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Innovation

Life After Flight: Retired Plane Repurposed As Credit Card

Boeing

“If you’ll build it, I’ll buy it.” “If you buy it, I’ll build it.” This legendary exchange between Juan Trippe, the founder of now-defunct Pan American Airways, and Bill Allen, president of Boeing, in 1965 supposedly spearheaded the creation of the “Queen of the Skies,” the Boeing 747. 

With its first commercial flight on Jan. 22, 1970, Boeing built the 747 with 50,000 workers who called themselves “the Incredibles” for constructing the world’s largest commercial plane and first wide-body jet in less than 16 months. Construction took place at a new plant in Everett, WA, which cost $200 million — about $1.4 billion today — and remains the building with the largest usable volume worldwide. 

Boeing’s Everett, WA factory. Photo Courtesy Boeing 

The double-decker 747s were behemoths in the sky with glamorous features like piano bars and spiral staircases. Yet, they still maximized cargo and passenger space, expanding access to air travel to middle-class passengers. To picture the enormity of a 747, envision a plane capable of carrying 400 people, with a tail as tall as a six-story building

Although seven foreign airlines are still actively flying these planes, Delta Air Lines was the final American company using a 747, which it retired after a flight from Detroit to Seoul-Incheon on Dec. 18, 2017. Boeing will stop producing the 747 at the end of this year after delivering four 474-8 freighters to Atlas Air Worldwide, thus turning the page on more than 50 years of an incredible chapter in aviation history. 

Interior of the Boeing 747. Photo Courtesy Boeing 

Decommissioned 747s have gone to various unique destinations. The first Boeing 747-400 commercial airline, Ship 6301, is part of the 747 Experience at Atlanta’s Delta Flight Museum. Other planes have found their way to more unexpected locations, such as a decommissioned 747-200 becoming The Jumbo Stay, a hotel in Sweden. 

Tour of the Delta Flight Museum’s 747 Experience. Video Courtesy Delta Flight Museum 

The most recent oddity that a 747 has found itself incorporated into fits in your pocket: a credit card. In collaboration with Delta Air Lines, American Express released a limited-edition set of cards made of 25% aluminum from the exterior of Ship 6307. The idea came years ago from a customer. “After a focus group, someone made a comment that we should make a credit card out of an airplane, and the idea stuck,” said Jon Gantman, senior vice president and GM at American Express. 

The process evolved into research and development to ensure the card could meet the company’s standards: disassembling the plane, harvesting the metal, and cleaning and rolling it into sheets. Finally, that metal was affixed “to a much harder stainless-steel layer, so that the cards would maintain integrity, shape, and function,” said Andrew Gaddis, vice president of global card issuance at American Express. 

The result is a black metal card with a silver 747 on the front and Ship 6307 information on the back. Card members can also access an “augmented reality experience,” which includes the plane’s history, interviews with pilots and crew members, and a video detailing the process of turning Ship 6307 into these cards.

Photo Courtesy American Express 

Ship 6307 was a Boeing 747-400 and carried 4 million passengers across 68 million miles for 27 years — from June 1990 until November 2017. Gantman reflected on the plane’s incredible history: “You think about the journeys this plane took, the people who flew on it, the stories that were told … It’s a plane that gave military transport to service men and women. It evacuated Florida during Hurricane Irma. This is a piece of aviation history that our customers will now have a chance to carry in their wallets.” 

This plane also has a special meaning for the Delta family. Pilot Gene P. and flight attendant Holly R. married on Ship 6307’s last passenger flight, transporting American troops from Atlanta to Kuwait nine years after meeting at row 75. Gene recalled, ” We’ve spent years flying this airplane together around the world … It’s a fitting salute to say goodbye with this milestone. For us, it’s really a way of showing that as one life ends, another one begins.” 

Final 747 flight and nuptials. Photo Courtesy Delta News Hub 

The credit cards are available until Aug. 3 or until the plane’s metal is all used up. They are open to Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card members and come packed with plenty of perks and benefits. “The 747’s legacy lives on for a new generation of Delta flyers through this first-of-its-kind credit card that our members will be proud to keep in their wallets,” noted Dwight James, S.V.P. of Customer Engagement & Loyalty at Delta and CEO of Delta Vacations.

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