Qantas Boeing 747 Farewell Flight

by Denis Simond


I joined Qantas in 1966 as an Education Officer in the Manpower Planning and Development Division of the Personnel Department.

Subsequently, in 1969 I was appointed Cabin Crew Training Manager and commenced planning for the introduction of the revolutionary 747 aircraft due for delivery in 1971. My role was then expanded to include Cabin Crew Recruitment, Training, Inflight Procedures and Standards as the arrival date of the first 747 approached. My brief was very clear; the service on the 747 was to be equal to, or better than, the world-leading service on Qantas’s 707s.

The first task was to build a new Cabin Crew Training facility to ensure Cabin Crew were ready for the 747’s many different inflight services. It was so “modern” that Macquarie University Education students visited experience the innovative educational technology.

The Mock Up, the most expensive non-operational training aid  built in Qantas’ history prior to 1970, was planned and built so that recruitment and training of crew could commence in readiness for the 747 arrival. It quickly became recognised as a first-class training aid and many airlines visited Mascot to experience it. In fact, SQ were so impressed they took the plans back to Singapore to model their mock-up on ours. I was recall being chided for sharing our plan with them, but explained that the different philosophical approaches of QF & SQ would not be detrimental to the standard of our performance.

Overhead racks were replaced with lockers and, as no templates or actual lockers were available, I sought the help of my peers in Seattle. They allowed me to unscrew both an overhead locker complete with valved hinges and an interior door shell from their mock up. I then carried them out (on consecutive days) of the Boeing complex wrapped in brown paper, gave the security guards the “everything’s okay” salute and brought them to Australia for copying for our Mock Up. Imagine the sight of a massive 747 door interior being carried with difficulty through security but the brown paper did the trick and we were able to copy them for our 747 training replica.

There were many concerns by cabin crew, who heard negative comments from foreign crews about the 747, when compared by them with the tried and true 707. There was a growing concern about “the unknown”. To counter this we recruited 12 Liaison Flight Stewards to spread the real facts about the aircraft to Cabin Crew during flight and at slip ports. These formed the basis of the first 17 Flight Service Directors.

John Fysh was my boss and I recall him phoning me late one Friday afternoon and requesting a “man specification” for the new role of Flight Service Director, a different role from a “Chief Steward” because of the number of staff to be managed and the many different aspects of service the 747 offered to passengers. I wrote the specification over the weekend and John presented it to the Executive on the Monday morning. It was accepted and so began the recruitment and training of these men, most of whom had not seen a 747 interior and had previously performed the role of Chief Steward.

On the delivery flight, which carried 120 journalists (all first class despite the aircraft having only 56 first class seats) I recall sitting with Joyce Chivers, Qantas’ PR lady for the Americas, in doorway 4 left, opening more than 4 dozen large bottles of red wine, which were consumed very quickly by thirsty journalists.  We transited overnight in Honolulu, where a spectacular Luau was provided for the journalists and VIPs. All of the Captain Cook crystal tankards, specially hand-etched and exclusively for use in the upstairs lounge, were “souvenired” within 15 minutes of our departure from America.

The stopover was organised so that the aircraft would arrive in Sydney on time and without any delays. From about Fiji, we were escorted into Sydney by Qantas’ two HS125 training aircraft, which flew wingtip to wingtip into Australia.

The ABC broadcast its morning shows from the upstairs “Captain Cook” lounge and we were met by Prime Ministerial VIPs on arrival.

I shall never forget the first sighting of “our” 747. As the 2 crews to fly the delivery flight were coached to Seattle, the coach stopped on a hill overlooking Boeing Field Airport and there on the tarmac was our “Red Tail” Qantas 747. There wasn’t a dry eye on the coach as the excitement of the initial viewing was experienced.

Another memory was when the new Hostess uniform was introduced. The red stripe on the hat was immediately likened to the “red back spider” and until this uniform was replaced, our hostesses were nick-named “Red Back Spiders”.

These are but a few of my memories of the first Qantas 747 flight.

You can see why I wanted to fly on the last Qantas 747 flight, and why I am excited to be able to say farewell to this revered “Queen of the Skies” on the Farewell Flight on Monday 13 July. I have been indeed fortunate to have secured a ticket on this Flight Down Memory Lane.