American Airlines MD-83 economy class Chicago to Detroit

American Airlines MD-83 economy class Chicago to Detroit

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
Aircraft: MD-83
Registration: N961TW
Duration: 53 minutes
Seat: 30F (economy class)

american airlines MD-83 side view
American Airlines MD-83 (N961TW) side view illustration by
air route from ORD to DTW

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:

N961TW chicago O'Hare airport
The weather was a bit too gloomy to get nice shots of the mirror-like finish on this MD-83 unfortunately. Here’s N961TW getting prepped for the short hop over to DTW.

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…

american airlines terminal ORD
There’s nothing quite like the American Airlines terminal at ORD during Christmas. This pic doesn’t do the decorations justice!

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.

gate k4 chicago ORD airport
Loitering around gate K4 waiting for the flight to start boarding.
gate K4 ORD american airlines
Alright, here we go! Time to step back in time a bit and get nostalgic with this old MD-83.
boarding american airlines md-83
I can see the polished aluminum from here!
american airlines md-83 close up
The polished aluminum AA livery on the MD-83 is a true classic.
boarding american airlines MD-83
If you would have told 1999 me that I would get excited about boarding an American Airlines MD-83 someday, I would have thought you were crazy!
american airlines polished aluminum livery
Shiny bare metal: the way all airplanes should be!
American Airlines MD-83 main cabin
American Airlines MD-83 main cabin.
American Airlines MD-83 economy class seats
American Airlines MD-83 economy class seats.
American Airlines MD-83 main cabin
American Airlines MD-83 main cabin.
American Airlines MD-83 economy class seats
Row 30, seats D, E, and F. The window seat was mine.
american airlines md-83 seat number
Seat number label on the overhead bins.
American Airlines MD-83 main cabin
American Airlines MD-83 main cabin looking forward.
american airlines md-83 mid-cabin galley
I totally forgot about the mid-cabin galley on these planes.
American Airlines MD-83 seat pitch
American Airlines MD-83 seat pitch.
American Airlines MD-83 seat pitch
American Airlines MD-83 seat pitch.
aa MD-83 seat back
No personal video screens here – the way flying used to be!
seat number label
Seat number badge in the arm rest.

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.

american airlines MD-83 interior
The boarding door is closed, and I’ve got the rear section of this MD-83 all to myself!
american airlines md-83 safety card
Let’s have a quick look at the safety card before departure. This is the front cover.
american airlines md-83 safety card
American Airlines MD-83 safety card inner cover.
american airlines md-83 safety card
American Airlines MD-83 safety card interior.
american airlines md-83 safety card
Rear cover of the American Airlines MD-83 safety card.
american airlines md-83 interior
All loaded up and ready to go!
american airlines pratt & whitney JT8D engine
Just a few more bags to load and we’re outta here.
american airlines md-83 wing
Pushing off the gate.
pratt & whitney JT8D engine
Being this close to the engine was more fascinating to me than rolling past the aircraft at the gates!
spirit airlines chicago o'hare airport
One good thing about the new banana-yellow spirit livery is how well it brings a splash of color to dull backdrops.
pratt & whitney JT8D engine md-83
As you can see, row 30 is the last row on the plane with a view to the outside. Row 31 and beyond is all engine.
pratt & whitney JT8D engine
Spooling up and getting loud!
departing ORD american airlines md-83
departing ORD american airlines md-83
Cutting through the clouds.
departing ORD american airlines md-83
So nice to see clear blue skies once again.

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.

american airlines in flight beverage
Bottled water for the quick flight over to DTW.
american airlines md-83 sun rays
It’s amazing what a bit of sunshine can do to help better one’s mood.
SANspotter selfie
SANspotter in his natural habitat.
American Airlines MD-83 main cabin
The reflection off the clouds below helped to light up the cabin a bit for a better pic than I got while on the ground.
American Airlines MD-83 wing
American Airlines MD-83 wing looking good against the puffy layer of clouds below.
American Airlines MD-83 lavatory
American Airlines MD-83 lavatory.
American Airlines MD-83 lavatory
American Airlines MD-83 lavatory.
american airlines pratt & whitney JT8D engine
I just can’t get enough of these JT8D views. I also managed to get the wing AND the tip of the horizontal stabilizer in this pic too! Yeah, stuff only a true airliner nerd like me can appreciate…
American Airlines MD-83 main cabin
Nobody else seems very interested in the views outside though. Oh well – I was having plenty of fun back here by myself!

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!

American Airlines MD-83 wing
The descent was interesting, primarily because of the way the clouds changed as we dropped. Here we are about to penetrate the first layer.
American Airlines MD-83 wing
Then we were sandwiched between two layers for a bit before going lower.
landing at DTW
The clouds eventually gave way though, offering some decent views of the Detroit metro area on approach. My old stomping grounds.
landing at DTW
Circling and circling, lower and lower we go.
final approach DTW airport
On final approach now.
landing at DTW
Welcome to Detroit!

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.

north terminal DTW
Pulling up to the North Terminal at DTW (concourse D). My first time in this building!
pratt & whitney JT8D engine
One last shot of that JT8D – just because.
American Airlines MD-83 interior
Sitting in the back has it’s disadvantages. Waiting to get off took a while.
american airlines MD-83 seats and sidewall
Nothing to do but take more pics as I wait to deplane. The flight attendant standing behind me started to get a bit curious as to why I was taking so many pics though (and not in a good way). I told her I was a travel blogger, and that seemed to satisfy her curiosity somewhat. Hope I don’t end up on any ‘no fly’ lists any time soon…
north terminal DTW
Inside the North Terminal (concourse D) at DTW. Oh, and for what it’s worth, it’s an ugly terminal – but very efficient and easy to navigate. As long as you’re flying the same airline, 1 hour is enough time for a layover in Detroit. Easy!

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.

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