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Delta's last MD-88 flight: Farewell to a Mad Dog

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Old June 4th 20, 05:11 PM posted to sci.military.naval,rec.aviation.military,rec.aviation.military.naval
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Default Delta's last MD-88 flight: Farewell to a Mad Dog

Delta's last MD-88 flight: Farewell to a Mad Dog
Story by Chris Sloan; video by Chris Sloan and Channon Hodge, CNN •
Updated 2nd June 2020

Washington to Atlanta (CNN) — In normal times, special flights like
Delta Air Lines' retirement of the last McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series
aircraft flying scheduled passenger service in North America are cause
for celebration. With national crises raging, these are anything but
normal times. Yet against this tragic backdrop, the final flight on
Tuesday was historic, joyous and completely surreal.

Airline enthusiast and employees flew in from around the country to be a
part of this event, and I was lucky enough to be on board. After 33
years as the backbone of Delta's domestic fleet, and after nearly four
decades plying the world's skies, the once ubiquitous MD-88 aircraft
known as the "Mad Dog" vanished from scheduled airline service Tuesday,
marking the end of an era for the aircraft not just in the United
States, but in most of the world.

This was the last scheduled passenger flight in America of any McDonnell
Douglas designed and produced passenger aircraft in America.
The significance of the MD-80 to the Atlanta-based carrier can't be
overstated. Though Delta wasn't the first airline to fly the MD-80, the
airline was the launch customer for the Mad Dog's predecessor, the DC-9,
back in 1965.

Delta operated 120 examples of the MD-80 at its peak (out of 1,191
built). Delta's MD-80s were specially updated and rebranded as the
MD-88. This beloved workhorse entered service on April 1, 1987, flying
to just about every city in Delta's North American network with 900
flights per day.

Mad Dog retires: On Tuesday, Delta Air Lines retired the last McDonnell
Douglas MD-80 series aircraft flying scheduled passenger service in
North America.

Chris Sloan

The MD-80s are affectionately known as Mad Dogs because they take off
like rocket ships and unlike more modern automated aircraft, they
require pilots' full attention to fly and land. At their height they
represented 50% of all Delta departures and arrivals at the world's
busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.
Over 33 years, the fleet flew 750 million passengers, achieving 12
million hours in the air. On the last full day of operations, only 14
MD-88s and two of its MD-90 sisterships were operating from the
airline's Atlanta base.

Retiring in style

Which brings us to Tuesday's Flight DL88. The MD-88s were to be retired
at the end of this year. But with plummeting demand, airlines like Delta
have accelerated retirement of their elderly fleets and parked thousands
more planes.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, Delta has parked 650 jets, or
half of the combined 1,316 planes in its mainline and Delta Connection

Delta's MD-88s average 28.7 years old. With Delta's bulging order book
of new, next-generation aircraft such as the Airbus A220, the Mad Dog's
time had come and gone.

The star of the day was N900DE, the 100th MD-88 delivered to Delta. She
had flown nearly 58,000 takeoffs and landings and spent 75,000 hours
aloft since first entering service in March 1992.

Tuesday's DL88 flight from Washington's Dulles Airport sold out within
minutes. With Delta's Covid-19 policy of not booking flights exceeding
50% capacity in First Class and 60% capacity in the main cabin, the
aircraft wasn't full -- unheard of for final flights. Only 84 of 149
seats were occupied.

On board Delta's last ever MD-80 flight

Passengers and crew aboard the last MD-88 flight posed for a group photo
at Dulles.

Chris Sloan

By 6:30 a.m., the gate was swarmed with excited AvGeeks and employees.
Despite a time when all airlines are facing their most severe crisis
ever, Delta sent off its workhorse in style.

Much to the delight of the crowd that expected a more muted affair, the
gate was festooned with balloons and banners. The two captains and the
cabin crew had celebrity status with bursts of applause as they stepped
to the gate. The flight crew got into the festivities, assembling
everyone for a commemorative, not very socially distant, "class photo."
Boarding began in groups of just a few rows from the back of the plane
forward, in keeping with Delta's Covid-19 social distancing protocol. As
we taxied out, our plane was drenched in a commemorative water cannon

The water droplets dripping down the windows looked like tears as we
taxied past rows and rows of parked airplanes -- victims of the
coronavirus' devastating economic effects. This powerful contrast wasn't
lost on anyone.

