Delta operates final MD-88 flight amid tough times for airlines
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
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.”
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.
View this post on Instagram
“The aircraft never let me down in 27 years,” Captain Jim Hamilton told me ahead of Delta’s final MD-88 flight. Caught #DL88 rotating on departure from Washington Dulles bound for Atlanta on June 2. #avgeek
A post shared by Ned Russell (@airbus777) on
— micah (@GoesByMicah) June 2, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Featured image by Edward Russell/TPG.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
- 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 2x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services.