I realized that this event has very little amount of publicity among English sources, so I hope that this report is able to bring everyone a detailed insight into this event. Enjoy the report !!
On my flight, the aircraft took off and landed in the same airport which is Taipei-Taoyuan (TPE/RCTP) since it was a special flight.
The Boeing 747 needs no introduction for aviation enthusiasts around the world. The farewell bid to the Queen of the skies is always a bittersweet occasion. With covid-19 pandemic hitting the aviation industry like no other disaster before, the gas guzzling 747 is unsurprisingly at the mercy of speedy retirement. However, with the relative stability in Taiwan (accurate for March 2021), I was more than grateful to see China Airlines organize a proper goodbye for this engineering marvel, let alone being one of the 300+ lucky humans that took part in the actual flight. If you ask me how I booked, it was through a dedicated website that they partnered with one of the local travel website. those folks who desperately tried to snatch a seat in your favorite celebrity’s concert will know– Speed and Luck.
Under the backdrop of the global pandemic, China Airlines ( yes a Taipei based airline, do not confuse it with the Beijing based Air China) made this farewell flight a so called “micro trip”. Essentially speaking, the flight would take off and land at the same place (Taipei Taoyuan-TPE); or in other words, flight to nowhere. This is done so that passengers and crews would not be subjected to quarantine that applies to foreign inbound passengers.
However, China Airlines went the extra mile. Since Japan is one of the most popular destinations for Taiwanese, the airline partnered with the Government of Shizuoka. If that sounds familiar to some travelers, that’s because the legendary Mt.Fuji is located in this prefecture/ region. Yes, flying the queen of the skies over Mt.Fuji and back, just how better can life get? In this trip report, there will also be itineraries that revolve around this particular region in Japan, which shouldn’t come at a surprise.
I first arrived at Taipei's Taoyuan Airport via the airport subway from Taipei city. Since China Airline based its 747 in Terminal 2, that is where I arrived. Under the context of the global Covid-19 pandemic, it felt surreal to still see so much noises and crowds at the airport. I could not be more grateful for how lucky we were in Taiwan, where the Covid-19 was kept at bay (accurate as of March 2021) . Without this precondition, the farewell party probably would not even happen.
Check in starts exactly at 7:47 am local time. How befitting to the aircraft. For the airline to spice things up, we even had a countdown to begin the check in. I could see people already flashing their cameras at the check in desk. The festivity is evident, people were ecstatic to be the chosen lucky ones. There were talks about their longest flight being on the 747, or how they got to experience first class for the first time on the queen. It is hard to comprehend how much legacy, memories and prestige this aircraft carried. It carried 3.5 billion people for more than 5 decades, carried numerous world leaders to summits that changed the world and countless of people who worked around and grew up with her.
Check in formalities were swift and I was soon handed out with truck loads of souvenirs. China Airlines really went all out on this farewell ceremony that the word “special” would be a disgusting understatement. In fact, I received 2 Boeing 747-400 1:200 scale models.Not one but TWO. For those who are interested with the details, one model is the B-18215, the last passenger 747-400 to be built, the other being B-18211, the only 747 to wear a Skyteam livery. The Shizuoka theme also continued here with postcards and neat little things of Mt.Fuji which I could not even recall. There were just too many of them to make you forget that airlines are for-profit corporations
If one had not realized by now what cabin I am in, I would unapologetically announce that I was one of the 24 blessed to be seated at THE UPPER DECK BUSINESS CLASS. Envy?
Business class passengers are entitled for lounge access. For departure out of Terminal 2, China Airlines's lounge is located near gate D4. Upon clearing the reception passengers will have to proceed one level below to reach the main lounge. Accessing this lounge require passengers to be flying in business class or hold an emerald membership of the Dynasty frequent flyer or above. Due to the pandemic, equivalent status of Skyteam membership will not be granted access unless the passenger is in business class. Furthermore, food services has been reduced to canned drinks and pre-made bento set to reduce the risk of infection, and operating cost . Mask wearing was also mandatory unless eating or drinking.
