Andy Luten put together a great tribute video to the retiring American Airlines MD80.
Andy makes the case for why the MD80 was special. There will be many who strike a similar chord. I am going to respectfully disagree.
The American Airlines MD80 Retirement Will Be a Big Media Story
You’re going to see a lot about the American Airlines MD80 this week. Between the plane operating its final commercial flight for American on Wednesday — flight AA80 — and the airline running a ferry flight to the desert with a plane full of media on board, this is a major ‘event’.
American Airlines even invited me onto this sendoff to Roswell, New Mexico. That’s how far down they’re pushing to get coverage for the event. If there’s such a thing as persona non grata at American Airlines surely that’s me.
The MD80’s Proud History Has Passed
I didn’t take the trip (although if they’d offered an Area 51 flyover that’d been tempting). The truth is that to me the MD80 was just an old plane. Like all other old aircraft it’s eventually replaced. Few of us will actually miss the aircraft itself.
The MD80 first entered commercial service in 1980. It was McDonnell Douglas’ stretched version of the DC-9. After Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas in 1997 its successors became the Boeing 717.
American Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to order the plane, and the world’s largest operator of the variant. At one point the American Airlines MD80 fleet included 360 aircraft. That’s a full 30% of the total ever produced.
Originally dubbed the DC-9-80 or DC-9 Super 80, the aircraft is distinct with turbofan engines mounted at the rear of the aircraft and a T-tail.
However the plane’s JT8D engines burn a lot more fuel than more modern aircraft. That means higher operating costs.
Only Two Things Were Good About the American Airlines MD80
In recent times the American Airlines MD80 really had just two things going for it,
- 2×3 seating in economy meant that only one passenger per row had a middle seat
- Plenty of legroom in first class. Since the plane was slated for retirement American never densified it as much as what they’re doing to their Boeing 737-800s (“Oasis“).
American’s MD80s Were Past Their Prime
There was a lot that wasn’t great flying the MD80, too. Knowing these aircraft were destined for retirement American didn’t invest in high speed internet. They were still providing early generation Gogo air to ground internet. The planes weren’t even updated with latest generation air to ground technology.
The American Airlines MD80 fleet had no seat back entertainment screens. Even American’s older generation 737-800s had drop down video screens to show movies. MD80s lacked drop down screens as well.
The MD80s had become maintenance prone and less reliable than the rest of the fleet. After this summer that’s saying something. According to data from Air Insight, American’s MD80 fleet had average delays that were about one-third longer than for Boeing, Airbus, or Embraer aircraft in each of the last three years.
American’s MD80s Are Leaving, But the Trademarks of the Plane Will Be Around For Some Time
American didn’t keep pilots current on the aircraft. Some were coming due for significant maintenance. So despite the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX the airline chose not to extend the life of the MD80s to make up for lost flying.
It seems odd to me that American Airlines is promoting such nostalgia for the plane. The MD80’s primary benefit is that management never installed their new standard, less comfortable interiors. It’s as though they’re saying goodbye to a time when both domestic coach and first class were more civilized.
Delta still operates over 60 later-generation MD88s and over 30 MD90s, though these are slated for retirement. However since Delta, Hawaiian, QantasLink and Volotea fly the Boeing 717 we’ll still see the trademark rear-mounted engines and T-tail for some time to come.