Travel has been an ever changing activity since the first ‘tourists’ started taking the Grand Tour around Europe in the 18th century. First, they went by horse drawn carriages but by the mid 1800s they were traveling on the newly laid railroads and that essentially continued through to World War 2. That event effectively brought tourism to a complete halt for around 7 years of course.
Following WW2 the rise of the Road Trip here both in here in the USA and Europe had newly affluent families heading across country in their fashionable and finned automobiles. For the wealthy, the advent of the jet airliner like the Boeing 707 and DC-8 made intercontinental travel possible. In Europe in particular, vacationers traded their train and car road trips for what were termed ‘package holidays’ where air travel and accommodation were sold at one low price enabling the boom in trips to the Mediterranean resorts.
The real game changer came in 1969 and 1970 which the launch of Boeing’s 747 Jumbo Jet. This single aircraft was credited with democratizing air travel. Its ability to carry upwards of 360 passenger vast distances brought down the cost of travel and allowed tourists to visit places they could have previously only dreamed of seeing.
Of course other, older aircraft continued to serve, but other events like the mid ‘70s oil crisis, economic concerns and various conflicts started to make some of the older and less efficient aircraft a liability for airlines. The awful events of 9/11 and the subsequent drop in demand for air travel meant the end for many types of aircraft – Boeing 727s, 707s Lockheed L1011 TriStars and Douglas DC-10s for example. But still the 747 remained with newer models still speeding carrying travelers on trunk routes around the world.
However, things were changing again. New designs of very efficient twin engined (as opposed to the four engines of the 747) lightweight aircraft started to appear. The Boeing 777, a twin jet, can carry as many passengers as the 747 but at lower cost and on the same routes. Aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 are even more efficient and can fly incredible distances. Even more impressive is that they can fly from smaller cities direct to their destinations. That means it’s no longer needed for you to fly from your local airport to a major hub to change to a bigger aircraft, and then do the same thing at the end of your journey. It also obviates the need for multiple stopovers on intercontinental journeys. The airlines recognized this and started retiring their 747 Jumbo Jets. US airlines stoped flying these across the country some years ago, but all US airlines retired their Intercontinental Jumbos over the past two years.
Overseas carriers planned on the whole to retire their passenger 747s by the mid 2020s. Best laid schemes of ‘Mice and Men’ however and the COVID pandemic and the subsequent massive reduction in demand for air transport has changed things again. Most airlines have retired their 747s (and Airbus A380s) immediately. You’ll still be able to fly a Jumbo of course as Lufthansa, China Airlines, Korean Air Lines an a couple of others will keep newer 747s flying for a while (and of course Air Force One aircraft are 747s and will continue to be for probably 30 years!).
Air travel and international tourism will return eventually and you’ll have a whole new experience of flying on efficient, comfortable airliners from your local airport to many new destinations. Start planning now!
In the meantime, how about a road trip?