In my honest opinion, the lounge was only passable but not particularly amazing in facilities and spaces. This is nothing like the United Polaris or Cathay's The Pier. Nevertheless it provided me a space to wind down a bit before the up coming festivities.
Taiwan faced a new wave of outbreak since mid-May and all food consumptions were banned inside the terminal including lounges.
For a farewell flight, it would only be appropriate to have some party at the gate, fortunately we had plenty of them. There was a giant poster for us to sign, photo booths that faced the plane, guest speeches and even a fashion show that displayed past crew uniforms of China Airlines.
If all these were not enough, China Airlines decided to pull up all 3 of their 747-400 in their fleet, signaling the end of an era in one last all out gathering. The 3 queens were B-18210(60 anniv. livery), B-18211(Skyteam) and B-18215 (the last 747-400). The giant poster that carried participants’ signatures was also taken to the ramp by the ground staff for a nice farewell shot. Reporters of local media also joined our flight to send off this iconic machine. Soon enough I started to see news coverage being streamed on TVs and covered on the internet.
B-18215 will have the honour to carry out the chapter ending flight, a befitting choice considering that it is the last in the world. Delivered in April 2005, it was only 16 years young, a very young age compared to its British Airways and Lufthansa counterparts. The A380 was already preparing for its first flight when B-18215 was delivered.
As shown in the picture, the day started with heavy fog but eventually cleared.
As part of the itinerary , we were granted a detailed tour of the 747. Since this aircraft was built in 2005, it received a refreshed, Boeing 777 like interior. Compared to the old, boxy overhead bins of the 747, this relatively new interior only exemplified the cavernous space inside the 747. Despite the elimination of first class long ago,this particular aircraft was still decked out in China Airlines old cabin of 12 first class, 49 business class and 314 economy seats. As the picture would tell, they are vintage for today’s standard.
A detailed tour of the 3 cabin classes and galleys were granted, however crew rest and cockpits were restricted from entry.
For the geeks out there, this aircraft was powered by four General Electric CF-6-80C2 engines. This was one of the final iterations of the long lasting CF6 family. Rated at 270kN (roughly 60,000 lbf), it was powerful enough that 2 was all needed to power the A300 and 767. Its brother type, the 80E1 powered the A330 and are still in service all over the world in 2021. Since the 747-400s were developed from the late 1980s, the fuselage was good old aluminium with many vital components constructed from steel. Despite the cockpit displays being glass cockpits, it still uses the good old triple redundant hydraulics instead of fancy fly by wire. Upon researching, I found out that the 747-400 had so much improvement over the -300 it felt like they are generations apart. The then new CF-6 engines, extra fuel capacity and the winglets allowed it to fly some 2300km more than the previous -300 series ( achieving 14000 km instead of 11700 km ). Dimension wise, there was no change at 70.7 meters long and 64 meters wingspan. Maximum take off weight stood at around 400 tonnes,still a goliath by any means.
After hours of gate events, boarding commenced at 11:20 at gate D6. The boarding time was slightly delayed due to the heavy fog present in the morning hours of Taipei. The flight will bear the flight number of CI 2747, symbolizing the non-routine special flight of the 747.
No flying is more special than the one that took me up via the iconic stair-case of the 747. Since most 747s have their upper-deck loaded out in business class configuration, It is easy to imagine how privileged one has to be to regularly fly on the upper deck of the 747. Unsurprisingly, this was my first time being in the upper deck of the 747. There were only 24 business class recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration, giving it a vibe of a medium size private jet. However, the seats and equipment really did show its age. Instead of the lie flat bed we had accustomed to , the seats were more like oversized premium economy seats with 47 inch of pitch and 19 inch of width. Lower deck business class was in an even denser 2-3-2 configuration.
