Flights CX542 and CX543, operating a return service between Hong Kong and Haneda, bring an end to nearly four decades of stellar operations by the 'Queen of the Skies'After more than 37 years of impeccable service, the iconic Boeing 747 flew out of Cathay Pacific's passenger fleet and into a well-earned retirement after completing its final passenger operation, a return journey between Hong Kong and Tokyo's Haneda Airport.
Flights CX542 and CX543, both of which operated at full capacity, gave the perfect opportunity for passengers, including Cathay Pacific's Marco Polo Club members and a large number of aviation enthusiasts from around the world, to say their last goodbyes to the “Queen of the Skies”.
To celebrate the significance of the occasion, boarding gate ceremonies were arranged in both Hong Kong and Haneda, where passengers were greeted by Cathay Pacific ambassadors wearing vintage cabin crew uniforms and offered glasses of champagne to toast the 747’s remarkable history. The ceremonies, attended by the operating crew of the last flights and senior Cathay Pacific management, provided plenty of photo-taking opportunities and excitement for both passengers and crew prior to boarding.
Passengers were welcomed on board by Inflight Service Manager Chaivaree Chitrakorn, and each was presented with a special souvenir pack containing a signed flight certificate and exclusively-designed 747-related memorabilia. Both flights were commanded by the airline’s current longest serving 747 pilot, Captain John Graham, who gave passengers a detailed overview of the 747’s accomplishments and operations with Cathay Pacific.
“The 747 is a truly amazing feat of design and engineering – and it fundamentally changed the way people travel,” said John, who has piloted Cathay Pacific 747s for more than 30 years. “The cockpit of the 747 has been my office for over three decades and I feel very proud to have captained the very last flights of this very special aircraft.”
Like John, Inflight Service Manager Chaivaree has an extremely close affinity with the 747, having worked on the aircraft since the early 1980s.
“The 747 holds a special place in the hearts of a great many Cathay Pacific cabin crew, and it has been an honour and a privilege to serve on the final flights of our ‘Queen of the Skies’. The memories I have of this wonderful aircraft will stay with me forever,” said Chaivaree.
Passenger Ronald Cang, a Marco Polo Club Diamond member for 16 continuous years, said: “I well remember my first Cathay Pacific flight on board the jumbo. The space, the upper deck cabin, the powerful thrust on take-off – these are the memories that will stay with me. The 747, the ‘Grand Dame’, has served Cathay Pacific well and I wish it a fond goodbye. Stay well, 747, as you roar off into the sunset.”
Appropriately, the aircraft that performed the last service – B-HUJ – is one of Cathay Pacific’s best-known 747s. On 6 July 1998, the aircraft was the first to land at the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok following a 15 and a half hour journey from New York. Nicknamed ‘Polar 1’, the flight was also the first to fly a direct route over the North Pole and previously prohibited Russian airspace, setting a new non-stop distance record of 7,465 nautical miles in the process. Cathay Pacific received its first 747 in 1979 and went on to become one of the largest operators of the aircraft. Credited with helping to transform the company from being a primarily regional carrier into a truly global airline, the 747, thanks to its ability to carry far more people for far greater distances than its predecessors, enabled Cathay Pacific to rapidly expand its network – and worldwide reputation – significantly during the 1980s and early 1990s.