We took the iconic Air India Boeing 747, before it perhaps retires soon. We hopped aboard to experience its grandeur before it could bid adieu to the skies, permanently. By Riaan Jacob George
What if I told you that I boarded a flight from Mumbai to Delhi, did not step out of Delhi airport, and took a flight right back—all in one evening? You would think I am crazy, but here’s a story worth telling.
A couple of days ago, on the eve of my departure, I found out that Air India would be operating its iconic—and old—Boeing 747-400 on the 10.30 pm departure from Delhi to Mumbai. This is a very rare occasion, given that the airline barely flies this particular aircraft type anymore. I decided to treat myself to one last flight on this historic plane, before an impending retirement. While there is no official confirmation on when the Boeing 747 will be retired, all signs indicate that it will retire very soon, perhaps even unceremoniously. And so, I hopped on an evening flight to Delhi to be able to catch the much-loved Jumbo back. Here’s how it went.
Why the nostalgia?
The Jumbo’s cult status needs no introduction in the aviation world. Air India has been operating this aircraft type for five decades now. In the collective consciousness of most Indian travellers in the ‘80s and ‘90s, when Air India’s Jumbos were in the peak of their prime and when long-haul flights were not as normalised as they are now, the aircraft symbolised international travel, glamour, luxury and aspiration. Back then, Air India jumbos were synonymous to luxury travel with their posh in-flight lounge, artsy cabin panels, and stewardesses clad in designer silk saris. While today’s jumbos are a shadow of their former selves, there is surely a certain charm, a presence, and an element of aviation history attached to it. Its retirement will make the end of an era for Indian aviation.
For me, the Air India Boeing 747 represents so many things: trips abroad with my travel-loving parents, my first ever visit to Paris, and solo trips as a teenager. As an eager child, I always clicked pictures in front of planes. When I was a student in France, this jumbo transported me there. After staying abroad for extended periods, this jumbo gave me a sense of comfort, of ‘India’, as I boarded my flight back home. As a child, a teenager, a university student, and now a media professional, this plane has played a special part in my life. Hence, this last flight is something I just had to do for myself. In hindsight, it was perhaps here that the seeds were sown for my future career in travel.
As I waited to board at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, I could see her parked on the tarmac. The unmistakable hump on the top of the aircraft is a treat to the eyes. This small upper deck section is unique to this aircraft and houses the business class cabin. I was soon welcomed on board by two PPE-clad cabin crew members. Though their faces were not visible, the warm and gracious ‘namaskar, welcome aboard’ shone through. The aircraft was VT-EVA, christened ‘Agra’, and had entered service almost 25 years ago. Fun fact: this particular plane has also been frequently used as Air India One, the Prime Minister’s aircraft.
As I walked through the cabin, I felt like I had fallen through a looking glass into the 1990s. The cabin was visibly worn out and somewhat dingy, but there was so much character and soul in every corner. Inside the cabin, one gets an idea about just how big this aircraft is, spread across five zones and an upper deck with its characteristic staircase. Racing down the runway, we made a smooth takeoff from Delhi, and I thought to myself that this would be the last time I’d be taking off in a 747. During the flight, I spent time walking around the cabin, photographing and taking videos of my experience—the seats, the windows, the wing, and the vintage Maharajah sticker on the exit. I managed to get a few pictures of the upper deck, too. The stunning curved ceiling of the upper deck cabin is a photographer’s delight. While the seats are spacious, they are certainly not up to the level of Air India’s more modern aircraft. But I love them anyway!
After having my fill of creating content, it was time to buckle up again and prepare for landing. A couple of minutes and a buttery landing later, we arrived in Mumbai. The captain made an articulate announcement welcoming passengers, as well as the many fellow aviation geeks on board the flight.
Before I disembarked, I managed to take a few pictures of the plane’s nose, which houses the first class cabin.
Fortunately, we had no aerobridge and hence I managed to get some great final views of the plane from the steps. As the bus drove away towards the terminal, I caught one last glimpse of this beauty—aptly named Queen of the Skies.
When and how Air India actually retires its jumbos is anyone’s guess, as most major airlines have already axed them. With the frequency of these flights becoming so rare, I’m glad to have got myself on one of them, as a final goodbye. Farewell to the Queen of the Skies, thank you for flying millions of wide-eyed Indians across the globe. For me, you’ll always be the most beautiful aircraft in the skies!