British Airways will retire its entire fleet of Boeing airplanes, the company said on Friday, citing the travel downturn and the high cost of operating the aircraft.
The decision marked not just the finishing point of a storied plane’s service with the company but also symbolized the end an era of aviation in which the next generation of planes was always expected to be bigger, as well as better. Even years after their introduction, the sight of the s gliding into their docks, dwarfing those around them, could still evoke a thrill in the most jaded of travelers.
The world’s first jumbo jet, known as the “Queen of the Skies,” the Boeing revolutionized travel for the masses, but in recent years it had fallen out of favor with a number of airlines because of the costs.
The final commercial flight of a Boeing by an American carrier took place at the end of . But British Airways had held on, operating the world’s largest fleet of the planes, with still in service. A handful of other carriers still fly the , though their use is expected to further dwindle in the coming years.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm we are proposing to retire our entire fleet with immediate effect,” British Airways said in a statement. “It is unlikely our magnificent ‘Queen of the Skies’ will ever operate commercial services for British Airways again due to the downturn in travel caused by the Covid- global pandemic.”
When the Boeing first began service in , it was the height of modern travel technology, with room for first class and economy class passengers. Its iconic, humped upper deck, equipped with a lounge, or “club in the sky,” became synonymous with luxury travel.
With a tail height equivalent to a six-story building and a wingspan wide enough to accommodate parked cars, the was part of a period of innovation that saw engineers develop larger and larger planes that could be filled with more passengers and in that way drive down ticket prices.
But fuel costs in were so negligible that they were barely a factor in the airlines’ financial strategies. In recent years, advances in technology made the four-engine far pricier to operate than modern twin-engine planes.
The move is especially poignant for British Airways, which received its first Boeing – in and its last in April . British Airways’ predecessor, BOAC, began flying earlier versions of the in the early s. At the height of the craft’s deployment, British Airways was the second-biggest operator of the planes, after Japan Airlines, which had more than in its fleet.
Some parts of the British Airways fleet may fly again, with engine components and metal from the fuselage often stripped for other uses. For the most part, however, specialist companies are hired to dismantle and scrap planes that airlines no longer fly.
British Airways was set to retire the last of its Boeing s in , but as the coronavirus saw travel grind to a halt, threatening the finances of airlines the world over, that time frame was pushed forward. British Airways has been a company in crisis since the pandemic began, with the financial fallout threatening thousands of jobs.
In April, the carrier’s parent, the Madrid-based International Airlines Group, announced plans to restructure British Airways that could result in up to , people losing their jobs.