A Plane for Everyone
In March of this year the Delta Flight Museum will display its newest artifact: a Boeing 747. If your idea of a museum object is fragile and dainty this will have you re-thinking museums. Born in Seattle in 1969, by the Boeing team lead by Joe Sutter, the 747 changed aviation. The litany of firsts associated with this aircraft has filled books. The museum’s ship 6301 is a first in its own right. Delivered to Northwest Airlines in December of 1989, it is the first -400 version of the 747. Often referred to as iconic, the Boeing 747 holds a special place in the hearts of passengers and crew alike.
While airplane enthusiasts may speak of the runways that needed to be lengthened, and of the, as yet to be designed, engines that would carry the plane aloft, it is the space inside that deserves some attention. A space that was enviably inclusive and exclusive all at once.
To begin with the space was large. The 747 was the first aircraft to have two aisles. Early pictures from Boeing show passengers enjoying legroom that would have today’s first class passengers scrambling for a seat in the back. The sidewalls did not curve-in leaving the cabin feeling cramped, but went straight up, almost encouraging the tallest of travelers to stand. The dual aisle aircraft enabled passengers to move with more freedom than their single aisle counterparts. Bathrooms numbered in the double digits and were located throughout the airplane, not just in the front and back. The tray tables that were introduced on the Boeing 707 could be found at each seat so you could enjoy a meal along with your in-flight entertainment. Boeing’s hope was that the open space of the 747 would have passengers thinking they were in their living room.
The people filling the plane represented a broader spectrum of U.S. citizenry than ever before. The increased seating capacity allowed for lower ticket prices. People who were once excluded due to higher costs were now taking a seat. The aircraft designers considered the upper deck, or “bump”, on the top of the aircraft, as a place for the crew to rest. Juan Trippe, Pan Am’s founder turned it over to luxury travelers. The small cabin, accessible by a private staircase, maintained the exclusivity of previous flying. Many a flight attendant has had to say, “yes you can take a ‘peek’ but you will have to wait until we land.”
Crews loved the plane as well. Its multiple galleys had plenty of storage for catering and other items needed for the long flights. As a flight attendant you are constantly looking for ways to wow your passengers and the interior did some of the work for you. The galleys had been placed in the center of the aircraft, leaving the preferred windows available for passenger seating. Simply entering the 747 upper deck had the ability to make grownups smile. The space itself made them feel special. The enormous main deck interior was broken up into smaller sections for the comfort of the passengers, but for those working on the flight it allowed for quick and easy access to supplies. As a flight attendant the main deck was perhaps the only negative. I am not sure if I can express how intimidating it is to pull a beverage cart to the front of a cabin of this size and know there are 300 plus thirsty passengers awaiting your arrival. In each instance you just put one foot in front of the other and start. You try and do justice to passengers who are going on a once in a lifetime vacation, an important business meeting or simply to see friends and family. But on the 747 you also try to do justice to the many crews that made the plane the most elegant place to be, the sexiest place to be and the only plane to fly on during its time in the air.
Lisa Flaherty is a career flight attendant and a public historian with a love of aviation stories