China Airlines Retires Boeing 747 – Plus Trip Review!

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Today, I will discuss China Airlines’ farewell flight of the 747-400 superjumbo as well as reviewing my own experience flying in the upper deck on this aircraft on an economy ticket from a trip in 2018.

On Saturday (March 20, 2021), China Airlines (CI) operated its final passenger 747-400 flight with a special flight to nowhere. It flew to Japan and circled Mount Fuji before returning to Taiwan.

Officially dubbed the “747 Queen of the Skies Farewell Party”, the “Micro-Trip” was originally slated to take place on February 6, 2021. Ticket went on sale on January 6, 2021. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic delayed the occasion until this past Saturday. I found an archived link to the special promotion on China Airlines’ website, which directed flyers to book directly on travel activities platform

Let’s see how much China Airlines was charging per person for this special flight. You can see how they snuck in ‘747’ into each of the fare class pricing:

It is notable that the first class section for this flight was sold as business class. It also costed less than the upper deck business class. While the seats in first class would have been undoubtfully more comfortable. Sitting in the upper deck of a 747 is just another experience, and evidenced by CI charging for the same soft product for this occasion.

For this farewell flight, China Airlines used its 747-400 aircraft with registration B-18215 operating as flight number CI2747. B-18215 is the last passenger 747-400 jet produced by Boeing. It was ordered by CI in November 2002, and delivered by Boeing in April 2005.

The jumbo jet took off from Taiwan Taoyuan Airport (TPE), flew all the way to Japan’s Sagami Bay (not quite Tokyo), before turning around, briefly descending to make a pass over the iconic Mount Fuji. The whole flight lasted 5 hours and 40 minutes:

China Airlines' Final Passenger Flight - Screenshot from

Social Media Posts from the Farewell Flight

Passengers on this farewell flight also received following souvenir items from CI:

  • 1:200 Boeing 747-400 model
  • Boeing 747-400 stamped mask
  • Boeing 747-400 tail key ring
  • Boeing 747-400 special canvas bag
  • 2021 China Airlines “Farewell Party-Rear Wing Takeoff” flight certificate
Since the event, another short 17 minute flight (Also TPE-TPE) took place yesterday, 2 days after the farewell event.

My Upper Deck Experience on China Airlines 747

I never really did trip reviews on my blog before. But for the 747, I will most certainly make an exception. So here it is.

In the summer of 2018, I flew China Airlines from Vancouver to Hong Kong via Taipei. It was my first time flying the Taiwanese flag carrier. I certain had some minor uncomfortableness in doing so, especially considering China Airlines had the unfortunate distinction of being the world’s deadliest airline for 30 years according to this article from 2014.

I originally had a regular economy seat on a Boeing 737 for the Taipei-Hong Kong segment, but at around 24 hours before that flight, CI made an equipment swap to a 747-400. I was traveling to the airport in Vancouver at the time, and I just so happened to be checking my reservation on the phone. This turned out to be a very good thing as there were zero notifications of any equipment swap. Upon looking at the seat map, I noticed the upper deck was open for seat selection. So I immediately grab the bulkhead seat 6A!

Was my plane the same one from the farewell event? 

Unfortunately, the only exterior photo of the flight I took that day had its registration numbers covered

However, the odds were still good at 1 in 3. There were only 4 China Airlines passenger 747-400 planes in operation as of time of my flight in 2018, and 1 of those planes were painted with the SkyTeam livery in 2016, which eliminated it from being a possibility.

Located at the first row in the upper deck, this would normally be a bulkhead seat in the business cabin. However, since this was originally sold as a 2-cabin flight operated by 737 equipment, CI made the decision to open up the upper deck to economy passengers while its business passengers flew in its first class cabin in the nose. CI could have done easily blocked off the upper deck, but thankfully they did not. 

As a Delta Gold Medallion member at the time, I also held SkyTeam Elite Plus status, which meant I had priority boarding and lounge access benefits when traveling on any SkyTeam alliance partner airlines. China Airlines is one of them.

The SkyTeam Lounge in Vancouver was a relatively new addition having opened in November 2017

Having Sky Priority boarding was a big plus, because the lineup for Zone 1 boarding at the Vancouver airport was insanely long, and I was in Zone 3!

Long lineup for Zone 1 Boarding at YVR
China Airlines A350-900 Economy Cabin

While the A350-900 flight to Taipei had comfortable seats, the flight attendants were quite rude. This is usually unheard of for a major Asian carrier, although knowing China Airlines’ reputation, I was not surprised. Basically, they would yell at you to demand that you close your window shades, something I have never experienced when flying with a US carrier. Also, while it is understood that Asian carriers usually maintain warmer cabins, on that particular flight (and my other CI flights on this trip) the cabin was quite cold.

