JAL 747s – Special Connections

Over the past few months, I have done a few posts about airlines retiring their Boeing 747s – see my posts on British Airways, China Airlines, ANA, and KLM . I have also done a post about the Nippon Cargo Airlines 747s. This time, I’m turning my attention to JAL.

At one point JAL was one of the biggest operators of 747s on the planet, as you can read about more in an article on Simple Flying. However, it retired the last of its 747 in 2011. This was just when I was starting to take an interest in taking photos of planes and on the day when I went to Jonanjinjima Keihin Koen, sadly no JAL 747 went by.

I first flew on JAL 747s during my first trip to Japan in 1989. As I wrote about in my post about China Airlines, I had used China Airlines for the international flights, but I used JAL on two domestic flights – one from Osaka to Sapporo (Chitose) and then from Sapporo to Tokyo (Haneda). The second one of these – the boarding pass is in the picture below – I wrote about previously about some of my flying experiences.

According to the ticket, I had a seat on the upper deck. That certainly isn’t my memory of the flight – but I don’t remember why I ended up on the main deck.

Even though I used JAL many times over the years – including when I flew out on the JET Programme – and many of these would have been on 747s, I don’t think I ever took any pictures of the planes before take off. Or, if I did, it was in the days before digital cameras, so if I have any pictures they are tucked away somewhere waiting to be scanned. Most of those trips were great, as the London team of JAL (particularly Keith Haines (who I had met for the first time after winning the Sir Peter Parker Award for spoken Japanese and then used the JAL ticket prize for my first trip to Japan to do research about the shinkansen) and Robert Rigby) always did what they could to ensure that I got access to the JAL Sakura lounge before take-off, for example.

About the only pictures I do have JAL 747s are a postcard, partly obscured by the boarding pass from my flight to Sapporo as they are stuck down together in the album I put together from my first trip in 1989…

And of the model of a JAL 747 at the JAL Sky Museum

But, of course, I cannot mention JAL and 747s without touching upon the most significant JAL 747 for me – the plane with registration JA8119, which flew as flight JL123 on 12 August 1985. To date this remains the world’s largest single plane crash (in terms of fatalities) and is the focus of much of my research, and has even come into some of my novels. As much as the 747 is my favourite passenger plane, it is important to reflect upon and not forget about what can happen when things go wrong.

UPDATE (22 July 2021): See also this excellent article on the Simply Flying website about Japanese Jumbos: A Look At JAL’s Extensive Former 747 Fleet

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