On board Delta's last ever MD-80 flight

'A true pilot's plane'

Onboard, before the show officially started, each crew member on the PA
addressed the MD-88 fanboys and fangirls with what the MD-80 meant to them.

Captain Carl Nordin regaled passengers with Mad Dog factoids, but with
his voice cracking said, "It's our baby. It created a lot of jobs, this
was the plane I trained on. It's going to be sad to park her for the
last time."

"I will miss hand flying her. She's a true pilot's plane," waxed Captain
Jim Hamilton.

Ross Davis, a senior flight attendant, held back the tears remarking,
"It was the plane I worked on my first day. It's close to my heart. It
was the first plane to take me to an international destination, which
was hugely important to me."

Ross Davis is a big fan of the MD-88, the first he worked as a Delta
flight attendant.

Ross Davis is a big fan of the MD-88, the first he worked as a Delta
flight attendant.

What will he miss the most? "The wide aisles." Passengers also said
they'd miss the 2x3 seating, which cut down on the dreaded middle seat.
"I will miss the noise the most," said one enthusiast who lives in
Atlanta. "If you live within 40 miles of the airport, you know how an
MD-80 sounds."

The MD-80 series was sometimes called the "Mullet Plane," with its
"business in the front" whisper quiet front part of the cabin and loud
"party in the back of the plane" from the twin rear mounted Pratt &
Whitney JT8D-200 series engines.

By comparison to any airliners built from the 1990s forward, the MD-80
is a loud, low-tech, fuel guzzling and environmentally unfriendly relic
of the 1980s. But when it first entered service as the DC-9-80, the
airplane boasted a competitive edge.

"MD-80 series aircraft, like their predecessor DC-9s, have been
extraordinarily durable -- some of them have remained in service even as
newer aircraft have been retired. They're retiring because of economics,
not because they couldn't continue operating safely for years to come,"
says Seth Kaplan, NPR's Here and Now transportation reporter and co-host
of the AirlineConfidential podcast.

A surreal finale for an aviation icon

At 8:40 a.m. it was showtime as the Pratts spooled up. Within 30
seconds, the lightly loaded 32-year-old plane sharply rotated like a
rocket ship into the air from Dulles Runway 30. There was no applause,
just absolute quiet as the audience soaked in the engine symphony and
famed jet fighter-like take off.

With virtually everyone onboard wearing masks, it was difficult to gauge
anyone's reaction. And when the catering came around, it was a small
plastic bag filled with a water bottle, energy bar and hand sanitizer.
This is a surreal, austere age.

Nevertheless, with a short 1 hour and 45 minute flight time, these
passengers came ready to celebrate! Almost on cue, passengers broke out
Sharpies -- turning the plane's window shades, overhead bins and walls
into a canvas for art and autographs.

Thank you and Godspeed @delta Mad Dog. After 750 milllion passengers
carried, You have earned your rest and place in history. #MD88

Social distancing became very difficult for the crew to control as
passengers crowded into the aisles for photos. A safety card was passed
around for everyone to sign, while every other safety card was removed
as a souvenir. Some passengers got a bit overzealous and pried placards
from the plane. The flight crew had to admonish the youngish crowd to
leave those items in place.

At 9:35 a.m., the Pratts spooled back and the Mad Dog began its final
initial descent. The seat belt sign came on, but no one seemed to notice
-- or care. Finally, with everyone belted in with seats in their upright
position, the grand finale came into view. You could feel that our Mad
Dog didn't want to land. She had a lot more flying left in her.

At 9:41 a.m. with the cabin completely quiet, the 28-year-old airplane
gently kissed runway 8L in Atlanta for the last time. With all of her
sisterships already on the way to their final resting place -- in
Blytheville, Arkansas -- the scene at ATL sans Mad Dogs really hit home.
In just a few hours, N900DE would depart Atlanta, joining her sisters in
the airplane graveyard.

A crowd of enthusiastic employees waving Delta and US flags welcomed
their last MD-88 home one last time. Following a final water cannon
salute, the windows were again awash in drops that looked more like
tears. Our relic of the 1980s sat in dignified repose on the ramp
awaiting her fate.

After the crosschecks and cabin doors were opened, flight attendant Ross
Davis has the final word: "Thank you, Mad Dog, for the people you have
moved and the lives you have touched."

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