Why Don’t Boeing 747s Board On The Upper Deck?

The Boeing 747 will surely go down in history as one of the most iconic airliner families of all time. It has been in the skies for more than 50 years, with production set to end in 2022. Arguably its most notable feature is its humped upper deck, which provides an exclusive space for a select few passengers. But why can’t passengers board this area directly?

The 747’s upper deck has increased in size over time. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Passengers have to take the stairs

Readers who have been lucky enough to travel on the upper deck of the Boeing 747 will know how the boarding routine pans out. Having entered the aircraft on its lower deck, such passengers have the privilege of climbing the stairs to that forbidden realm atop the main cabin. This is an enthralling experience, but could it be avoided with direct boarding?

After all, there is a door on the upper deck, so would it not be feasible to board passengers directly and save them the trip up the stairs? In practice, this would not work for multiple reasons. First of all, the upper deck’s capacity is minimal, and so the infrastructure required for another jetbridge wouldn’t be worth it for just a few passengers.

Lufthansa, Boeing 747-400, recalled
The Boeing 747’s upward-opening upper deck door can’t be used for boarding, and is clearly visible here. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Secondly, and crucially, the door on the upper deck is used primarily as an emergency exit. As users of airliners.net discussed, the presence of a slide in the door’s mechanism means that this safety feature would block the jetbridge. Additionally, the door in question opens upwards, which further complicates matters. However, this is possible on the A380.

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A380 does allow upper deck boarding

A key difference between the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 747 is the fact that the former has a full-length upper deck. As such, this means that investing in the infrastructure to have jetbridges serving the upper deck is much easier to justify, as far more passengers use this area of the plane. As seen below, the jetbridges offer step-free access to the upper deck.

Airbus A380 Getty
Passengers typically board the A380 via both lower and upper jetbridges. Photo: Getty Images

Of course, there have to be contingencies in place for the rare occurrence when an upper deck jetbridge might not be available. In this instance, passengers simply climb the stairs, but what about wheelchair users? For this purpose, the A380 features an internal stairlift.

An increasingly rare aircraft type

Since 1968, Boeing has produced more than 1,500 examples of what must be one of the most recognizable commercial aircraft of all time. With demand for quadjets having sunk in recent years, production is slowing, with the final delivery planned for October 2022.

According to data from ch-aviation.com, there are presently nearly 400 active Boeing 747s left in the world across all variants. However, with production coming to an end, and existing examples only getting older, this figure will likely fall. Nonetheless, the new 747-8 series will mean that the jumbo jet will remain the ‘Queen of the skies’ for a little while longer yet.

What do you make of the Boeing 747? Have you ever flown on the upper deck of one? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

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