Bye Bye, Queen of the Sky: How El Al’s 747 Connected Israel and the Jewish World

By Anshel Pfeffer


May 9, 2019


“The last time you stepped off a Boeing 747 was likely the last time. Most of the airlines that operated it have already sent their remaining jumbos to their final resting places…  El Al still has four 747s in operation, flying mainly between Tel Aviv and New York. But they will all be retired by the end of 2019… Throughout its service in El Al, the 747 was invariably, and infamously, packed… But even at full capacity, the 747 offered some unique advantages for the company’s clientele. No other aircraft had such wide spaces around the emergency exits — perfect for gathering a minyan at any time of day or night, or for Jewish Agency officials to go through immigration procedures with new olim… For Jews and Israelis of all colors, persuasions and walks of life, being stuck together in a metal tube for 11 hours between New York and Tel Aviv was often a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet, talk and argue politics with those from outside their social bubble.”

“El Al’s 747s had another unique role in bringing Jews together. On May 24, 1991, a cargo aircraft that had been specially fitted in advance with 760 seats landed in Addis Ababa as part of the Operation Solomon airlift of 14,500 Ethiopian Jews to Israel… With 1,088 passengers (including two babies born during the flight) and crew, it remains the world record for the most people ever to fly on a single aircraft and is unlikely to be broken in our lifetimes.”