What it was like to fly on one of the last American Airlines MD-80’s

What it was like to fly on one of the last American Airlines MD-80’s

I remember 10 years ago when I thought that the MD-80 was pretty much the worst aircraft in the American Airlines fleet. It was super old school to me even back then, nowhere near as comfortable and high-tech as the 737’s and A320’s that were replacing it. It even smelled funny. So why the heck am I feeling high levels of nostalgia now that the American Airlines MD-80 retirement is official?

Tomorrow (September 4, 2019) is the final day of AA MD-80 (Super80) operations and…it’s hard not to feel just a little bit mopey. The same kind of mopey I felt when I was 12 years old and my first-ever girlfriend dumped me because I wouldn’t hold her hand on the bus to and from school.

Anyway, just like Angela (that was her name), I don’t think that I appreciated the American Airlines MD-80 as much as I should have. In fact, I didn’t even care all that much when the retirement was announced several years ago. “Good riddance!” I proclaimed (in the manliest and most unsentimental way possible).

But 6 weeks ago, with the final flight closing in fast, I realized that I actually had feelings for the old gal (the MD-80 – not Angela) buried deep in my conscience. I just had to book on last trip on the Super80 a week before the retirement so that I could say a proper goodbye. Flights to and from St Louis were pricing out as the cheapest, so that’s what I went with.

Dallas, TX (DFW) – St Louis, MO (STL)
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Aircraft: MD-83
Registration: N9620D
Duration: 1 hour 48 minutes
Seat: 28F (economy class)

American Airlines MD-83 side view
American Airlines MD-83 side view illustration by Norebbo.com
dfw-stl flight track
Our route from DFW to STL this afternoon.

Since I actually booked two final flights on the MD-80 (DFW-STL and STL-DFW), the video I created to document the American Airlines MD-80 retirement was supposed to cover both flights. However, after a really fun DFW-STL segment, I decided that I had all the content I needed for the video – and that I would simply enjoy the return flight back to Dallas the following day without having to worry about filming every little thing.

Being able to enjoy the return flight without stressing out trying to document the experience was a blessing. As you saw in the video, I got the full “final flight” experience on the Dallas fo St Louis segment. Especially with the brief announcement from the captain about the super80 retirement! Which didn’t happen on the STL-DFW segment by the way.

Anyway, as always, the music in this video came from my friends over at Epidemic Sound. I highly recommend them to all travel and aviation vloggers who need music for their own videos!

My American Airlines MD-80 retirement farewell begins deep in the bowels of the labyrinth we refer to as “DFW”

I’ve totally got a love / hate relationship going on with the Dallas Ft Worth airport. On one hand, I love the ambiance of a big air hub. DFW delivers huge with constant activity all hours of the day. On the other hand, it’s an older facility desperately in need of an update. It hasn’t changed in 30 years, and it’s exactly how I remember it from when I first visited in 1997. It’s stale! And every terminal smells like Subway sandwiches…just how I remember it from way back in the day.

DFW Airport terminal c interior
Well, these swoops and swirls may have been recent additions…but for the most part, DFW is the place to be if you just can’t let go of the 90’s.

My arrival from San Diego that morning was perfectly timed so that I’d have the opportunity to grab a bite to eat before switching over to “trip report” mode and getting all the content I needed for the video and this article. DFW minimum connection times being what they are (not that bad), I had plenty of time to spare.

SANspotter eating airport food
Yours truly making sweet sweet love to a BBQ chicken wrap before starting this trip report. I can’t do anything on an empty stomach.

With a belly full of chicken wrap, it was game on! The first order of business was strolling around all the terminals just to see how many Super80’s I could find. The American Airlines MD-80 retirement seemed like it was going to be a pretty big deal, and I was really curious to see how many were left with just a week to go. I counted 8 during my two-hour power-walk, which is about 6 more than I was expecting. For some reason or another I figured they’d all be gone by now.

DFW Airport skylink train
The best place for MD-80 hunting in DFW is (by far) from the Skylink train. “Be veeewy veewy quiet…” #elmerfuddreference
American Airlines MD80 retirement
See what I mean? This bad boy was parked right under the train stop for terminal A. Oh – and my apologies to the DFW janitorial crew for for slobbering all over the window.
Final American Airlines MD80 DFW
To be honest, hunting for MD-80’s wasn’t all that thrilling. There were a ton of these things all over the airport still, and it wasn’t hard to get a close up look at any of them. I came here for a challenge, dang it!
SANspotter selfie DFW American Airlines MD80
Another one! Hmm. I thought this was going to be more difficult.
American Airlines MD-83 N9620D
This one (N9620D) is my ride to St Louis. Just as the sun made an appearance as well. Perfect.
AA md80 DFW
Me slobbering on the windows again.

