The hottest plane ticket last year was for United flight 747 from San Francisco to Honolulu on November 7th. Premium cabin tickets sold out in minutes and coach sold out shortly after that.
I grabbed 2 business class awards as soon as United announced in September that they would be holding a special final flight for their 747. I may not have been old enough to fly the Concorde, but I wasn’t going to miss this celebration.
I have lots of fond 747 memories from childhood plane spotting, to first class cabins on airlines like Korean and Lufthansa, and to the amazing 747 trip I took with Rafi last year to San Francisco. United’s 747 is as iconic as they come, having flown its first flight from San Francisco to Honolulu back in 1970. No other airline will hold a 747 celebration like United.
47 years later United would fly the same route, San Francisco to Honolulu, to retire their 747. They ferried the flight back empty before parking it in the desert at VCV airport.
United put together this tribute video to the 747 and its history with the airline:
In the end, we decided to keep Rafi in school, so I redeposited the extra business class award and wound up making 3 people very happy. As soon I cancelled the ticket, one Flyertalk member reported that his waitlist for a coach seat cleared, another member reported that his upgrade to business class cleared, while a 3rd member let me know that he was able to trade up from his business class middle seat to the aisle seat next to me. Talk about a chain reaction!
I was pleasantly surprised when I logged onto United.com a few days before my flight and noticed that they had finally brought back kosher meals in first class for domestic routes of 2,000+ miles. That meant I got a surprisingly good breakfast on my 6:24am flight aboard a 737 from Cleveland to San Francisco. The flight attendant came over to me and asked incredulously how I was able to get a kosher meal on the route. She couldn’t recall the last time that she served a kosher meal!
The meal was from Borenstein/Regal and included a Mezonos bagel with cream cheese, a danish, and the best kosher hot breakfast dish on an airplane, cheese blintzes.
Breakfast with a view:
Thanks to DirecTV and Wi-Fi, the flight went by in no time and we landed on time in San Francisco.
The 747 Farewell was advertised throughout the airport:
Walking to the gate for United flight 747, I passed by an awesome exhibit on the history of United. I could have easily spent an hour or 2 exploring it, but I only had time to take a few quick pictures. Hopefully it’s still around the next time I’m in SFO.
The gate area was accessible for people with boarding passes only and it had a party vibe inside.
Flight attendants dressed in retro-1970s uniforms:
747 history timeline:
Everybody wrote on the giant 747 retirement card:
A long upgrade list:
The final United 747 flight:
Taking pictures with retro 1970s luggage:
Several Boeing and United bigwigs spoke at the gate, and you can get some idea of the group’s excitement by watching some of my Facebook Live video of the speeches here or the Facebook Live video of the gate area here.
Soon it was time to board and United CEO Oscar Munoz personally scanned the boarding passes and took pictures with the Global Services members boarding the flight:
People took pictures with the retro flight attendants on the way into the plane as well:
United blocked off the desirable upstairs section of business class so that people would be able to walk through it during the flight.
Business class downstairs is in a very dated 2-4-2 configuration. I flew this configuration with my family to Hawaii and it was great, but it’s less great for 4 business travelers stuck together.
I nabbed a window seat for the flight. On the seat was Saks bedding and a 747 goodie bag.
Inside the goodie bag:
I’ll admit to being slightly disappointed that we didn’t get a framed certificate that the passengers on the final international 747 passengers received the week before:
— Frank Benenati (@FBenenati) October 29, 2017
Mr. Munoz came on board and had a laugh with the passengers:
United sweated the small stuff and the results were awesome.
There was a retro 1970 boarding pass and sleeve along with United 747 amenity kit:
There were even vintage 747 Coke bottles:
United employees waved goodbye to the final 747 that they would send off:
A Kalitta Air 747 gave salute:
As did a United 787:
There were fire trucks on hand to salute us as well. But then our bird decided to give us the real retro 747 experience with a mechanical delay with the AC system.
The captain joked that we were going to taxi to the maintenance hangar “as part of an added tour.” But in the end the issue was resolved without needing to go to the hangar.
It was no regular delay though. All of the passengers on this flight were aviation geeks and the stories, jokes, and laughter filled the cabin.
After an hour delay it was time for takeoff. Everyone clapped as the wheels left the ground:
Here is his video of the takeoff:
Here is another version of that video with ATC interaction:
This was no ordinary flight though and United had a treat in store for us. While a regular flight from San Francisco flies directly from the airport to the Pacific Ocean:
But our flight took a low scenic route for some of the most amazingly breathtaking views I’ve seen on a plane:
And then came the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge. This is a sight I’ll never forget, the pictures do it no justice:
After reaching our cruising altitude the plane turned into a big party, with passengers freely roaming between classes:
The Mai Tais may not have been kosher, but I still got a Hawaiian Tiki swizzle stick with my order of Amaretto with Ginger Ale:
Alas while the other passengers chowed down on some of the best looking food I’ve ever seen on airplane, they pulled another retro move by forgetting my kosher meal. I did get 15K miles for the lack of a meal as compensation, so that worked out just fine I suppose.
