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United Airlines bids farewell to the 747

HOUSTON – Known as the world’s first jumbo jet, when you walk through the door of a 747 you are walking into history.

On Wednesday, that history landed at Bush Intercontinental Airport to give a couple hundred United employees the chance for one last ride before the model was retired out of the airline's fleet.

“It was a completely different time. You might not know where you were going or what you were going to do. You just hung out. Went to the airport, looked at the signs. Ah, Honolulu, OK,” said Connie Douglass.

On Tuesday, Douglass celebrated 40 years working for the airlines. She has fond memories of the 747 from the 70s.

“I never worked on one. I just flew and drank,” said Douglass.

The design debuted in the late 60s becoming the go-to for long-duration flights. Its iconic hump was home to a second-level lounge. Douglass remembers one flight she took in 1974, three years before she got her job with Texas International. The airline was later bought by Continental which then merged with United.

“Up around the front here was a nice buffet. Big fruit buffet, all laid out and you just went up there and sat on the couch and visited. Drank champagne and ate food. It was a party,” said Douglass.

“The handling characteristics, the ability to take 374 people halfway around the world is just amazing,” said Dean McDavid.

As a pilot and director of flight standards for United, McDavid has a different sort of appreciation for the plane. Among its accolades it has been turned into Air Force One and used to transport NASA shuttles. Having joined United in 1989, McDavid spent 18 years of his career in the cockpit of a 747.

“It’s just a joy to fly. It’s probably one of the easiest planes I've ever flown. I flew F-16s in the military, A-7’s, and this airplane is just a big pussycat,” said McDavid.

He also appreciates a few of the craft's amenities. Including one just for the pilots.

“The bunk, as we saw back there, it’s a complete lay down. Totally comfortable. This plane is humidified so your experience at altitude is much better,” said McDavid.

And though the birds are being retired so newer, lighter planes can take their place, McDavid will always remember them by their nickname.

“She’s definitely the 'Queen of the Skies,'” said McDavid.

Only eight 747s remain in United's fleet as of Wednesday. However the final revenue flight for any of them will take place on Oct. 29. In the meantime, McDavid's 747 will make three more stops on its farewell tour before heading to San Francisco for the model's final United flight on Nov. 7 to Honolulu.

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