No. Nothing special happened during the boarding process.

Yes, I was fully aware that the official American Airlines MD-80 retirement was still a week away, but…that didn’t stop me from hoping that there would be some sort of special announcement (or poster, or fireworks, or…something) before the boarding process commenced. Unfortunately, it was as stale as boarding a flight to St Louis could possibly be.

SANspotter selfie DFW
This is what I look like when I’m waiting for something exciting to happen.
American Airlines Mobile boarding pass
Even the mobile boarding pass was lame. Apparently nobody at American Airlines has a sense of adventure. Or…perhaps it’s just me and I need to recalibrate my expectations.
Gate C6 DFW Airport
Ho hum. Just another boring flight to St Louis.
American Airlines md-83 boarding door
Whoever decided that carbon composite was a better material for aircraft skin than aluminum…I’ve got a bone to pick with you.
American Airlines MD80 boarding process
Whoa! How come I’ve never noticed this cool-looking American Eagle logo in the entryway before? I hate to admit it, but it’s very likely because I never used to care much for these MD-80’s and I’m only feeling sappy now because of the retirement. Why can’t we (ok, *I*) ever appreciate things while we (I) have them?

For what it’s worth, I didn’t think that it was all that unrealistic to think that there’d be some sort of “celebration” vibe in the air as we boarded this aircraft. Heck, there was a lot of nostalgic chatter from passengers and the flight crew within the first 5 minutes of the United 747-400 SFO-ICN flight I took two weeks before the retirement of that aircraft. Yeah, the 747 was more legendary for sure, but…the MD-80 was the backbone of the American Airlines fleet for over 30 years. That’s not insignificant!

Do I treat this as a normal American Airlines MD-80 review? Or is it ok to weep uncontrollably for the retirement of such a great airplane?

I think I’m going to go with the “weeping” option. I’ve already written a full review about the American Airlines MD80 experience, and since these airplanes are gone forever…there’s no point in doing it again. Go and grab some tissues, ‘cause this has the potential to get sappy.

Super80 first class
Hold on. It’ll get sappy once I get through the first class cabin. Nobody up here seems to care apparently.

Stepping onto one of these old American Airlines Super80’s is like stepping back in time 30 years. They’ve done nothing to modernize these interiors, and the final aircraft were flying around in the exact same interiors they rolled off the line with. There are no personal TVs. The seats are thick and squishy. There are no headrests. And the walls are stained yellow from years of…well…old age.

American Airlines MD-83 economy interior
If you thought that I was going to sit up front…you’d be wrong. Somewhere back there is a window seat with a view of the engine that has my name written all over it!
Row 28 American Airlines md-83
See? There it is! Seat 28F – with “SANspotter” written all over it (sorry it doesn’t show up very well in the pic). And yeah, I’m gonna have to do something about that closed window shade…

FYI, this particular aircraft was built in 1999 for TWA. Hardly a relic in aviation terms, but with how aggressively as American Airlines has been modernizing their fleet over the past 10 years, these things just didn’t fit into their master plan anymore.

American Airlines md-83 leg room
This isn’t a formal review, so it’s not actually a pic of the leg room. Instead, it’s a pic of a creepy dude in the seat back pocket looking straight into my crotch.
American Airlines super80 safety card
Last revised November 2013? Seems like AA gave up on this bird long ago…
American Airlines super80 safety card interior
Funny how all the people depicted in this safety card seem to have more enthusiasm than the people onboard today. I ask again: is nobody as interested in the Super80 retirement as I am?!
Seat 28F American Airlines md-83
$20 (and another chicken wrap once we land in St Louis) says that I was the only person who took a pic of my seat number on this flight. Just a hunch.
AA super 80 retirement flight
You all should know by now how much I enjoy trying to figure out what the people in front of me are talking about. This conversation was a little hard to hear, but it went something like: “SANspotter is totally going to ruin the experience in his trip report for this flight. I’m waiting for Bay Area Traveler, Moments in the Sky, and QFS Aviation to do it right!” To be honest, I am too…

The American Airlines MD-80 retirement, for me, represents one last opportunity to relive what it felt like to start traveling heavily back in the late 90’s. It was a time when cheat lines reigned supreme, interiors were simple, and the world still seemed like a huge and mysterious place.

According to my flight log, my first flight on an AA MD-80 came on October 23, 1999 (SAN-DFW). I was just a young pup back then, curious and clueless (at least more than I am today), and ready to see the world. Those same feelings rush back to me every time I step onto one of these airplanes, and this time was no different.

