Last updated: 09:55 AM ET, Thu January 12 2017

United Airlines to Operate Final Boeing 747 Flight in 2017

Airlines & Airports United Airlines Patrick Clarke January 12, 2017

United Airlines to Operate Final Boeing 747 Flight in 2017

PHOTO: A United Airlines Boeing 747 taxiing at Los Angeles International Airport. (Photo via Flickr/Alan Wilson

United Airlines will say goodbye to its fleet of Boeing 747s a bit sooner than expected.

In a memo to United workers Wednesday, the airline's president Scott Kirby confirmed the Chicago-based carrier will operate its final flight aboard a Boeing 747 in the fourth quarter of 2017.

United had initially announced plans last March to phase out the 374-seat aircraft by the end of 2018.

"As deeply connected as we all are to this iconic aircraft, the time has come to retire our 747 fleet from scheduled service," said Kirby in the memo. "It’s a bittersweet milestone."

"Today, there are more fuel-efficient, cost-effective and reliable widebody aircraft that provide an updated in-flight experience for our customers traveling on long-haul flights."

Kirby said the carrier will work with pilots and crew members of the 747s to "ensure a smooth transition" and hinted at an "unforgettable retirement celebration" for the aircraft.

READ MORE: United Airlines Takes Delivery of Newest Boeing 777-300ER

According to USA Today, United's decision to speed up the 747's retirement will likely turn out to be a wise one, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expected to release an airworthiness directive that could potentially call for pricey repairs to older jets.

The only other U.S. airline currently using 747s for passenger service, Delta Air Lines, also plans to retire its fleet by the end of 2017.

Moving forward, United will replace its 747s with Boeing 777-300ERs that seat just eight fewer passengers than their predecessors. The airline has already begun taking delivery of the new aircraft and also plans to add more Boeing 787-9 and 787-9 Dreamliner models capable of seating 219 and 252 passengers, respectively.