Two meals were served on the 12.5 hour flight. They were neither amazing nor dreadful. Normal airline food by all measures.

Economy meal on China Airlines

Upon landing at Taoyuan Airport, there was no need to clear immigration for an international connection (unclear if this changed since COVID), but there was a security check, which was similar to any TSA checkpoint in the US. Upon re-entering the airside portion of the terminal, I had about 3 hours to relax. As a SkyTeam Elite Plus and Priority Pass member, I wanted to check out all of the lounges. My first stop was the China Airlines VIP Lounge:

China Airlines VIP Lounge - Taipei Taoyuan Airport (TPE)
Lots of Food Options at the CI VIP Lounge

The ambiance was excellent, and the food selection was plentiful and delicious. The lounge also had a shower but it was unavailable during my time there.

Then it was onwards to a couple smaller Priority Pass lounges, which were pretty much similar to each other:

Dining area at the first Priority Pass Lounge
Food options at the first Plaza Premium Lounge were also decent

Finally it was time to board the flight. The flight number was operating as CI903. This would turn out to be my first and most certainly last time to fly in the upper deck of a 747-400.

The Sky Priority lane led directly to first class cabin, as shown on the boarding video below:

I proceeded directly to the upper deck, where the business class cabin was located. While the hard product was most certainly an upgrade over the uncomfortable economy seats, the service was unchanged, because the passengers in the upper deck were all on economy tickets, after all.

Here was another bonus – the seat next to mine was empty! Could this get any better? (Hint: Yes, it got better)

The seats did not fully recline, but were relatively comfortable for the roughly 2 hour flight.
The seat was quite dated, considering the aircraft was delivered in either 2004 or 2005.
Lots of space in the bulkhead
Seat 6A also had 3 windows!
Looking out the window you could see a bunch of parked EVA Airways planes. EVA Air is China Airlines' main competitor.

Finally, it was time to take off:

Meal service began shortly after leveling-off. I had pre-ordered a special meal for two reasons: you usually get your meal before everyone else and the meals are usually tastier.

An economy meal served in business class

What’s better than one meal? How about two meals! When I was half way through my meal, the flight attendant came up to me and said she made a mistake; she gave me the regular meal instead of my pre-ordered meal. She apologized and asked if I would like to have my special meal anyway.

The answer…

Two meals during a 2 hour flight was probably a bit much. But I regretted nothing.

After two meals, it was time to recline and check out the in-flight entertainment. China Airlines’ IFE, like their seats, were quite dated. But again, nothing to complain about for this 2 hour flight. A pre-recorded New England Patriots game was being shown on one of the channels. When Tom Brady plays, you watch. So I watched:

Watching a Patriots game on China Airlines
The seat did not fully recline, but it was still comfortable for a short hop.

Finally, after a quick 2 hours, it was time to land in Hong Kong.

HK Express is now wholly owned by Cathay Pacific. Its operations is currently suspended as of March of 2020 due to COVID-19
American Airlines 777 - Always a great plane to spot, anywhere in the world

It was quite a journey – from surprises like the last-minute equipment swap from a 737 to 747, which opened up business class seating, to being served two meals due to a mistake. And of course, the seat next to mine was empty!

The flight was so memorable that I still remember every last detail about it as I am writing this article, more than 2 and a half years later.

And then it was time to deplane. This remained the last time I was in a 747 aircraft.

Still Want to Fly The 747?

While it’s sad that yet another airline retires its 747 fleet during the coronavirus pandemic, at least China Airlines was able to pull off a memorable send-off event. For comparison, British Airways decided to retire its 747 fleet with a simple announcement last summer with no special fanfare.

If you still want to fly the 747, here are the airlines who still operate the passenger versions, and hopefully will continue to do so after COVID:

Air China (3 747-400’s and 7 747-8’s, all active)

Air India (1 of 4 747-400’s active)

Asiana (1 747-400 active; note that Asiana will merge into Korean Air)

Korean Air (2 747-400’s and 10 747-8’s, all inactive)

Lufthansa (12 of 19 747-8’s active; 12 747-400’s all inactive)

Mahan Air (1 747-300 inactive, 1 747-400 active)

Rossiya Russian Airlines (2 of 9 747-400’s active)

It is notable that only Air China, Korean Air, and Lufthansa are operating the passenger version of the newer 747-8. With all 747-8 passenger versions already delivered, Boeing announced it will cease 747 production in 2022, bringing an end of the superjumbo era.