Top 5 Friday: City Pairs that Had Delta 747 Service in the Early 1970s that Made No Economic Sense Whatsoever

I was thinking about an old advertisement I saw from the early 1970s touting Delta’s then-new (and short-lived) 747 service.  Since I was a small child 747s have always been my favorite plane – their unusual shape, upstairs/downstairs configuration, and long-distance ability represented all that flight had to offer.  You could sit in this incredibly designed airplane and go anywhere in the world you wanted.  What more could a 10 year old need?

The young’uns out there likely have no recollection that 747s used to ply the domestic skies fairly regularly.  In the mid-1980s I flew Continental and People Express 747s from New York to Los Angeles.  Pan Am, Northwest and United were all flying 747s domestically at that time as well (American and Eastern also operated them for short periods.)

Using those aircraft on domestic flights today makes little-to-no economic sense.  It probably made little-to-no economic sense on many of the flights it served back then (Pan Am was flying 747s between New York and Miami for a bit).  But the most ridiculous were flown by Delta, which offered these 5 routes on 747s:

Dallas – Atlanta
Chicago – Miami
Detroit – Miami
Detroit – Altanta
Miami – Atlanta

Those were good times.  Detroit – Miami on a 747.  Har.

(Also funny is that ad I linked to suggesting that first class felt like being on a private jet – albeit a private jet with, uh, 400 seats).


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  1. I guess Delta put their first class section in the upper deck of the 747, so you could reserve the whole cabin (6 seats, I believe).

    I wonder how often that was done. It would have been pretty fun!

    BTW, while the Delta 747s were long gone (at least until they recently acquired NW), until recently, your odds of getting a widebody on a domestic flight were much better on Delta. Just a couple years ago, I improbably flew a DL 767 from San Diego to Cincinnati! Delta then had a “brainstorm” to put these planes on int’l routes, but I think they still have more domestic widebodies than anyone else. Like I flew SEA to ATL on a 767 last month.

  2. I think America West can actually top Delta’s ridiculousness. Back in the early 90′s they flew a 747 between Phoenix and Vegas.

  3. I knew they flew a 747 PHX – NRT. Was LAS-PHX some sort of repositioning flight? That certainly beats ATL-MIA on Delta…

  4. ATL-MIA on a 747? It takes nearly an hour to load and unload those things, and it would’ve been in the air for what, 35 minutes?

  5. I used to commute regularly (in the 70′s) on Pam Am’s 747 between LA and San Francisco. Paid $59 each way first class as I recall. Aloha.

  6. @Cranky… that was a hub-hub flight though, correct?

  7. @nate: No, it didn’t make any sense…It did probably take longer to load and unload than to fly. (and that’s why it’s on my list of Top 5 Cities that made no sense…) :)

  8. @Chris: Those were both America West hubs. Cranky – I’m curious if they did that flight to pick up passengers in LAS to bring them ultimately to Tokyo?

  9. I don’t think it was Tokyo … It was Nagoya, right?

  10. It actually wasn’t Tokyo but Nagoya. What a disaster. The planes’ main purpose was to go Phoenix/Vegas to Honolulu and then on to Nagoya. They did do the hub to hub flying between Phoenix and Vegas and they went to JFK as well. Not sure if any other routes were operated.

  11. My bad – it was Nagoya. I would LOVE to see the analysis (?) they did to show that they could possibly make that a profitable route.

  12. Delta, which at the time had no international flights, operated 5 Boeing 747s with the unique seating layout pictured in the ad. By the time I flew in one, in 1974, from LAX to Atlanta, I think that they had stopped selling the private compartment separately. I had a regular international coach fare, but was seated in front as it was a night flight: the regular coach section was sold at a cheaper nightcoach fsre.

  13. I’m probably wrong about DL having no international flights: none it wished to fly 747s on, anyway!

  14. I had forgotten about the night fare idea -I remember Eastern had a similar product toward the end of their life. I seem to remember they flew transcons with a stop in Kansas City (?) late a night and charged a discount to their regular fares.

  15. Jared – I’m pretty sure the analysis involved Ed Beauvais and friends deciding – “Hey, we can fly international and be super cool!” Very rigorous, I’m sure.

    Oh, and yeah, I think you’re right about Kansas City for the night fare experiment. One of Kansas City’s many failed hub operations.

  16. Daryl-Atlanta

    Delta had upstairs Penthouses in their 747′s. You had to pay for I think a minimum of 6 tickets to reserve, even if there were only 1 or 2 passengers. You had your own flight attendant, meal service, sofa’s , etc. There were two Penthouses. see this link for more details:

    Also, Delta use to operate an ATL via IAD to LHR interchange service with Pan Am in the early 1970′s before DL got their nonstop route award to LGW beginning in April, 1978 (I was on the L-1011 inaugural trip). Delta would fly their 747 between ATL-IAD and Pan Am would then fly the same airplane from IAD to LHR. Sometimes you’d be on a DL Aircraft for the entire trip, sometimes on a PA. Same airplane service the entire way and only the crews (front and back) rotated. This way you’d see DL’s 747 at LHR 50% of the time or so of the time and PA’s 747 in ATL 50% on the time. This was a “big deal” back then. Braniff had a similar deal with BA/AF to LHR and CDG via IAD but the interchange was on the SST/Concorde. That didn’t last long (I flew it in early 1979); just sharing.

    As for Delta making no sense with the use of their 747′s; go on or and find a used copy of “Delta:Debunking the Myth” A short but amazing read. Delta’s then Chairman decided to sell all the 747′s at a loos-of-sorts over an 18 month period. The last two left the fleet in early 1978, just 2-3 months before their ATL-LGW nonstop launch. Problem being, they sold the last aircraft type that could fly the route nonstop. Ugh. So, they leased several extended range L-1011-200 series aircraft from TWA, removed four rows of seats in the rear and called it “Delta.” Delta in those days and into the 1980′s didn’t seem to be too smart about such things.

  17. The ad reference above can be found here:

    Also interesting to note, in various OAGs from that period, Delta operated the 747 on thinner routes such as Jacksonville to Atlanta (the on to West Coast) and Tampa to Miami (as an extension of service from Detroit).

  18. I had the privilege of flying a DL 747 from Atl to Jax just a couple
    days after it went into service. It had just come into Atl from Lax and was going on to Jax to overnight. It was crazy, this huge airplane was nearly empty. I was able to sit in the very first row, forward of the flight deck. The second turn on the taxiway was wild because the front
    seats went out over the grass.

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