The big world is about to get bigger, and Boeing planes are about to get smaller

Next summer, a Boeing 747 with a business-class layout is expected to take off on its maiden voyage from Los Angeles International Airport to Beijing. It’s a notable event in a rare category of airlines: those that have flown business class on a daily basis since the mid-2000s. The Lufthansa service to China marks the first time that a full-service Boeing 747, nearly obsolete in the aviation world, will fly as a commercial jetliner with limited service.

Boeing estimates there will be only one more one of these transoceanic routes slated for the mega-jumbo jetliner, and that flight is likely to begin by 2025. Pilots might prefer upgrading to a “variant” of a more ultralight 777-9X, a relatively small long-range version of Boeing’s biggest twin-engine jet, capable of transoceanic service from the United States to Beijing.

“I’d love to fly on a 777-9X,” says Capt. Bill Lindow, a retired Boeing 747 pilot. “But if the chances of it happening are about 1 percent, I’m still going to try to fly that airplane.”

Should a 777-9X make it to the Lufthansa route, Lindow will already have flown the 747 as a passenger — but probably not as a pilot. The two famously differ in size and both share a single tail fin. In a perfect world, the two jets would share a cockpit, but a Boeing 747 pilot recently suggested that the larger 747 could be retired as a result of a potential overlap in airframe manufacturing and aviation maintenance.

“The 777-9X is just fundamentally a less reliable airplane,” Lindow said. “It won’t last a long time.”

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