I was assigned with the seat 10K, a perfect window seat to capture the wing and engine view. The large storage compartment was also a welcoming perk. Such a feature are only found on double decker's like the A380 and 747, this was because the upper deck had ample of lower space but not enough headroom for an extra seat due to the curvature of the fuselage. Seat wise, the age really took its toll on how supportive it was, nevertheless I still manage to get comfy with the pillow and blanket provided. The IFE touchscreen was unresponsive and difficult to adjust, but that does not matter as there are plenty of things to keep me busy for the next 5 hours. Call me surprised, but there was universal power outlet for every business class seat.
Services in business class started promptly after settling into my seat. The lack of large covid-19 outbreak means welcome drinks and snacks were served. The cold-pressed Guava mix juice and the signature mix nuts suited my taste. The first impression of the crew was wonderful and I can feel their enthusiasm for this flight. At this point, the flight has yet to be pushed back, but passengers had begun to talk to each other about their past memories in flying the 747. At 11:40 am, the lumbering 747-400 begiun its crawling pace push back. Soon, engine 1, engine 2…… the queen roared to life as the 4 powerful CF-6 fired up. The sheer demand of bleed air to start the engines means the aircraft could not start all engines at once. But to me, it all adds up to the building of excitement and drama. Just think about flicking up 4 of those fuel pumps buttons on the throttle control and seeing the compressor speed indicator rising up– absolutely satisfying.
The push back show wouldn't be complete without being flanked by 2 of its sister aircraft. This was , as per airline’s statement, to signal the end of the family. How sad was that, but I guess this was the grand finale that only the queen fit to receive. The long poster that participants previously signed in the terminal was also brought out onto the apron by the ground staff to waive a good bye
Taxi did not take long. Runway 5 Left came into our sight. At 12:12 pm UTC +8, with the kruger slats at the wing’s leading edge fully expanded, the four CF-6 engines screamed its thunderous soundtrack and the 300 tonne metal bird barrelled down the runway. The pilot executed the rotation just 43 seconds from our hold position. At this stage, we would have been blitzing down the runway at more than 270 kilometers per hour. As soon as we were airborne, the rattling and the crackling were replaced by the high pitched, monotonic scream of the 4 mighty jet engines. Soon enough, we were at cruising altitude of 39000 feet in just the matter of mere minutes.
The dramatic take off show subsided, followed by the monetary peace of enjoying the cloud breaking moment. Everyday is a sunny day, as long as you are above the weather system. The Taiwanese coastline and ridges transitioned into the endless blues of the East China Sea. Since this flight partnered with the Shizuoka government, their representative was invited to kick off the announcement of our itineraries. Our initial flight path took us on a north-easterly course over the East China Sea towards the Suruga Bay of Japan.
Once we reached our cruising altitude, services immediately kicked off. For such a special flight, it is hard to refuse the celebratory champagne. In fact, this was my first time trying it out. Unfortunately, my taste buds refused to celebrate it. At least I tried, right? On the side note, the mixed nuts are addictive, can't possibly pass on.
A Japan themed trip would not be complete without some Japanese cuisine. Lucky enough, I managed to pre-ordered the Japanese selection for my main course.
The canapes were beautifully presented asparagus ham egg roll and foie gras cream pumpkin slice. The main course, following the Japanese theme was neatly plated in a Japanese style bento box. The side dishes tasted stellar. They were refreshing, mild in seasoning yet providing complex layers of different taste. However, there were too many ingredients for me to even recall them precisely so let the picture speak on its own. The main dish, grilled eel rice ,however was rather forgettable as the rice was cooked on the dry side.
Save the best for the last, that is very much true here. The dessert was an absolute highlight. A Fly over above Shizuoka would be blasphemous without trying out their matcha green tea, hence our dessert- matcha cake with cream cheese and red bean paste served with seasonal fruits. The matcha flavor retained its authentic bitterness without overpowering the sweetness of the redbean. The cheese was creamy and the chocolate crumble at the bottom added a layer of crunchiness. All of that drawn to a close with the authentic matcha green tea. It was absolutely divine.
