US set to bid goodbye to Boeing 747 'Jumbo Jet'

Nearly five decades after its debut, the Boeing 747 -  the favourite of American presidents and key to affordable mass market air travel in the United States - is saying goodbye to American skies.

The 747 - the original 'Jumbo Jet' - will take its final commercial flight with an American carrier Tuesday on Delta Air Lines' Seoul-to-Detroit route.

The 747 became an instant hit with both masses and classes. While the American presidents loved it for its space, for masses it heralded the era of affordable commercial air travel.

Delta's sendoff for the storied aircraft includes special flights on Wednesday for employees and top customers.

The ticket prices of Delta's 'farewell' tour have sky-rocketed with huge demand from nostalgic customers.

It "made flying available for everyone," said Boeing chief company historian Michael Lombardi said of the iconic jet. "The 747 gave wings to the world."

Aerospace consultant Michel Merluzeau said the plane changed travel. "All of a sudden, you could go from Singapore to London in less than 24 hours. It made everything more accessible."

But the 747 will become history only in American skies as it will still be in use by major airlines such as Lufthansa, British Airways and Korean Air Lines.

Boeing also will still build the jet as a freight carrier and for a few unique clients, including the US president, who has used a specially-outfitted 747 as Air Force One since 1990.

But the American aerospace giant has been shifting to more fuel-efficient models for commercial travel.

Nicknamed the "jumbo jet" because of its huge hump, the plane – the first with two decks - is able to carry upward of 600 passengers.

Since its debut in February 1969, more than 1,500 of the 747s have been delivered, and 500 of them are still in service, according to Flightglobal Ascend.

"The 747 was a major milestone in the history of flight," said Bob Van der Linden, curator of the aeronautics department at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

"It's big, very comfortable, beautiful, it has a staircase on it," Van der Linden added. "It's a symbol of economic power."

As it began to phase out the 747, Boeing has downsized its aircraft. The 777, introduced in 1995, is smaller, seating up to 550 and requires less fuel because of its two engines.

"Frankly we really don't see much demand for really big airplanes," Randy Tinseth, Boeing vice president of marketing, said in June.

"There will be just a handful moving forward. Things we do for VIPs, things we do for the president, military operations, but we don't see a significant demand for passenger 747s."