McDonnell Douglas logo MD-83 window shade
Another design detail I never noticed before. Kinda makes me wonder what else I’m missing in my life…
Md80 overhead panel
I’ll bet these buttons made really cool-sounding 80’s beeps and blips when pressed. The dirt and grime all over the ceiling panel prevented me from testing that theory however…
Md-83 takeoff DFW Airport
I’m not going to include many pics of the departure sequence here on the blog, since it was a highly visceral experience that came through much better in the video. BTW, there are 3 American Airlines MD-83’s in this pic. It took me 10 minutes of “super enhancement” in Photoshop to realize this (and I probably still missed a few).

There are two completely different MD-80 experiences – the one you get is based entirely on the seat you choose

One of the most interesting things about the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 is how loud it is. Well, I mean quiet…but loud. More specifically, it’s a very loud aircraft if you’re sitting towards the back near the engines. Not if you’re sitting up front though. For those who were lucky enough to sit in first class, all that could be heard was wind noise. The experience felt electric and smooth.

However, sitting up front on an MD-80 wasn’t what I considered “lucky” at all. As a matter of fact, the best seats in the house were on the right side of the aircraft from rows 28-30. In those seats, you got a glorious look right into the Pratt & Whitney JT8D right outside your window – along with the sound to go with it. These were not the seats to be in of you were in need of peace and quiet. The buzzing sound (and feeling) from those engines was like nothing else, and…I do believe I’m feeling all sentimental again. 737’s and A320’s have no soul gosh darn it!

Md-83 takeoff wing view
For what it’s worth, it’s an absolute sin to be looking at the wing when you have a JT8D screaming at you over your right shoulder.

I did try to get seat 30F for this flight, but it was already taken when I made the reservation. 29F had been scooped up as well, leading me to believe that I wasn’t going to be the only nerdy AvGeek on this flight in hopes of getting the full American Airlines MD-80 retirement experience. I do have to say, however, that those people didn’t seem to be the AvGeek type IMHO. Either that or they are far more suave about it than I am.

View from seat 28F md-83
I dare you to stick your finger in it.

Seat 30F on the Super80 was the place to be, and I was lucky enough to be able to nab that seat on the flight from St Louis to Dallas the following day. And if you’re curious to know what it was like sitting with an engine literally right outside your window, do be sure to check out the review I wrote about my flight from ORD to DTW back in 2016. I had seat 30F for that one, and it was easily one of the most memorable American Airlines MD-80 flights of my life.

SANspotter American Airlines md80 retirement selfie
The immature 12 year old in me can’t stop thinking about that finger dare…

One thing is for certain – the snacks haven’t changed in over 30 years

Wouldn’t you think that it would be fun to have a special snack option to celebrate the retirement of the American Airlines MD-80? Apparently they didn’t think so. Never mind that this was the aircraft that had been the backbone of the AA fleet since the 80’s. It was also responsible for taking this airline from “small” to “huge” in a relatively short amount of time. It did so safely and reliably, and for that I was hoping for…a special snack of some kind.

American Airlines snack
What? No MD-83 shaped cookies to celebrate the final week of operations? Color me disappointed.

As I sat there nibbling on stale pretzels and washing them down with lukewarm water, it occurred to me that perhaps I’m too much of a romantic. And by “romantic”, I really mean “nerd”. We didn’t get any special snacks on that soon-to-be-retired United 747 flight to ICN back in 2017 either, but…a small bit of culinary recognition would have been fun I think.

Economy class snack
I wonder how loud the people at my bank would laugh if I asked for a loan to start a company that made MD-83 shaped cookies?

It should be noted that United did have a special 747-themed tin amenity kit for the last month of 747 operations, as well as a full article in their in-flight magazine about the significance of the retirement. American Airlines did nothing for the MD80 unfortunately.

One of the biggest reasons why the American Airlines MD-80 retirement hits me square in the feels

Since flying from Dallas to St Louis isn’t very exciting (sorry, but it ain’t), I’m going to use the remaining portion of our flying time to reminisce a bit and tell you why I decided to do one last flight (ok, two) on an aircraft that I used to despise so much.

In order to do so, I need to take you all the way back to August 2001. I had been living in San Diego for four years at that point, and I was incredibly happy there. I never wanted to leave.

Unfortunately, the bad economy at the time resulted in me losing my job, and the only thing I could find was back in Michigan (where I grew up). The company that hired me booked me on TWA from SAN to SBN with with a layover in STL for the big day of the move, and…I’ll never forget the feeling of boarding that TWA MD83 in San Diego. It was an incredibly depressing day.