This was one course of my seatmate’s meal:
And all I could do was watch the volcano dessert cart. Seated in the Aloha shirt in the middle row next to us was Seth Miller, who runs the Wandering Aramean blog. He kept our section of business class laughing at his quips for much of the flight. He helpfully pointed out the OU on the Ice Cream, and after a quick Cholov Yisroel super-kosher lecture he apologized for being a bad Jew. To which I responded thanks for looking out for me and that there is no such thing as a bad Jew. (Of course that comment will lead to another flare up in this thread…)
I strolled up to first class and chatted with some other bloggers and Tom Stuker, the man who has flown United so much that he has 2 planes named after him!
Tom being interviewed on the plane:
747 First Class section in the nose of the plane:
Nope, the retro phone didn’t work:
United brought back their “halfway to Hawaii” game for this flight. I remember playing this game when flying to Hawaii back in 2008, but it was discontinued after that. The person who guessed closest to when our flight would be exactly half the distance to Hawaii won a $250 United gift card. The pilot gave all of the necessary factors needed to calculate the time such as the takeoff time, distance, airspeed, headwind speed. The winner was just 1 second off of the actual time!
After the meal service, passengers lined up to check out the upstairs of the 747. One man even proposed to his girlfriend when it was their turn to go upstairs. United gave the couple 2 free tickets for their honeymoon!
The man in the yellow suit was awarded as having the best 1970s costume and won a United vacation voucher:
And all too soon it was time for the final approach into Honolulu. But our pilot had one more treat for us.
Instead of the normal approach to Honolulu over Oahu:
We took a scenic route that flew over Maui, Molokini Crater, and Kahoʻolawe Island:
Flying over Maui:
Flying over Molokini Crater:
Flying over Oahu:
Honolulu air traffic control informed out pilot that United wanted him to do a flyby and go-around again for a photo-op, but the pilot said that he was unable due to the fuel used on the departure delay and the scenic routing.
We landed in the rain and pulled up to employees waving to our flight:
All passengers got a lei greeting as we arrived:
And of course the Queen received a lei as well:
In Honolulu there was more festivities, cake, and photo ops:
The flight experience itself exceeded my expectations, it was really fun to fly with so many other airplane geeks on such a special flight.
But I’m not one to stick around Oahu. I had a couple days to spend in Hawaii and Oahu is on the bottom of my list.
I debated flying to Molokai, but due to hotel and flight timing issues decided to return to Maui.
I walked over to the inter-island terminal and boarded a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Maui.
Taking off from Honolulu:
Landing in Maui:
Google Maps Timeline travels for Tuesday, 11/7:
After landing I went to Avis and got an upgrade to a Mustang convertible. While you may want a 4WD in Kauai or the Big Island, a convertible is definitely the car of choice in Maui.
After that I went to Aloha Air Cargo to pickup meals that had been shipped from Honolulu that day via OahuKosher.com
I stopped off at Walmart and bought a $20 toaster oven and some drinks and then went to Whole Foods for some kosher wine, snacks, and to buy some limited edition Hydroflasks that are only sold in Hawaii:
I’m a little bit obsessed with Hydroflask. It keeps cold drinks cold for days on end, even if you leave it in a hot car. Hot drinks stay hot for 6 hours. I use one daily and never travel without it.
Finally it was off to the Andaz Maui, where I managed to finagle a 2 night award stay with an old hack.
I also used a Globalist suite upgrade award, though conveniently their systems were down when the Ocean view suite was available, so I wound up with a ground floor suite.
Globalist pays off big time at this hotel as both the resort fee and the parking fee is waived for Globalist award stays.
Tiki torches illuminate the outdoors:
Minibars are free at Andaz hotels, though the selection has gone downhill since the last time I stayed here:
Andaz suite bedroom:
Andaz suite living/dining room:
Andaz suite shower:
I warmed up a delicious Sweet & Sour Chicken from Oahu Kosher, took a quick dip in the empty pool, and hit the sack.
For dessert I had a slice of lemon pie from Oahu Kosher. Heaven!
On Wednesday morning I checked out the Globalist free breakfast, which had lots of fresh fruits and drinks:
Andaz lobby staircase:
And then went for a short walk around the grounds. I had intended to fly my DJI Mavic Pro, but I forgot the cable the connects the controller to my phone in Cleveland. Oops!
I borrowed snorkel gear from the hotel and went for a quick snorkel in front of the hotel, but the coral here is pretty dead.
The balcony still has furniture that is rock hard and uncomfortable. It’s more fitting for a prison than a luxury resort.
I’ve been to Maui 6 times before this trip, so I’ve already done most of the highlights several times…
- I’ve driven the incredible Road to Hana 3 times, including completing the full circle (highly recommended) twice.
- I’ve driven the full West Maui circle twice.
- I’ve driven up Haleakala for sunrise.
- I’ve hiked down to the Nakalele Blowhoole and Olivine Pools 5 times.
- I’ve gone to several Warren & Annabelle magic/comedy shows.
