can fly and go overseas at the same time; Qantas isn’t retiring the entire 747 fleet for another couple of years and other airlines such as Lufthansa have recently taken delivery of the latest 747-8 which will likely be in service for one to two decades. My head was going crazy. It was a fifty-fifty lineball decision to make. What would I think in ten years time when I look back on this decision, which would I regret the least? Goodness just buy the ticket already…so I did.

Qantas Boeing 747
My ride to Sydney on VH-OJS “Hamilton Island” on the last Jumbo service scheduled from Brisbane

And boy did I enjoy every moment of it! The flight was about 80% full; mainly consisting fellow plane nerds, plus a few unsuspecting passengers who had just booked a ticket from Los Angeles to Sydney via Brisbane as part of their normal travel arrangement.

Inside Boing 747
I was very lucky and had three seats to myself on the right hand side

I couldn’t help but take a sub-par selfie to celebrate the moment.

On Boeing 47
My goodness, I am hungover

The departure out of Brisbane was spectacular. Jetting off from runway 01, we banked right and had excellent views of the Brisbane CBD despite a few clouds lurking around.

Brisbane Aerial View
Brisbane on a sparkling Saturday morning

Unfortunately the flight came to an end after a lightning 1 hour 13 minutes. The aircraft was due to fly to Honolulu later that day, but no 747 will be scheduled to fly to the River City again.

External Super Jumbo A380
Exiting via the stairs was a fitting way to end this incredible experience, with a newer generation ‘Super Jumbo’ A380 in the background

Flying has brought this planet closer together over the last six decades with a massive thank you due to the Boeing 747. We have cut our travel times from Sydney to London from two weeks in the mid ’30s to under 24 hours today. This plane revolutionised the way we travel, how we connect with one another in the world and allows opportunity for ordinary people to experience extraordinary things. The naysayers will tell you this plane is old and consumes a lot more fuel than the latest state of the art Dreamliner and isn’t worth flying anymore. However without it, the ease and convenience of travel may be decades behind where we are today.

I chose to fly on that day for a couple of simple reasons. This was the kind of aircraft that first transported me to a new culture, a different way of thinking and many new experiences. I remember my first flight from Brisbane to Sydney and Tokyo so vividly that I can recall facts about those flights a lot faster than remembering what I had for lunch an hour ago. All of my great aviation stories start from Brisbane, it always has for me. That’s why I opted in for the hour-long joy ride, to treasure the memories of old and inspire me to create new ones in the future. Let’s go places.

Featured photo @ Brisbane on take off on QF56 – the last scheduled Boeing 747 service departing BNE

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