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Delta operates final MD-88 flight amid tough times for airlines

June 02, 2020
8 min read
Delta operates final MD-88 flight amid tough times for airlines
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Delta Air Lines final McDonnell Douglas MD-88 flight departed from Washington Dulles on a gray Tuesday morning amid the worst crisis the industry has ever faced.

The flight, fittingly DL88, received a water-canon salute after pushing back from the gate at Dulles (IAD) at 8:20 a.m. local time for its scheduled 1-hour, 14-minute flight to Delta's Atlanta (ATL) base. The MD-88, registration N900DE, was one of seven inbound MD-88 flights operating to Atlanta on Tuesday morning. DL88 was the last of those to depart.

"It's a sad moment," Delta captain Jim Hamilton, who piloted DL88, told TPG prior to the departure. "The aircraft never let me down in 27 years."

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Delta's final MD-88 flight receiving a water canon salute departing Washington Dulles airport on June 2, 2020. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)
Delta's final MD-88 flight, DL88, receiving a water canon salute departing Washington Dulles airport on June 2, 2020. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)

On the same morning, Delta operated its last McDonnell Douglas MD-90 flight, DL90, from Houston Bush Intercontinental (IAH) to Atlanta.

Both the MD-88s and MD-90s were due to fly on to Blytheville, Arkansas (BYH), for storage later on Tuesday.

The retirements of the "Mad Dog," as the jets are colloquially known, is an end of an era for Delta and U.S. airlines. The MD-80 family, and DC-9s before it, have graced U.S. skies since 1965 and formed the backbone of many airlines' domestic fleets at one time or another. The exception being the Boeing 717, which began life as the MD-95 but was rebranded after Boeing and McDonnell Douglas merged in 1997.

Related: Delta says goodbye to the last ‘Mad Dogs’ flying in the US amid coronavirus retirements

The dual aircraft retirements come during the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines around the world have seen passenger numbers dry up as would-be flyers stay home amid government restrictions and fears of the virus.

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The almost complete disappearance of travelers -- and revenue -- has put the plight of airlines in stark relief. Several carriers are restructuring through bankruptcy as a result, including Delta partner LATAM Airlines. In the U.S., the federal government's $50 billion coronavirus aid package, or the CARES Act, has so far helped airlines avoid this fate.

But even with the aid, U.S. airlines plan to emerge smaller after COVID-19. Delta is preparing for this by retiring more than 100 jets, including the MD-88s and MD-90s. It will also remove its 18 Boeing 777s by year end.

Retiring jets save Delta "hundreds of millions of dollars" annually, the airline's chief financial officer Paul Jacobson told staff on May 27.

Related: US airlines could retire older aircraft, focus on newer models due to coronavirus downturn

Delta retired its MD-88 fleet on June 2, 2020, with the final scheduled passenger departure from Washington Dulles airport. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)
Delta retired its MD-88 fleet on June 2, 2020, with the final scheduled passenger departure from Washington Dulles airport. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)

The disappearance of the MD-88s and MD-90s will also benefit travelers. While Cirium schedules show most of the final MD-88 flights initially shift to 717-200s, Delta has outlined plans to park roughly half of its 717 fleet over the next two years while continuing to take delivery of new Airbus A220s and eventually Airbus A321neos.

The A220-100s seat 12 passengers in a 2-2 first class layout and 97 in a 2-3 economy layout and are generally viewed as more comfortable for travelers than the 717. In addition, they are quieter than the 717s and feature inflight entertainment screens at every seat.

Delta operated 31 A220-100s at the beginning of April, its latest fleet plan shows. It has orders for another 14 A220-100s plus 50 -300s with the first of the latter potentially due this year.

Related: Why the new Airbus A220 is popular with airlines during the coronavirus pandemic

The interior of a Delta MD-88. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)
The interior of the MD-88 operating Delta's final flight with the type. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)

Delta has flown as many as 120 MD-88s and 65 MD-90s since 1987, according to the Delta Flight Museum. The former was an upgraded version of the standard MD-80 while the latter was a stretched variant designed to compete with the Boeing 737-800 in the mid-1990s.

American, once the largest operator of MD-80 family jets in the world, retired its last of the planes in September 2019. And Allegiant Air retired its last MD-80 in November 2018.

The send off at Dulles was muted compared to some past aircraft retirements. Staff decked out the gate with red-and-white balloons and signs saying "DL88 IAD Farewell." Most travelers onboard the flight appeared to be aviation aficionados, or AvGeeks.

Small or not, Capt. Hamilton came out and greeted the crowd before the flight, marking the historic moment and welcoming flyers onboard.

Related: American Airlines has flown its last ‘Super 80’ flight

Decorations for Delta's final MD-88 flight at Washington Dulles. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)
Decorations for Delta's final MD-88 flight at Washington Dulles. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)
Featured image by Delta's final MD-88 flight departing Washington Dulles airport on June 2, 2020. (Photo by Edward Russell/The Points Guy)

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Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
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Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

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  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees