The 747 Piano Bar
When I read the much debated article in Time magazine on ’20 reason’s to hate airlines’ (here is my rebuttal to the article – Why I hate Time’s 20 reasons to hate airlines list), it was the first time I heard of a piano bar on the upper deck of a Boeing 747. I did not even know such a thing existed. So, I googled it and after much searching, actually got a result. I found this very cool blog post talking about the piano bar, along with multiple pictures, including one of an actual piano, with someone playing and singing. It was real! I guess I am just to young to have heard of it.
I have actually never had the opportunity to fly in the upper deck of a 747. I have travelled on a 747 multiple times, including in Business class on Lufthansa. That too in the first row of the lower deck. That was a great experience. The window seats actually have windows that allow you to look forward! Because of the curvature of the nose cone and the fact that the cockpit is on the upper deck, the seats in the first row have a partially front facing view. That was some takeoff!
So, some airlines used the upper deck as live entertainment and lounge areas for their upper class passengers. No seats, just fun. I guess they saw the upper deck of the 747 as extra space that could be put to creative use. That is no more. All 747’s flying today have seats in the upper deck. Some, like Lufthansa, have all their First Class seats upstairs. Others, like United have Business Class seats, along with more business class seats in the lower deck.
There are airlines that still do have bars and small lounge areas on their planes. They in no was occupy the whole upper deck of a 747. They are smaller and of course, still for the upper class passengers. Today, some airlines also have self serve food pantries on extra long flights. On a United flight that I took from Washington Dulles (IAD) to Dubai (DXB) – a good 13+ hours – the second meal on the flight was self serve sandwiches and beverages, all laid out in the galley. I thought this was a great idea as all those asleep would not want to be disturbed by food carts in the middle of the night. I have no idea how the arrangement was for upper class passengers. I had searched high and low for cheap flights to Dubai, so I had a non-upgradable ticket and was stuck in economy. This was a 777 anyways, so no upper deck.
Going back to the 747 piano lounge. Wow, live entertainment. What a concept. So, not only did the airlines take up all the space in the upper deck for passengers to chill out, relax and mingle, they put in a piano and hired a piano player (looks like he can sing too) to come along on the flight to entertainment the guests. Ah, the nostalgia. Maybe some airline can try out a ‘1970s Nostalgia’ flight and have a piano bar in its 747 upper deck for a while. I heard United has a 747 that still has the old configuration that needs to be reconfigured with their new seats. Here is a chance to make some money during the ‘in-between’ stage. Anyone have Mr. Tilton’s number? Can Taylor Swift play the piano?
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I flew KLM to Athens (can’t remember if there was a connection) in a 747 with a piano bar. People were drinking and smoking and having a rollicking good time. I was 9 years old and I recall that the piano bar was in the rear in coach, not the upper deck – we were seated in coach but the kind stewardess (!) took me upstairs for a look.
I regularly flew between JFK and SaN jUAN IN THE 70’S – THE PIANO BAR WAS IN THE BACK OF COACH – THE UPPER LOUNGE WAS JUST SEATING AND A`SMALL BAR – NO ROOM FOR A PIANO. i FLEW THIS FLIGHT EVERY MONTH FOR A YEAR OR SO.
The piano bar was on AA’s 747s and was not on the upper deck. It was in the rear of the aircraft. If you take a good look at the photo, you’ll notice that it is far too wide to be on the upper deck. Plus, note the similarities with the color photo in your post.
There were upper deck lounges for first class passengers on many early 747s, going up a spiral staircase (replaced on the 747-400 with a straight one). Delta even sold the upper deck space as a private cabin for up to 6 pax – requiring a minimum of 5 first-class fares even for 1 or 2 people. But you got private exclusivity.
Cool! Thanks for sharing. I wish something like that existed today.
I used to fly a lot when the 747 first came out. At first the upper deck was not certified for takeoffs and landings, because there was no direct exit in case of crash. So to allow them to fly, they made the upper deck into a lounge, complete with piano bar, stewadess, free boose, free card decks and lots of commaraderie.
Later when the upper deck was “certified” they made it first class oly and the piano bar was moved to the rear of the lower deck on some airlines, and to the middle of the ship on Continental and others.
Those were the days when we all travelled in three piece business suits, and could arrive just as the door was closing, and they would hold the plane for you, to make sure you were comfortably seated before they started takeoff.
Those were the days… 🙂 Thanks for sharing Gary.
I sure recall piano bars in airliners through the 1970s…a close friend was an American Airlines flight attendant who had been with AA since late ’68. She loved her job with great benefits (an African camera safari, a trip to Rhodes, off Greece, et al) and time off to attend SD State Univ. for her MA degree in San Diego. As for making a profit or going B/K, I like what Virgin’s Richard Branson said..”It’s easy to become a millionaire…start with a billion bucks and set up and run an airline for a few years…” He should know.
On correction: The piano lounge was not upstairs, but was in the back of the 747 for COACH passengers! I was 8 years old when my family flew that American Airlines 747 from New York to Dan Francisco, and hanging out in that lounge with grownups drinking and smoking and playing cards was a real kick! My sister and I played chopsticks on that electric piano until the stewardess pulled the plug. Let me tell you, that was some plane. I’ll never forget taht trip.