Md80 wing view
The exact same wing view I had back in 2001 when leaving San Diego for a job in Michigan. 🙁

We all know that American Airlines purchased TWA in 2001, wiping them off the face of the earth after acquiring their remaining aircraft (mostly MD80’s and 757’s). So…my negative feelings of TWA MD-80’s eventually morphed into negative feelings of AA MD-80’s.

SANspotter selfie last American Airlines md80
So. Many. Memories. And not necessarily the good kind either.

It took many years for those feelings of negativity to fade and be replaced with nostalgic memories instead, and that’s exactly what I’m feeling now at the time of the official American Airlines MD-80 retirement. That move away from San Diego was a dark time in my life, but I learned from it, and became a stronger person who learned exactly what I wanted in life as a result.

Anyway, enough of the sappy memories.

Even though this wasn’t technically the final flight, it sure as heck felt like it.

The arrival into St. Louis was a bit of a downer. Mostly because it’s been many (many) years since I’ve been to STL and I wasn’t prepared to see how much of a ghost town it had turned into.

Flying over Mississippi River
The Misissisissisippipie River. I know. Mrs. Jacobs (my second grade teacher) would be so very disappointed that I still don’t know how to spell it correctly.
Flying over St. Louis
This is where I plug a link to my video again so can see just how beautiful our approach over the city of St. Louis was.

I never got the opportunity to see STL during its prime in the TWA days, but I made several visits shortly after American Airlines took over. This experience was nothing like that. There were empty unused gates as far as I could see, and I only counted four other American Airlines aircraft on the ground. What the heck? It’s really sad considering that I remember when American Airlines defended their takeover of TWA saying that they would leave St. Louis intact. Ha!

Because I had no onward connection to make or any other plans after this flight, I decided to hold back a bit and wait to be the last person off. I was hoping to get a few extra pictures and video clips. Perhaps even a quick visit to the cockpit. Considering that the pilot made a brief announcement about the MD-80 retirement earlier in the flight (which you can hear in the video), I figured he’d be cool with me poking my head in and taking a few pics.

My final American Airlines md80 flight
Judging by how far down the aisle the cleaning crew is…I suspect they want me off this plane ASAP.

Once the last passenger was gone, I gathered my things and asked one of the flight attendants if he could take my picture standing in the aisle. Of course he did with no questions asked, but the problem was that it was one of the worst pictures ever and I am incredibly embarrassed to post it here (it was bad because I’m ugly – not because he was a bad photographer). If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you know that I have absolutely no shame in posting silly pics, so…you know it was bad! Oh well.

American Airlines super80 interior final flight
Yes, I’ll actually get to do this again tomorrow, but…pretend with me that this is my last ever American Airlines Super80 flight and I can barely walk because I’m sobbing so uncontrollably. It makes for a better trip report.

As I was walking up the aisle, flight attendant standing at the front of the cabin noticed that the American Airlines MD-80 retirement must have been a pretty big deal to me. Gee – I wonder how she noticed? Was it my silly grin and the fact that I was waving my GoPro all around trying to get video footage and pictures of everything?

SANspotter American Airlines cabin crew last md80
Do you suppose they were laughing *with* me – or *at* me? Probably a little bit of both I think.

Unfortunately I waited too long to deplane, and by the time I got to the cockpit the pilots were already gone. With US airline security being what it is these days, I didn’t feel it was worth the risk to step inside and have a look. Getting arrested (and body cavity searched) on my last ever American Airlines Super80 flight would’ve been highly embarrassing I think. It might’ve made for some good video content, but it still would’ve been embarrassing.

That’s it folks. After 36 years of service, the McDonald Douglas MD-80 is no longer a part of the American Airlines fleet. It served the airline (and millions of passengers) safely and reliably, and it will forever live in my memory as one of the most unique airliners in existence.

American Airlines md80 STL final flights
Nothing looks better in the late afternoon light than a polished aluminum livery! So long old gal.

Will the retirement of the 737 and A320 series of aircraft mean as much to me when the time comes? I don’t know. As a matter of fact, I may not even live that long to find out. There’s probably a good 40 to 50 more years of life left in those airplanes, which probably means that I’ve got plenty of time to develop sentimental feelings for them before they disappear. I’m not even gonna worry about that now though…

Comments (10)

  1. John

    September 3, 2019
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      September 3, 2019
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      September 4, 2019
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    September 7, 2019
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      September 8, 2019
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        October 8, 2019
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          October 8, 2019
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    December 16, 2019
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    November 25, 2023
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      November 26, 2023

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