01. Introduction: Chasing the Thanksgiving 747 (and other rare birds)
02. American Airlines 737-800 premium economy (Main Cabin Extra) San Diego to Chicago
03. American Airlines MD-83 economy class Chicago to Detroit
04. Westin DTW (standard room)
05. Delta Airlines 747-400 business class (Delta One) Detroit to Atlanta
06. Delta Airlines 747-400 business class (Delta One) Atlanta to…nowhere
07. Delta Airlines A330-300 business class (Delta One) Atlanta to Seattle
08. Delta Connection ERJ-170 first class Seattle to San Diego
The MD-83 has been the backbone of the American Airlines fleet for most of my adult life, and it’s really sad that it’s days are numbered and it won’t be very much longer before it’s gone for good. It just feels weird writing that. I remember standing out on the flightline at airports such as SAN, LAX, and ORD back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, camera in hand, cursing at every AA MD-80 that swooped in for landing. The aviation photographer in me hated those things with a passion. They were much too common, much too frequent, and much too boring to waste precious space with on my camera’s memory card. Digital memory cards used to be very expensive back then – so preserving space on small cards (1gb or less) was the name of the game and I didn’t waste my time with lame AA MD-80’s.
That stubbornness ultimately backfired on me though, because here in 2016, I have very few good pics of American Airlines MD-80’s that I’d be proud to print and hang on my wall. Let that be a lesson to you younger aviation photographers out there: whatever is “boring” now will likely become something special and rare as time goes on, so get all the pics you can. Your future self will thank you for it.
Chicago, IL (ORD) – Detroit, MI (DTW)
Friday, November 25, 2016
Duration: 53 minutes
Seat: 30F (economy class)
My last flight on an AA MD-80 was back in August of 2013 (TPA-ORD), so this was a segment I was very much looking forward to. As a matter of fact, I had been thinking about putting together a trip that involved some of the final AA MD-80 flights right around the time they are scheduled to be retired for good, just so that I could write a proper trip report as a tribute to this icon of the American Airlines fleet. But now I’m feeling that I don’t need to do that – this short flight from Chicago to Detroit was enough for me to get my fill, and I feel like I the experience I got was better than I ever could have expected for a proper “farewell” flight. Let me show you what I mean:
The flight from SAN to ORD this morning went by in a flash, and I didn’t feel tired at all as I was waiting for this flight to start boarding. A big part of that reason, I’m sure, was thanks to the fact that I spent a few minutes in the AAdvantage lounge getting a quick bite to eat. That was a lifesaver, because I was pretty darn hungry by the time we landed and I really needed some food to keep my energy levels up. A quick plate of fruit and cheese hit the spot, and I was set and ready for the short hop over to DTW. Thinking back on it, that may have been my most practical use of an airline lounge ever since most of the time I only go in those places for the sole purpose of getting content to write my reviews.
The Christmas decorations at ORD are always a sight to see, so that kept me busy while I was waiting for the flight to board. I never realized it until I moved to San Diego, but Christmas decorations have a much deeper meaning to me in a cold weather climate such as Chicago. There’s nothing quite like standing in front of a beautiful Christmas tree with frostbitten fingers and toes to augment the experience. Silly yes, but I’m only partially joking – I grew up in Michigan, and I have fond memories of experiencing what the Christmas season is like under blankets of fresh snow and freezing temperatures. Palm trees and sun kill the experience! But I’m getting off track here…
While standing in the gate area waiting to board the plane, all I could think of is why anyone would choose to fly American (or any other airline) to Detroit other than Delta. Surely Delta has a convenient non-stop flight from every city where these passengers come from, so why choose the connection to fly AA? It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was a very hypocritical question, with me standing there, boarding pass in hand, eager to get on this plane when I could have just as easily took one of Delta’s many non-stops from SAN. At least for me, it all came down to price. AA was the cheapest, connections be damned. I suspect it was the same for many other passengers.
Despite a very full-looking gate area, the flight was massively empty once the boarding door was closed. I found myself all alone in the last few rows of the aircraft, my only companion being the massive JT8D engine just behind my right ear. This was a situation only a true AvGeek like me could love – sitting right next to that engine and the glorious sounds it made was pretty much perfect in my book. If I can’t be in first class, this is the next best seat on the MD-83.
It was a gloomy (but quick) departure out of ORD this afternoon, and thankfully it didn’t take long to bust through the cloud layer and see bright blue skies and sunshine. I spent most of my time taking pics of course, while the flight attendants made quick work of the cabin by coming through offering three choices of beverages: water, juice, or coffee. I went with the SANspotter standard (water), but it didn’t really matter on a short 53 minute flight like this.
The sun was setting nicely as we dropped into DTW, but the cloud deck remained resilient and things were pretty gloomy again by the time we were on the ground. This was no real surprise to me, however, as I grew up near here and I know all too well this was par for the course. Winters are very gloomy in Michigan!
Speaking of nostalgia, I was really looking forward to finding out what the current state of the old Berry and Smith terminal is at DTW. As native of the Detroit area, that old terminal is basically where my love of aviation and travel began. I have lots of good memories from there, the earliest of which was standing up on the old rooftop observation deck watching family members depart on their travels. This was my first time flying into DTW on an airline other than Northwest/Delta since the McNamara Terminal opened in 2002, so I was really hoping to get the chance to wander around the old terminal building for a bit.
Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that while that old terminal is still standing, it’s a vacant shell of it’s former self and looks to be on the verge of being torn down. There’s a completely new terminal building (the North Terminal) attached to it that doesn’t seem to have any of the same character that the old one had. It’s nice, but it’s basically one long hallway with white walls and ugly blue jet bridges. Oh well. We can’t fight progress – it’s the human way.
It was good to be in Detroit after a long day of flying – especially since I had plenty of time to grab dinner and then try to get a full night’s sleep before my 747 adventure the next day.