- I’ve taken 5 whale watching boat rides
- I’ve gone snorkeling at Molokini Island
- I’ve done stand-up paddleboarding in Wailea twice.
Driving the Road to Hana, which cuts through the mountainside:
Seven sacred pools, Hana:
Return on the windswept full circle return from the Road to Hana:
Warren & Annabelle magic/comedy show:
Humpback whale watching, West Maui:
But the great thing about Maui is that there are seemingly endless activities to enjoy.
Google Maps Timeline travels for Wednesday, 11/8:
I’ve never gone zip-lining before, so I decided to do the 8 line course at Skyline Eco-Adventures Kaanapali in West Maui.
It’s worth coming here just for the views from the zipline course in the West Maui Mountains:
As well as back up the West Maui mountain:
One more look from the bottom and it was time to find a good evening activity.
Every drive in Maui is great when you’re in a convertible:
After a quick deliberation I decided to drive up Haleakala for sunset. I loved the sunrise, but it’s hard to picture waking up at 3:30am again for a repeat performance. Would sunset compare?
The drive up Haleakala did get unnerving at a few points as I drove up the hairpin turns through dense fog. At one point I actually turned my car around when it seemed like the fog would surely block the sunset. But I pushed through it in the end and made it to the summit.
Sunset was glorious!
The driving through the fog paid off with a sunset that illuminated the clouds below the summit:
Taking in the views:
All in all, I’d say that the sunset was amazing, though not quite as grand as the sunrise. However I don’t think the difference is big enough to justify getting up at 3:30am on vacation. The other thing to keep in mind is that the sunrise and sunset definitely varies based on that day’s cloud cover.
After a drive back down Haleakala at night I wished there was a shortcut to Wailea. Alas Oprah’s road down to Wailea is for her use only, so everyone else has to drive all the way up to the airport and back to Wailea.
Andaz pools at night:
I popped in my dinner of Sweet and Sour Meatballs from Oahu Kosher into my toaster oven and then crashed into bed.
The Andaz offers various boat trips included in their resort fee, but you need to book those in advance to get a spot.
I’ve gone snorkeling up and down Maui’s leeward coast and it never gets old, so I got in my convertible and drove south.
I drove about 20 minutes until I hit the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve.
Ahihi Cove looked like a nice place to go for a snorkel, but the parking spaces were full there.
There is a parking lot at Kanahena Beach, so I stopped there and hiked to the ocean entry there for access into Ahihi Bay.
The “beach” here consists of lava and rocks, so it can be a bit painful on the water entry. But the views of Kahoʻolawe Island are great and the coral and fish are fantastic. It’s like walking into a fishbowl!
But it’s the views in the Ocean that make this place special:
After snorkeling the Ahihi Cove I drove back up towards the Andaz and made one more snorkeling stop at Makena Beach Landing.
Many tour operators sell snorkeling packages to “Turtle Town” and more often than not it’s just a trip to this easily accessible beach.
And sure enough, this turtle town did not disappoint!
A Manta Ray swam by as well:
And then it was back to the Andaz again where I’d have a quick lunch and pack up my belongings as they informed me that the only way they could honor my Globalist 4pm checkout would be if they could move my belongings to another room.
Unfortunately my room key stopped working at 11am, so I had to wait for them to sort that out and bring me a new key.
But I quickly packed up, took a shower, and ate some delicious Sesame Chicken that I warmed up in my toaster oven:
And then I went to the Fairmont Kea Lani for their Willow Stream Spa, where I pretty much have unlimited credit due to my 9 Fairmont Platinum accounts. After a very relaxing hot stone and vichy rain shower massage I went back to the Andaz, where I picked up my new room key for my Globalist 4pm checkout.
The new room was quite small:
And had a ground level balcony:
One big disappointment was that they took the extra mini fridge from my old room to the new room, but they didn’t put the items that were in the fridge back into the fridge. That meant that lemon pie was now crawling with hundreds of ants. They did give me 10,000 points when I asked them why they would empty the fridge out and not replace the items that were now ruined.
And finally it was time to head to the airport. For the return flight I used 60,750 AA miles to fly in first class from Maui to Cleveland via Dallas.
Maui to Dallas is operated by a 777 with lie-flat seats:
I had some of my best food on a plane on United catered by Oahu Kosher from Honolulu to Maui.
However, American catered this red-eye flight from Maui to Dallas with…breakfast.
And not the good kind of breakfast.
Appetizer served frozen:
Airlines call their kosher meals a KSML, but I always bring a BYOK on my long-haul flights. As in “bring your own kosher” meal. The American flight attendant profusely apologized for the breakfast and was thrilled to be able to warm up my double wrapped french roast from Oahu Kosher:
After the meal I turned my seat into a bed and slept until just before landing in Dallas:
I already know that I can’t go to Hawaii without bringing back some delicious locally grown Maui Gold pineapples. I bought these in an airport gift shop and American was happy to check them through to the baggage claim in Cleveland:
It was an exhilarating couple of days, but there’s still no place like home. If only there was a large enough Jewish community in Hawaii to be able to call that place home 😉