How the 747 revolutionised the Indian airline industry

    Few aeroplanes can rival the popularity of the Boeing 747. Launched in 1969, the 747 offered a swifter, more affordable long-distance travelling adventure, with never-before-seen spacious cabins boasting twin aisles. Within a decade, the jumbo jet redefined air travel worldwide, including in India. The 747 became synonymous with the country’s most aspirational ‘golden years’ of air travel. Let’s find out more about this former era.

    Key routes served

    India’s relationship with the 747 began when nationwide carrier Air India acquired its first jumbo in 1971. Air India had already been operating an all-jet fleet by then. Still, this new addition further consolidated its position as a luxury transport.

    Air India deployed the 747 to serve the United Kingdom initially. It was soon introduced to the popular London-New York sector. With the 747, Air India became one of only four carriers with daily service between the two cities; the other three were BOAC, Pan Am and TWA.

    The 747 on this crucial route was a massive boost for Air India’s international image. The airline did everything to create buzz around it, including frequent full-page advertisements in the New York Times.

    Palace in the sky

    The timing of the 747 couldn’t have been better for Indian aviation. Onboard services of Indian carriers were already alike. They were sometimes cited as even better than other legacy carriers at the time. The 747 further added to the brand value.

    Air India named its first few 747s after famous Indian Emperors – the first one was called Emperor Ashoka. Its enormous size made long-distance travel far more comfortable and allowed for breathtaking interiors. Rich decorations and art inspired by Indian subjects and the famous “jharoka window” livery were unlike anything air travellers had seen before.

    The spacious 747 allowed for amenities such as lounges and bars, which in the ’70s was quite revolutionary. Renowned for its onboard hospitality, Air India was quick to cash in on the freshness of the 747 by designing unique menus inspired by the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn and winter) and converting the upper deck into luxurious “Maharaja” lounges famously branded as “Your Palace in the Sky”.

    A beacon of hope

    The 747 brought air travel slightly more within reach of the masses, if not wholly. Compared to Air India’s previous fleet, the jumbo’s capacity and fuel-efficient engines decreased costs. This meant that more Indians could aspire to fly.

    The aircraft also featured quite often in pop culture. It was not uncommon to see in Indian films clips of the enormous Air India 747 taking off – a sight that conjured images of greener pastures of the West for many aspirational Indians. Air India’s trusted workhorse also efficiently served the Indian diaspora throughout the 70s and 80s by flying to key routes in the West such as the UK, US and Canada.

    Borrowed time?

    The story of the 747 today couldn’t be more different. With airlines around the world retiring the jumbo from their fleets, Air India recently decided to retain its four remaining 747-400s for the time being. Perhaps the Queen of the skies has a little more time left in India. Nowadays, Air India is moving to more efficient planes such as the 787 and the 777 that they have been using for a long time for the US-India route. There is no confirmation by the airline for any newer widebody aircraft. And with the talks going on about the government selling Air India to its previous owners, The Tatas, this debate of new widebodies will go on longer. 

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