40 years ago the Boeing 747 entered commercial service on route between New York and London. While the spectators marveled at the technological achievement—no one had seen 700,000 pounds of aluminum fly before—no one in the crowd realized that they were also witnessing a sociological revolution—no one except Juan Trippe. Trippe was president of PanAm, the first airline to purchase the massive new Boeing. The visionary businessman knew the huge plane would change air travel, but he predicted much more. Before the plane had even left the drawing board, Trippe said that the 747 would be "…a great weapon for peace, competing with intercontinental missiles for mankind's destiny."
His remarks may have been interpreted as hyperbole in 1970, but most now agree that the Boeing 747 has been a significant catalyst of globalization. The Jumbo Jet, as it was affectionately nicknamed, represented a huge increase in passenger capacity compared with earlier airliners which in turn lowered the cost of flying. As a result the 747 made long-range, intercontinental travel accessible to millions of people for the first time. To use Thomas Friedman's phrase, the Jumbo Jet was instrumental in making the world flat.
Since the 747's debut a generation ago, more than 3.5 billion people have flown on the plane—more than half of the world's population. The airliner has facilitated the intermingling and redistribution of people on a scale unprecedented in history. The fact that more immigrants have arrived in the United States through JFK, LAX, and Miami International airports than through Ellis Island verifies the world-changing impact of Boeing's "queen of the skies."
I am intrigued by the 747 because I owe a great debt to the airplane. As a young woman with little money, my mother was able to travel to India in the early 1970s thanks to the falling cost of international travel inaugurated by the 747. While in Bombay she began a relationship with my father who later immigrated to Chicago on a 747. My family could not have been formed, and I could not have been born, in a world prior to the Jumbo Jet. Intercontinental travel has also scattered my extended family across the globe—from Hong Kong to Houston, and Sydney to Spain. My first flight on a Jumbo Jet occurred when I was just two-years-old, and before graduating high school I had already visited nearly 30 foreign countries.
While not every child born since 1969 owes their existence to Boeing, and few kids traveled as extensively as I did, even my suburban-bound peers did not escape the 747's impact. Our public school saw a steady influx of immigrants from South Asia, refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia, and kids whose parents' careers brought them to suburban Chicago from Korea, South Africa, or Germany. The same Jumbo Jets that distributed and united my family around the world also brought the world to my neighborhood, classroom, and playground.
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