Wednesday 22 of July 2020 an era at Qantas is coming to an end with the departure of the last Boeing 747 from the Qantas fleet.
My own Qantas 747 experience started back in 1973. This was the time when most long distance flights were done on either Boeing 707, Douglas DC8, Coronados and VC10’s. Some aircraft types long forgotten by the general public.
1973 was difficult for traveldue to by the oil crisis and subsequent changes to flight schedules as I experienced on my December journey to Australia. Just in case, you don’t know, at those times my journeys started from Germany.
The initial trip was scheduled to be Stuttgart – Zuerich – Damascus- Calcutta – Singapore – Melbourne with Swissair, BOAC and Singapore airlines. This was, remember, the time before aviation alliances and one stop long distance travel. Flights and carriers were often mixed, as on this flight, the return was on Lufthansa.
But just prior to my departure the oil crisis struck with weekend driving prohibited in Germany and alternating numberplate driving days.
Subsequently on very short notice BOAC the carrier of my first long distance sector, decided to fly to Bangkok only instead of Singapore, on the argument that fuel was cheaper there. In Bangkok we would be transferred to a Japan Airlines DC8 which was on a stopover on the way to Singapore.
Of course, this would suddenly become a very tight affair with the Singapore transit.
The first part of the trip was uneventful. In early December Stuttgart and Zuerich were cold and snowy, so I looked forward with great anticipation to the warmer weeks on the opposite side of the world.
Leaving Zuerich on the VC10 of BOAC was another great experience. VC10’s were never used that much, though on my second trip to Australia in 1975, I still saw one example in Sydney. The VC10 was a very comfortable aircraft. Very quiet, since the engines were at the tail and smooth wings, which would ride out turbulences without the usual buffeting and rocketing experienced by the swinging engines in a 707 or DC8.
Though by modern standards the cabin was rather spartan with virtuallyno inflight entertainment compared to modern standard. But I think they screened a movie. For our younger readers, inflight screenings were a rather cumbersome affair. The projector was housed half inside the cabin ceiling. The light source was a hot lamp, which frequently burned holes into a jammed film. I think the film format must have been 16mm, but may even been 8mm. Prior to the screening, the stewardess, yes, we called them this in those days, not flight attendants as today, would pull down a projection screen in the front of the cabin.
The sound would literally piped through to the headphones and the sound quality was that of a medium quality hearing aid.
Not only did the film jam frequently, but the view of the screen was often restricted by the seat in front of you or the cigarette smoke.
Yes, those were the flights were smoking was not only permitted, but you could find yourself easily seated next to a smoker on a 10 hour long flight.
So we made our way to Damascus. We were not allowed to leave the aircraft, but the desert wind and flavours of the Orient came wavering through the open cabin doors since there were no airbridges.
I don’t remember much of the next sector, since I slept through it. Thankfully I was always able to sleep soundly during flights. Landing in Calcutta, again we were not allowed to leave the aircraft. The last sector was to Bangkok and I remember with wonder the sight of the tropical cloud towers, we weaved our way through and the flooded plains on the approach to Bangkok Don Muang International airport.
In Bangkok we had to leave the aircraft. The terminal was, what is nowadays a military building, open to the tarmac. Hot air entered freely and we could watch the activity unencumbered.
Our JAL flight arrived on time and everything seemed fine. But the gods of travel had different ideas. Once we were all seated, one passenger was missing. However his luggage stored in the belly of the plane and not, as it is today, in containers or Iglus, but loaded manually piece by piece.
The luggage had to be found and offloaded, since JAL was extremely safety conscious. This resulted in delay and subsequently the loss of my Singapore Airlines connection.
Being stranded in Singapore, just prior to Christmas had problems. Singapore in those times, was not the tourist stopover from today and hotels were more sparse.
The second problem, it was Christmas travel season and hotels and flights were full.
I teamed up with an Australian guy I met in Bangkok and against considerable resistance we managed to get JAL to pay for hotel, food and taxi. But now we were stuck. Calls to Singapore Airlines, and it was possible to get airline staff on the phone without waiting for hours, only resulted in “no seat available, sorry sir”.
This was no good, so we decided after a two days to drive to the airport. Singapore Airport was also very different in those times. Open to the airfield we could see which aircraft were standing around. I spotted an Air India flight and on the flight display said it was heading for Perth and Sydney.
At the SQ desk were again told that no seats were available until after Christmas and waiting lists were closed.
Our hotel stay would not be funded for such a long time, so we had to get out. I asked how about rebooking on to another airline.
“There is no flight”, we were told. But while I held my position at the SQ counter, when you are young, you are much more brash, my companion went to Air India to see if they had place. Yes, they had two seats, but the flight was closing.
Back at SQ we made some fuss and possibly more out of desperation to get rid of us, rather than goodwill, SQ rewrote our ticket and we found ourself on that AirIndia flight.
This part of the journey was not without issues either, but that is for another time.
Finally we arrived in Sydney. But my destination was Melbourne.
Again, how do I get there? On an international ticket, I could not get on to a domestic flight and just booking one was out of the question, due to the very high value of the Australian Dollar against the Deutschmark and the extremely high one-way airfare.
I don’t remember how, but ultimately I was given a seat on the afternoon Qantas Boeing 747 service to Melbourne and London.
While I don’t remember much of the flight itself. No wonder after a lengthy stop in Perth in the middle of the night and the early arrival in Sydney.
But the aircraft was a Qantas 747-200 in the ‘old’ livery, with the beige/orange cheat-line along the fuselage.
Since that time I have of course sampled many Qantas and non-Qantas Boeing 747 flights from the 200 and 300 series, right through to the latest -8 .
There will never again be a flight on a Qantas Boeing 747. Though, there is still the chance that I may catch rideon a Boeing 747-8 from Lufthansa.
In the mean time, there is still the first Qantas B747-400, the ‘Canberra’, which is parked at HARS at Albion Park Airport if I feel desperate for the 747 feeling. Actually the “Canberra” and I have some history together as well.
By the way, my luggage on this final leg from Sydney to Melbourne had been tagged wrong and went all the way back to London.