Vintage Airline Seat Map: American Airlines Boeing 747SP

I’ve mentioned before that it’s a toss-up for me as to whether the Boeing 747 or Douglas DC-10 is my all-time favorite airplane, and here is another variation of the 747 for this installment of Vintage Airline Seat Maps. Called the “SP†for Special Performance, it is basically a shorter version based on the 747-100 and allowed for longer flight ranges with a reduced capacity. Sadly, I never flew on any of the SPs and I doubt I will given the only airline still flying them is Iran Air.

American bought two 747SPs from TWA in the late 1980s for their Dallas to Tokyo-Narita nonstop flights, and configured them to cater to the large amount of high-yield First and Business Class traffic frequently seen at that time on the Tokyo routes. This map doesn’t provide pitch info (the distance between seats), so the First Class section to me looks like it would be a little tight if the person in front of you were reclined fully flat in those sleeper seats. American operated these until about 1992, so it’s fascinating to see that a U.S. carrier still allocated sacred cabin space to a stand-up bar. I don’t think I’d like the upper deck on this bird given it’s small size, so you’d likely find me in 6A or 6J in First; an aisle in Business such as 19D or 19G; and if I were relegated to coach I’d hope for the exit row aisles in row 30.

Where would you sit?

a diagram of a passenger seat



  1. Hey,

    I flew on this airplane in the 80s… so cool to see again. Thanks for putting it out there!

  2. I flew on this aircraft from LHR to JFK in 1992…after AA replaced them on the Tokyo route with MD-11s.

    My seat was 2A in the upper deck, and believe me, it was as close as you could get to the experience of a private jet in a commercial airliner.

    I really didn’t want the flight to end.

    • How very cool. That upper deck looks very comfortable with only 3 rows vs. the typical 4 rows for the “short” 747s. I’m very jealous!

  3. I worked on this plane in the early 90’s, I believe the coach section held 124 in the back and business class was a little smaller with 60+ something seats. We used to staff it with 15 cabin crew and it was a wonderful plane to work….lots of space for the crew and passengers..N601 and N602. Also flew to Brussels Belgium out of JFK as well as London LHR . Also first class main deck was 16 seats and the upper deck was 10 first class non smoking.Rows 12-13 business class were smoking seats in the “twighlight zone” .5 Cabin crew worked coach, 5 in business class, 3 in first main deck and 2 upstairs first class.

      • Welcome Darren,
        Was by far the best time of my career so far, the crews were relatively young,junior and well groomed. We actually offered a great service in all cabins on the 747SP. First class had caviar, chateaubriand carved in the aisle off the cart and how could I forget the huge chocolate cakes for desert coming home from London offered with vanilla sauce !!!. Even in coach we offered hot towels, menus, small amenity kits, mid flight candy etc. Both 747SPs came to JFK from DFW as the MD11s were going on the DFW-Tokyo NRT route. Our first flight from JFK to London LHR our CEO at the time Bob Crandall was on the flight and apparently got annoyed at the fact that the first class service took way too long. There were so many elements and carts in the first class service that there was literally about an hour between the end of the dinner service and the start of Breakfast. Plus the short flying time of 6 hours and a crews first time on the plane didnt help either . Not long after, the service was condensed a bit but it still kept all the good stuff! Hopefully someday that kind of service will return 🙂

  4. Sands corporation uses a 747-SP to fly VIP’s around the world to its casinos in Maccau and Las Vegas. It was based out of Don Muang airport here in Bangkok, but relocated after the flooding in Thailand. The plane becomes a casino after reaching cruising altitude. So if you’re a high roller (Boy that brings on a new meaning at 35,000 feet), you can still get to fly on an SP.

  5. Although it wasnt my first flight in a B747 in 1986, I was 8yrs old, I flew from Philadelphis to Naha, Okinawa via DTW, MSP, SEA, NRT, Osaka on North West Orient. I remember being in awestruck by the size of this aircraft

    • @Rahsann: Thanks for stopping by – and at 8 years old, a 747 would be incredibly impressive (as it still is for me today at 40 years of age!)

  6. I actually worked on these planes to Tokyo out of Dallas. I was on the second flight out. They were reconfigured shortly after the launch of service to accomodate more coach passengers because of the size of Japanese tourist groups, they are typically about a 100 people. Business was huge. That middle zone of just a few seats always got screwed service wise because we always forgot they were they! First was a no big deal, just basically a first class seat with a foot rest and deep recline. The standup bars were cool, but no one ever really used them. I do remember talking to this guy once for hours. The flight was the longest flight in the world at the time. The big deal in business class was they got a separate dessert service. Japanese meals were served in first and business.

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