When American Airlines Flight 2338 departs McAllen Miller International Airport this morning it will mark the end of an aviation era at the airport as an iconic aircraft type becomes rarer in the sky.
American Airlines will retire the last remaining MD-80 aircraft from its fleet, a type that has been an almost daily visitor to MFE for the last 40 years. Allegiant Airlines, which frequently utilized the aircraft for its flights from McAllen to Las Vegas and Florida, retired their last MD-80s last November.
A statement provided by American Airlines said the MD-80, also known at the airline as the Super 80, has been “providing customers and team members with heartfelt memories on adventures ranging from family vacations to key business trips. It’s a bittersweet but well-earned retirement as American celebrates the aircraft’s history while modernizing its fleet.”
Flight 2338 is scheduled to depart McAllen at 6:15 a.m. and arrive at Dallas-Fort Worth International at 7:55 a.m. It is among 17 MD-80 aircraft that will be making their final flight back to the DFW base.
The last revenue flight of the fleet will be AA80 flying from Chicago O’Hare and set to arrive at DFW at 11:35 a.m. Wednesday. Five other MD-80 aircraft were scheduled to end their service with their arrival at DFW last Tuesday night.
With the retirement of the 80s, American’s iconic shiny metal livery that dates back to the 1960s will disappear. All of the airline’s newer aircraft sport the newer white fuselage with a red and blue design on the tail.
While the fleet has been showing wear and tear in recent years, passengers have long favored the type’s 2-3 seating configuration in the main cabin over the 3-3 configuration of similar-sized aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 models.
“With two seats on one side and three seats on the other, it reduced the chances of having to sit in the middle seat,” said Darvin Johnson, who arrived on a MD-80 flight Monday in McAllen. “If I have an option between an MD-80 and a 737 or Airbus, I’ll almost always opt for the MD-80.”
Passengers able to secure seats at the front of the MD-80 would note the quietness of the aircraft, which has its engines mounted on the fuselage at the rear of the plane. However, passengers in the rear of the plane, sometimes referred to as Mad Dogs, might have a different experience.
“The aircraft seems to lift off silently and you glide quietly upward,” said Bobby Carlton of the experience sitting in first class. “Eventually, you can hear the increased roar of the air blowing by the fuselage as it accelerates. It’s such a cool thing to experience, I will miss it.”
The MD-80’s predecessor, the Douglas DC-9, was also a common visitor to the McAllen airport as it was flown by Texas International and later Continental Airlines, which dominated service at the airport in the 1970s. Other carrier such as TWA, Muse Air and Transtar also flew their MD-80s into MFE over the years.
“The MD80 was a stretch version of the 50 and only had two pilots so it was cheaper to operate,” Dan J. Williams, an aviation analyst based in London, said in an email. When the MD-80 was introduced in the early 1980s, it began replacing the three-pilot Boeing 727s at American and led to a major route expansion for the carrier.
Before American Airlines began retiring the MD-80s, the airline reached a peak of 384 of the aircraft in several different size variations, and was the largest operator of the aircraft type.
Even as the airline began to reduce its MD-80 fleet in recent years, it remained a dominant aircraft at the DFW hub. According to Flightradar24, in the past year American had 77 routes from DFW where the aircraft was used 10 or more times.
A search of McAllen flights on American in upcoming weeks shows the airline will be utilizing the 44-seat ERJ-140, 50-seat ERJ-145, 76-seat CRJ-900, the 128-seat Airbus 319 and the 160-seat Boeing 737-800.
Flyers nostalgic for the MD-80 will now be left with one option in the U.S. with Delta Air Lines still flying the aircraft and its successor the Boeing 717. While also targeted for retirement soon, the Atlanta-based airline has about 65 of the aircraft in its fleet.