When the feast was done, we were already above the Suruga bay. Despite the partially cloudy weather , we still commanded a sweeping view of Mt.Fuji located at the aircraft’s northwest. When the pilot abruptly announced Mt.Fuji was in sight, flocks of passengers suddenly scrambled towards the left windows. My seatmate, probably terrified, asked me if the aircraft would lose its balance. Well,for those hardcore aviation geeks, we all know how the fuel cross-feed pump allowed me to write this essay very much alive on the ground.
Just about this time, passengers were allowed to walk around and explore the cabin. In the aircraft, we can see people from different age gaps and different backgrounds coming together for one special purpose. It was a delightful feeling. With everyone open for some conversation exchange, I could hear university students joining for their graduation memories, frequent flyers reminiscing about the changes of hard products, retired crews cherishing their final moment to fly with the queen and the current cabin crews sharing their knowledge of operating the galleys. The flashes of camera, chattering and laughing never stop. The iconic staircase also became the premier “tourist spot” of the sky with queues of people waiting for a photography chance. However, my favorite part has to be the catering elevator located at the back alley of the upper deck. Before the days of the A380, there was no catering truck that could lift the trolleys up to the upper deck, hence upper deck food had to be delivered from the lower deck before going through this elevator.
With all the activities, there was not a jolt or shiver from this old reliable jumbo. The 4 engines hum in the background while the aircraft flies on a steady course. Without intentionally looking at the flight display, probably nobody would have realized we were flying at the staggering speed of 1009 km/h. If this is not an engineering marvel, I don’t know what is.
Three hours came and went. The queen slowly made its left bank, gracefully yet effortlessly. The ailerons moved delicately, trying to guide the gargantuan aircraft into the right course. There is no denying that this plane is heavy, the physics does not hide it. But it turned with ease and stability. The sun was already setting while we cruised back towards Taipei. The crew started handing out the flight’s commemorative certificate while I managed to get one of my model 747 signed by the pilots. As lucky as I was, the crew told me I was the last passenger that the pilots would accept to sign off. Just as I thought this was the last souvenir of this flight, the Shizuoka government doubled down with even more snacks and cartoon character Maruko’s postcard. At this point, I could barely carry all of them myself. I guess that’s killing me with kindness?
I spent my final hour reclining my seat and soaking into the views outside. The engine hums hypnotically , trying to let time flow slowly. Just as I was yet to be satisfied with the journey, the low pitched hum ran across the aircraft. The kruger slats slowly peaked out from under the leading edge. The altitude now reads 35000 feet…..32000…..29000. The fading sun now passes through the gaps of the sea of clouds. We were now descending and soon, the lush green coastline of Taiwan reappeared, but this time with a splash of yellow shades. Evening was approaching soon.
Flaps fully extended, the houses on the ground were getting bigger. At 17:23 UTC +8. The 16 massive main landing gear kisses the ground. The opening spoilers and slats exposed the mechanical intricacy of the wings in full glory as the thrust reverser cascaded the atmosphere with whooshing sound. The 747 felt firmly planted on the asphalt. The touchdown signaled the end of a great era, the end of quad engines in passenger flights in Taiwan and marked the coming of the new generation. This could not be more true as a 777-300ER and A350-900 of China Airlines pulled up on our side, like the change of guards, the era of twin engine domination is officially here. For the sharp eyes, notice that the 777 featured here wears the Boeing blue livery- the only commercially operating 777 to carry this color.
In all honesty, it was emotional to walk down the iconic staircase, let alone stepping out of the plane. If I were to cherry pick the imperfection of this trip, that would be not getting the access to the cockpit. Nevertheless , it is hard to forget every bit of detail that filled this journey. From the 747’s iconic hump , the roar of the 4 engines , the fantastic soft products to the chattering with all the folks who are passionate about the 747 and aviation in general were all memories to be cherished. A big thank you to the crew and everyone who made this event possible. For the B-18215 and the rest of the 747s that served China Airlines, it will be remembered as an iconic piece in Taiwanese aviation.
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A truly unforgettable experience. A farewell flight on the last 747-400 at the upper deck, I cannot possibly asked for more.