I meant to say “ONE CORRECTION” in my previous post. Sorry, didn’t catch it before I hit send.
The first time I ever flew it was in 1972 on a 747 from NY to Puerto Rico. The piano bar was in the back and I was a nervous wreck since it was my first time aloft, so I had a couple of drinks. Just as I started feeling mellow enough to enjoy the flight, the plane hit an air pocket and passengers, serving carts and flight attendants went bouncing all over the place. It’s lucky nobody was injured and we were instructed to return to our seats and fasten our seat belts. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but safety really took a back to ambiance that day.
@Rick, Great experience. Thanks for sharing
I flew a 747 with a piano bar in 1971 – I was 6. And it just so happened that Mel Torme was on the flight and he gave a performance in the lounge. I sat on the piano bench next to him. At that time, I did not know who he was, but now I realize it must have been a cool thing!
That is awesome! Thanks for sharing. I hope you got some pictures
Showing my age but, flew JFK/LAX on a AA 747 with piano bar – Frank Sinatra Jnr. just happened to be on board and he entertained us for close to 4-hours. Brilliant – it was like a speakeasy, lots of cigarette smoke e and whisky on the rocks. Of course you had to fly First Class to gain entry. The only way I managed that was being an airline employee. ‘Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end’ – but sadly they did.
Anyting that begins with an airport these days is best avoided.
Here is a little more information you are looking for about the American Airlines 747 Coach Piano Bars. They operated from late in 1970 for about 3 to 4 years when they were removed. My Father, Don Morningstar, was the West Coast Wurlitzer repairman assigned to keep these pianos in working order. There was also an East Coast Wurlitzer repairman as well.
Don would get up around 3AM to head out to LAX for the grounded 747’s, which AA would line up at least two to be serviced per service call, and it would take 90 minutes for each piano bar to be disassembled for him to begin working on the pianos, and then later reassembled. After several months of “wasted time” in taking them apart and putting them back together, he had American Airlines repair crew do the disassembly and reassembly so that he could repair and tune more of their fleet per service call. American Airlines was grateful for the opportunity to save him the time, and themselves some money!
Most of the repairs were for sticky keys and broken reeds from passengers spilling their drinks onto the keyboard, and after a while making the keys hard to strike, meaning people would pound on the keys to get them to play and thus breaking the reeds!
Don Morningstar lived in Redondo Beach and Torrance, CA from 1966 to 1976 and serviced Pianos and Organs. He was on call by most of the stars in and around the Hollywood area. Some of the stars he worked for include:
The Carpenters (1967 – 1976)
The Beach Boys (Including tuning their EP’s before their performance at the White House)
Fleetwood Mac (1970 – 1976)
Mel Torme (1968 – 1976)
Tina Turner (Worked for her one time and vowed never to work for her again!)
Just to mention a few. He was even asked to tune Liberace’s piano before his shows.
Don also tuned and repaired the pianos and organs at Dodger Stadium, The Queen Mary, Disneyland, and several recording studios as well.
Don retired in Vermont, and passed away in Oct. 2003.
Posted by his Son, Mark
Mark, thank you so much for sharing. This is amazing information on your father!!
i was hired for american airlines in may of 1973 in new york and currently work for american in boston. i have fond memories of flying american’s 747s to puerto rico and los angeles and enjoyed the good times around the piano bar..yes they really did exist..what a class act..
I remember my first flight to Hawaii in 1979 , with a flight to LA from Detroit and then a flight change from LA to Honolulu on United Airlines. I remember the 747 had a lounge in the upper deck area. I had forgotten all about it.
My Mom just told me a story about how back in the 1970s she was flying from L.A. to New York, and she had my older brother with her, and she was in the upper deck lounge of a 747, and all of a sudden Stevie Wonder appeared with a woman. He sat down, and started to play the piano, and sing.
I remember. They showed off the 747 in 1968, they test flew them in 1969 and first passengers Jan of 1970. EVERYTHING was better back then.. until the ubermost greedy, UNOWHO, the super-capitalists of this entire planet – took control of our nation.. after they bumped JFK off.. Now look at us. We, who walked.. NAY! DROVE on the Moon!! Reduced to forking over carfare to the Russians. And landing under the chutes.. in a metal ball. Out in the hinterlands of Russia!!!
In 1997 i had an amazing round world holiday from australia via South africa, Europe, the U.S. and Mexico,and central America, Flying a Qantas/Air France alliance.Air France was so stylish, efficient and superior to any other airline, and i have flown many international carriers.Buffets at all times,in addition to regular meals, a seperate smoking cabin on their 747’s with champagne(French of course!),where you could mingle with other travellers and stretch your legs. Best part was take off from Johannesberg when the cabin crew waltzed down the aisle in Yves saint Laurent handig out that days “Le Monde” straight off the press from Paris. Now thats style!!!!
Gone are those days of style in the air… Thanks for sharing