Vintage Airline Seat Map: United Airlines Boeing 747-SP (Special Performance)

The Boeing 747SPs flying around for the major U.S. carriers was truly something special in the 1980s. I previously posted the American Airlines 747SP seat map whose routes focused on the high yield traffic to Tokyo, and likewise United’s Special Performance version of the bird flew primarily to London with additional flights to Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. United acquired the aircraft & routes as a direct result of their purchase of Pan Am’s network. When I was an intern for United in 1993, I had a chance to walk through a SP at their San Francisco Maintenance Operation Center (SFOMOC), but sadly I didn’t get any pictures.

Here, though, is the seat map from the “mini me†of a 747 featuring 47 seats in First Class, 100 in Business Class and 86 in Coach/Economy. What I found interesting about United’s configuration is their use of the upstairs section as First Class. Today’s standards of seat comfort would never see four rows of the premium cabin upstairs in such a layout, but back then it probably did equate to First Class comfort. In First, you’d definitely find me in the pointy section of the plane, likely in row two or three. In Business I’d be in row 17 or 18, and in coach I’d most definitely be found in an aisle seat near row 31.

Where would you sit?

a diagram of a plane


  1. This is a remarkable configuration. 47, 100, 86!

    I’d be in 1J.

    LH still runs F upstairs. Until recently, LH ran it 4 abreast up there in F. (Now, it’s still 4 seats across, but they block two per row, not offering them for sale.)

    They are modifying the seats upstairs to have two seats across, and a separate bed.

    • Yup, I flew on Lufty’s 747 upstairs and enjoyed it, but I was referring more to United having four rows up there for first class vs. it being a “business class” configuration in terms of seat pitch.

  2. WOW, blast from the past, thank you so much for posting this!

    I’m wondering from what year this map is, because I remember the layout differently, although I could be mis-remembering, and/or UA could have changed the layout at some point.

    When I first flew a UA 747SP, it was in 1989 SEA-HKG-SIN, HKG-SEA, in first class. IIRC, there were only 4 rows in first, 2-2, rows 1-4, with 1 row in the middle in front of the stairs; this was the smoking row. I KNOW this, b/c I was a smoker back in 1989, and I sat in this row and smoked in 4J. 🙂

    I also recall I remember remarking/contrasting as I boarded the UA flights in ’89 how in 1988 the Cathay Pacific 747-200s used to have 5 rows in first (as the map above shows for UA, with 2-1 in row 1, and the 2-2 rows 2-5, with 1 row in the middle). I should scan some of my old maps sometime, they’re really a blast from the past.

    Thank you so much for posting this, and if you have the year of the map, I’d be very very interested!


    • Hi Will,
      Glad you found my site & very happy you enjoyed seeing this seat map. It was published July 1987, and I’m certain United had different configurations because the version I walked through in 1993 only had four rows in First, so it sounds like the layout you flew on. Boy I’d love to see your seat maps! I’d definitely be happy to post them if you were to send me scans. Let me know. I bet that HKG-SEA trip in First was incredible. Remember those sorbet glasses they used to have between courses? Loved those.

  3. I remember flying first to Australlia (SYD) on an SP nonstop there and a 2 day stopover in HNL on the way back. My dad smokes so we were in 6 and 7. My Nanny and I were ticketed in Business, but I knew how to make a big deal and get us together. I was a cute 11 Year old. Trip was in 1991.

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