Posted August 19, 2008 by Zak Patten
The image of a jumbo jet pulling up to the gate is not unlike that classic movie poster from Jaws, which features the massive shark's teeth rising menacingly toward the swimmer—but in a good way! It's hard to say why exactly, but I've always been partial to jumbo jets. My earliest flying memory is of a transatlantic crossing on an Aer Lingus 747, and the behemoth planes have held a certain allure for me ever since. Which is why I'm somewhat saddened that USA Today is noting the decline of jumbo usage by Delta and other U.S. carriers.
According to the article, on an average day, U.S. airports see 143 flights on wide-body jets like Boeing 747s and 767s, almost a third fewer than just one year ago: "Delta and American have scheduled the most wide-body service, with 65 and 54 flights per day, respectively. On average, United scheduled 22 flights per day, US Airways two, and both Continental and Northwest none." Obviously, the trend doesn't look good, but let's not forget some of the advantages of the big birds:
- Business travelers love 'em. They've got more quality seating than smaller planes, which means there are more chances at an upgrade.
- There's just more of everything. Higher ceilings mean no bumped heads for taller folks, more lavatories translate to less knee-squeezing, and greater overhead bin space results in fewer bag-cramming injuries.
- Two aisles! Yep, these double-barreled beauties keep passengers moving smoothly at all times.
On the downside, and this is especially true for older models, jumbos burn through fuel faster than their pipsqueak peers. USA Today quotes MIT engineer Bill Swelbar as saying, "The average wide body has 248 seats and burns 1,937 gallons per hour, while the average narrow body has 148 seats and burns 876 gallons per hour." With airlines still reeling from high fuel prices, the last thing they want to do is guzzle more gas. And given the raised awareness of how global warming is affected by air travel, airlines don't want a carbon footprint any bigger than it has to be.
It's not that jumbos are being hunted down like some great white shark that's got a fondness for water-skier flesh. These noble beasts still have their place in the skies, but perhaps we are witness to their slow decline. All I know is that when the last 747 makes its final runway taxi, I'll be waiting at the gate, nose pressed to the glass, waving goodbye.
(Photo: Airline Empires)
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