SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/CBS News) — With great fanfare, United Airlines boarded passengers onto its final 747 flight at San Francisco International Airport Tuesday.
The jet rolled out onto the taxiway with a small gathering of airport workers cheering it on. It got to the end of the runway, ready for takeoff. Then it waited and waited and waited.
Finally, passengers began to comment on the KPIX 5 livestream on Facebook that the pilot announced the take-off has been delayed by a maintenance issue with the air conditioning. The delayed was confirmed by tower transmissions to the plane.
The issue was cleared up and the jet lifted off on its historic flight nearly an hour after its scheduled 11 a.m. take-off.
The snafu marred what was to be a historic day — United’s last remaining 747 making its final flight from San Francisco to Honolulu.
United began flying the 747 nearly 50 years ago and the plane evolved into the workhorse of the airline’s international travel routes. But now more efficient planes has been built — the 747 has become obsolete
Capt. Tom Spratt and Capt. David Smith will be at the controls for the final flight. After flying 747s for years, the pair know the historical significance of their mission.
“It really feels like I’m losing a family member,” Spratt told CBS News on the eve of the flight.
Smith recently brought his dad — a retired 747 pilot – -on a recent flight that brought him back to when he was a kid.
“I still remember my first 747 ride where the seats in the very nose of the aircraft were first class,” he said. “Going up the spiral staircase and sitting on the sofas is something that will never be done again.”
In 1966, Pan Am asked Boeing to build it the biggest airplane at the time. Starting from scratch and nearly bankrupting the Seattle-based company, Boeing’s humped-back jumbo jet made its first flight three years later.
It entered full service throughout the industry in 1970 and was an instant sensation.
“Your airline wasn’t an airline unless you had a 747,” said Boeing corporate historian Michael Lombardi. “Because of its size, because of its — the economy, because of its range, it made flying affordable.”
United flew its first 747 flight from San Francisco to Honolulu in 1970. In its lifetime, 747s have carried presidents, world leaders and popes. It was also used to ferry the Space Shuttle across the country.
In its heyday, more than 1,500 747s were delivered to airlines around the world.
Henry Hartveldt will be among the passengers on Tuesday’s flight.
“We’re saying goodbye to a plane that is an icon of air travel and epitomized commercial flying when it, frankly, was a more gracious, more pleasant experience than it is for many today,” he told CBS News.