Hastily-Retired American Airlines Boeing 757 Being Shipped To China

At the start of the global pandemic United Airlines decided to keep its options open on its fleet. No one had been more cautious about what Covid-19 would mean for travel than United. No one pulled down their operations faster to conserve cash. On March 10, 2020 – when other airline CEOs were talking up their awareness of the SARS-COV-2 virus, United’s Scott Kirby was planning for revenue to drop 70%. Yet United didn’t retire fleets of aircraft.

American Airlines, on the other hand, retired:

  • Boeing 757s
  • Boeing 767s
  • Airbus A330s
  • Embraer E-190s

Now, with Boeing behind in 787 deliveries, they haven’t had enough planes to fully rebuild their European network. They don’t have old, cheap planes that can fly long distances while experimenting with new routes. And the Airbus A321XLRs, narrowbody aircraft which will fly U.S. East Coast – Europe, are delayed as well and won’t arrive this year.

Many of those Boeing 767s went off to Amazon Air to work as cargo. Some of the 757s went to Northern Pacific (the startup which keeps changing its business model, and which has failed to see its cryptocurrency gain traction).

In late March American Airlines got much of its fleet on the ground for storage in a hurry. Boeing 757s, along with 777s, 787s, and 737s, went to Tulsa.

american planes parked in tulsa
Planes Parked in Tulsa, Credit: American Airlines

american airlines planes parked in tulsa
Planes Parked in Tulsa, Credit: American Airlines

Now one of those retired Boeing 757s – which eventually made it from Tulsa to the desert in Roswell, New Mexico – has been opened, as though it were a time capsule. It’s headed off to China for a cargo retrofit. And while the plane has been painted over to obscure its previous owner, the interior is completely preserved.

At 20 seconds into the video you see the 2020 APEX airline rating sticker still beside the boarding door. American Airlines became an APEX 5 Star Airline in late 2018.

Inside the Boeing 757 you see the old Collins Diamond business class seats. They lie flat, but the plane lacked direct aisle access for these seats. There were no seat back entertainment screens, either. There was still material in the seat back pockets!

Here’s more from the trip:

(HT: AirlineFlyer)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The 757 was/is one of my favorite ‘planes to fly on, both on AA and Delta (when I still patronized the latter). Always been sorry to see them go.
    AA and Boeing. Some folk just can’t get it right, can they?

  2. @JTTsteve is my man crush. If you haven’t found it yet, check-out his “Cockpit Casual” series on YouTube. Fascinating.

  3. “when other airline CEOs were talking up their awareness of the SARS-COV-2 virus,…”

    The half-literate (in medicine) bean counters running America West and the rest were too busy managing stock prices to plan for contingency.

    Kirby ain’t a genius but he did a few things right. Good on him.

  4. I’m not really sure what anyone thinks that Scott Kirby did right by hanging on to the oldest fleet in the US airline industry and then having to spend more on fleet replacement than American and Delta combined and nearly as much as the entire US airline industry combined.
    United got a ONE QUARTER revenue advantage for hanging onto all of those old airplanes.
    Reading financial statements (which contain financial commitments) does wonders for helping gain real perspective.

    Not sure how whether AA retired 4 fleets or 1 aircraft made any difference in whether the Chinese would have picked up that 757.
    AA made the decision to get rid of its 757s before the pandemic – they just accelerated the retirement.

    And United is retiring its 757 fleet as well.

    The real question is how Delta can manage to hold onto what will be a fleet of 100 757s long after American and United’s 757s are gone and still make money with them.

  5. which raises the question of why DL can operate a fleet of over 150 757s and 767s reliably and cost-efficiently but AA couldn’t more than 5 years ago and UA apparently is coming to the same conclusion with a combined fleet that is still 2/3 the size of DL’s.

    The answer for AA appears to be that they didn’t order the most technically advanced aircraft – reportedly some did not have the advanced engine controls that other airlines had – and AA only did a half job of reconfiguring them when DL and UA committed to multiple full cabin refurbishments.

    AA made the decision to get rid of the 757s and 767s and quit investing in them. It isn’t a surprise that the reliability and customer preference fell.

  6. I don’t blame AA for dropping these sub fleets but the international 757 should have been held back, the domestic were already being replaced by the NEO and the 767 were scheduled out for the 787 (who knew Boeing was going to have that many production problems). The A330’s didn’t fit and AA makes more money domestically and in the Americas then in Europe or Asia so the decision still make sense for the most part. I think the 330 -200 and the 757 international fleet should have been kept however, just as a cushion. The 330-200 could have been kept between the US and PHL / CLT and the 787/777 for JFK/MIA/ORD/DFW/LAX/PHX and a few others. AA will have a core and oneworld city strategy for the next two years and the XLRs will allow for a return to point to point out of the east coast and better service to the Americas by 2025. DL has the big issues, lots of A330 and A350 with no options (or slots for that mater) to replace the 757 and 767 which truthfully need to go. UA has an solid fleet strategy for the first time in decades, they just need to cancel the A350 orders.

  7. I’m fascinated that the runway approach lights literally sit on top of the buildings near the airport.

  8. Tim james
    because I know and can articulate facts that you and others can’t. If I am wrong, you should be able to counter with facts.

    problem is that actual data contradicts your opinions.
    The DL 757s and 767s have reliability as high or higher than other fleets at DL and other carriers. They cost less to operate in part because new airplanes aren’t cheap. When you factor in the much higher costs of ownership, the A321NEO and even the MAX10 are not low enough cost to justify retiring the 757s. The 787-8s cost as much to operate per seat as the 767-300ERs; the 767-400s even less. Delta is using 1/3 of the 767-300ERs on JFK transcon flights and the remainder as supplemental capacity on routes where other aircraft operate or on routes w/ low business demand. The 767 coach cabin is undeniably more spacious per seat than AA and UA’s 777s or 787s.
    There are many 330s flying that are much older than DL’s and the A330-300s burn less fuel and have lower total costs than AA and UA’s 777-200ERs.
    The A350s are less than 10 years old – they aren’t going to need to be retired before AA and UA start retiring 787s.
    The A330-900s have comparable if not lower costs per seat than AA and UA’s 787-9s and are used on medium range routes comparable to what the 787 would fly.
    The simple fact is that Delta’s fleet costs per seat are lower than American and United and Delta has higher reliability.
    Delta has over 350 aircraft that have been added in the past 7 years; they simply are not at any risk of needing to engage in massive fleet replacement.

    Delta’s fleet age is relatively high because they can manage to keep older fleets still operating which other airlines – including AA and UA – decide to ground.

    The real question is why DL can do that and AA and UA cannot.

  9. Amazing that the approach lights are on the rooftops of houses/buildings. Must be tough to sleep and night.

  10. AA management has been behind the 8 ball for many years they should have kept those aircraft until the new replacements showed up! There flts are all full with standbys at the gate hoping for no-shows.

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