I Was Equipment Swapped to an Old Terrible Product & Why It Was AWESOME!

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The Unexpected Equipment Change

Every aviation enthusiast has a plane they absolutely love to fly on, but there is only one “Queen of the Skies”. The 747-400 began service in 1988 as a replacement to the 747-300 which dated back all the way to the 1960’s. For a long time this huge jumbo jet was the only mainstream aircraft with two passenger decks. Of course the A380 came along as a competitor and technology meant this gas guzzler wasn’t efficient to run. So slowly it’s dying.

Growing up my family didn’t travel internationally a lot, which means my first 747 experience came as an adult. Back in 2007 during our 18 month around the world trip, I was so excited to book travel on an Air Pacific (now Fiji Airways) 747 to New Zealand via Fiji. Even back then the plane was dated but it had an IFE screen at every seat (no on-demand video though) and it was a comfortable ride.

korean airlines 747-400 first class review
My son in front of our Air Pacific 747 in Nadi, Fiji 2007.

Since then I have checked off my 747 boxes whenever I could. Back in 2014 when flying Cathay Pacific on an intra-asia route I chose business class instead of first just to fly on the upper deck. Then, a couple of years ago my dad and I flew on the second to last Cathay Pacific 747 flight in First Class located in the nose of the aircraft. It was amazing to see just how much the Cathay crew loved this plane and were sad to have their final flights on it.

Earlier this year the last of the U.S. airlines dumped the 747 which means it is getting harder to find and when you do, the planes are generally dated and not as nice as newer planes since airlines don’t want to invest in updating them. Within a decade you won’t find many more of these planes around.

korean airlines 747-400 first class review
Cathay Pacific 747-400
korean airlines 747-400 first class review
Cathay Pacific 747-400 First Class

I mentioned earlier that I have checked off my boxes for the 747. Having flown on Air Pacific (Fiji Airways), KLM, British Airways, United and Cathay Pacific versions of the plane, I was able to fly coach, fly business on the upper deck and even fly in the nose in First Class. There was only one more thing that I wanted to do.

As I wrote about the other day, I took a quick last minute trip to Asia. As part of my return journey, I booked Korean Air First class on their 747-8. This is the newer version of the 747, but it is very rare since only 36 of them have been delivered to commercial airlines. Only Lufthansa, Korean Air and Air China fly this plane and with few orders, it doesn’t look like many more (if any) will be delivered for commercial use.

When I booked my flight I was so excited because I was able to book Seat 1A. This meant that I was going to be flying as far forward as possible on the giant plane. While I had previously flown in the nose of a 747-400 on Cathay, I was in the 3rd row. I had always wanted to be in the FRONT. I am still very excited for that upcoming flight, but……something else happened that was SO COOL!

First Class……SOLO

korean airlines 747-400 first class review
Korean Airlines 747-400
korean airlines 747-400 first class review
Korean Air 747-400 First Class cabin

One of the cool things about my return ticket was that I was going to get to experience Korean Air’s new Cosmo 2.0 Suite in First Class twice. My ticket had me flying TPE-ICN in a 777-300ER and then ICN-SFO in the 747-8. (Both have the new product.) Imagine my surprise then when I got to the gate and found “The Queen”. An old 747-400 sitting there waiting to bring me to Korea!

Of course I was excited for this development since it meant my seat 1A would give me the experience of flying in the very front on both the 747-400 and the 747-8. (As long as they don’t change planes on that upcoming flight.) How awesome is that? But wait, it gets so much better. As I boarded the aircraft the flight attendant let me know I was the only one flying First Class on this flight. Yes, I had the ENTIRE nose of the plane to myself.

korean airlines 747-400 first class review

korean airlines 747-400 first class review
Korean Air 747-400 first class ashtrays!

I will say Korean Air’s 747-400 aircraft are old and dated. (The seats have ashtrays!) These planes will be replaced sooner rather than later so they don’t have any of the airline’s recent seat products. This means that my first class seat was an angled lie flat affair with a small IFE screen that came out of the armrest. This cabin screamed 2000 (or even ’90s) but I didn’t care. The flight was short and I was so excited to be there.

The truth is that jetlag kicked in after about an hour and with such a quiet and private cabin, I fell asleep for most of the short flight, but that’s okay. With 1:1 flight attendant service, a quiet cabin and a throwback interior, this flight turned out to be one of my favorites in awhile.

What is your favorite experience flying on the “Queen of the Skies”? Let me know in the comments!


  1. Oh the memories. My first flight on a first generation 747 was in late January, 1991, from Frankfurt to … Tehran, on Iran Air. (sic) Apart from the extraordinary security at the time…. my fondest memory of that packed flight remains the food. I’m not kidding — they served multi course chelo-kabab on that flight. (with your choice of lamb or a large tender steak) Best in-flight food ever. Last I heard, they’re still flying those ancient planes….

  2. You are indeed lucky! I flew on the KE 747-400 ICN-MNL in F and I was also the only passenger in F. SOO COOL! I’d say that and flying LH 747-400 MAA-FRA back when they still had F on the upper deck with its own bed and seat. Also lucked out and was the only passenger in that flight.
    Nowadays, A380s and 787s and a350s are a dime a dozen. It’s now getting rare to see the Queen.

  3. Seat 1A on a United 747 from SFO to Seoul in early 2017. The trip was also my time in First (and first time in Business on Asiana to SYD after that), and my most memorable time in a 747. Only other experiences were flying to London in 2008 and my return to the U.S. from Brisbane to LAX on that same Australia trip (which was actually stellar in economy).

    Looking to fly a Lufthansa 747 in business, and hopefully a Korean one as well. I know the Queen of the Skies is a dying breed.

  4. My favorite so far has been Lufthansa first from BKK to FRA upper deck where you had a seat and a separate bed. The best flight ever!

  5. My first flight in a 747 was in June 1970 in economy on my first trip to Europe as a college student. And my girlfriend and I got upgraded to FC on a flight to Puerto Rico (1976) – but the upper deck was a deserted lounge on that flight.
    If memory serves me correctly, my DH and I flew in the front row of a 747 from Paris to JFK back in fall 1989. It was PanAm and our RT FIrst Class tickets to Paris were something like 70K each – I remember learning the paid fare and it was something like $14,000!! Flight over was an Airbus with 2 rows configured 2-2-2 with 2 smoking seats in the 2nd row and the galley was about 2 feet in front of us! Food was great, served seat-side, but no such thing as lie-flat seats back then. So our return on the 747 was so spacious in comparison. The config was 2-2 I think, except for the 1st row which was 2-1. Don’t remember seat back IFE because I recall having tons of room in front of us – my husband had newspapers falling everywhere and the woman across the aisle, who I assume must have paid for her tickets, gave him the dismayed “who let the riff-raff in here” look.
    But we flew economy for years after that (except for a couple of FC upgrades from TWA on cross-country jaunts when they mistakenly sent me a gold card).
    Can’t remember the half of my more recent premium cabin flights, but still remember those oldies. Premium cabins have come a long way, but those memories are priceless.

  6. Awesome attitude!
    My sister and I were booked on Korean Air in F from LAX-ICN last October, and we also had a last minute equipment swap to this very same plane. Though we chose to make it fun for our sister trip, it really wasn’t. A three hour delay, hot cabin, embarrassed and MIA flight attendants and economy class food all contributed to a weird, but very memorable flight.

  7. Many years ago flying First Class on PanAm. The upper desk was seating at tables where dinner was served.


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