Enjoy American's MD-80s While You Can

Hi, my name is Mike and I love flying on the MD80. There I said it.

Many other frequent flyers lament the MD80s lack of in-flight entertainment (IFE), smaller overhead bins, boring non sky-interior, and general age of the aircraft. But I enjoy the fact that 80% of the seats are windows or aisles, there are sixteen seats in first increasing the likelihood of an upgrade (unlike an A319 on United), flying up in first class is nearly silent and on the rare occasion when my upgrade doesn't clear, American Airlines's row 20 (exit row) is very comfortable having more pitch than most domestic first class seats.

American announced on Facebook today that they took delivery of another 738 that finally tips the scales: "We now have more 737-800s in our fleet than MD-80s." While it's nice to see the fleet being modernized, I implore you to enjoy the 'mad dogs' while you can. Not only are they fun to fly in, but of important historical significance since deregulation.

In early 1983 the Transportation Workers Union, representing the mechanics of American Airlines, and the Association of Professional Flight Attendants ratified new contracts. The contacts allowed for American to hire new workers at a pay scale 30% less than the current workers. [1]

The A and B pay scales were born.

Now with the lower payscales approved, then CEO, Robert Crandall needed to boost the "B" scale ranks to bring his overall cost per seat mile down. He did this by placing a large order, at a bargain price, with McDonnell Douglas for new aircraft and hiring lots of new workers.

In the early 1980s McDonnell Douglas' troubled Douglas Aircraft Group was in financial strife. Reeling from the 1979 crash of a DC-10 and in the midst of the recession - the order books were flat.

In early 1984 with the A/B payscales in hand and Douglas group's poor balance sheet, Crandall negotiated a $1.3 billion order with McDonnell Douglas for 67 MD-80 planes with options for 100 more. [2] With the options the order totaled more than $3 billion, the largest order for its time. The price per plane was a marked 25% discount from the then estimated price of $25 million, a sign of Douglas' willingness to negotiate.

By adding these planes to their fleet, American was able to rapidly expand their domestic structure and feed their new international routes. These changes led to fast growth as American tripled their revenue over the next decade.

So the next time you step onto a MD80 remember it's not an old plane, but rather a plane with a lot of history.


2. A NEW LIFT FOR MCDONNELL DOUGLAS The New York Times 18 Mar 1984



Fascinating history Mike. Thanks for sharing!

rocky January 16, 2013 at 07:09 pm

Great history! But if you love the MDs fly delta! Lots of md-88 and md-90s plying the skies in delta blue and red;)

A. S. January 19, 2013 at 10:15 am

Well, aside from the history, there's not much more to enjoy! I surely won't miss them...

Mike January 19, 2013 at 11:38 pm

@A.S. Awe, say it ain't so! They're so quiet up front! Give me that whisper quiet sound any day over the whine of a 737 or a barking A320. ;)

Thomas February 21, 2013 at 01:15 pm

Thanks for this article and a reminder of a great, yet disappearing airliner. Many years ago, I cringed when I saw DC9/80 listed for my flight. For some reason I considered them boring and small compared to their Boeing/Airbus counterparts. Oh now do I long for the good ol' days of flying in the 70's, 80's, and 90's...

I rarely am able to fly Delta or American, and when I do it is usually on one of their 73's. However, I do have one connection to Mad Dog history. I was in FCO Rome a few months ago and was able to see Alitalia's last MD80 revenue flight come to rest at the gate. Before arriving, I was aware that flight was happening, but was delighted to actually connect with it! It was very special to me to see that plane knowing that sight would never happen again.

Hopefully American keeps their MD's around for a few more years, at least.

Seems like they're starting to be phased out from some routes.. MCI-ORD has always been a mix of ERJ-145 and MD-80, while MCI-DFW is 100% MD-80. Starting next month, we've got a mix of CR7s and 738s on the ORD service. DFW still has MD-80s, but I imagine they won't be there for long..

cameron May 8, 2013 at 09:36 pm

AA still has a good while to go on some of the newer ex TWA lease agreements. They'll be MD-83s based in DFW until 2024. That's when the last will leave. About 80 select S80s will also take the new paint scheme in 2014. Not to worry Mad Dog lovers DFW will still be home to the last surviving MD-83s

John October 28, 2014 at 05:45 pm

It will be at least 10 years until the MD80/83 will be phased out... See especially from DFW where 80% of domestic/non regional jet service remains on the MD80/83. AA plan for that 80% number to remain until at least 2024. The ones gained from TWA will remain until 2030. They will stay at DFW assuring 50%+ of flights out of DFW WILL remain on MD80's for another 20 years.

Dave November 18, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Do you think AA will ever bring back 777 service b/t DFW and ORD? Or, at least have one 763 a day on that route?

Mike November 19, 2014 at 10:19 pm

Dave I would guess it's unlikely. They've been focused on frequency over capacity on a hub to hub route like that. But who knows, with the 787s coming on board and the fleet integration with US there may be yet another change.

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