Rejoice: American Is Retiring 20 MD-80 Aircraft Today

Filed Under: American

American has been making significant investments to modernize their fleet. They’re ordering both new narrowbody and widebody planes, though perhaps the most notable thing they’re doing to modernize the fleet is retiring their MD-80 aircraft.

For years the MD-80 was the backbone of American’s domestic fleet, and at one point American had almost 400 MD-80s, which is insane.


Well, today American is doing one of the largest single-day aircraft retirements in history, as American is flying 20 MD-80s to Roswell, New Mexico, where they’ll eventually either be scrapped for parts, or perhaps even find a second life in another country, where some carriers are anxious to pick up planes on the cheap.

The timing of these retirements coincides with the end of the busy summer travel season, where we’re seeing some domestic capacity cuts. That’s why American is able to retire so many planes at once.

Flightradar24 has the details on the planes being retired, with their average age being 28 years old. The planes being retired today were all delivered between 1986 and 1993.

According to, American has 81 MD-80 aircraft remaining, so after today they’ll have ~61 left, which represents less than 20% of their original fleet.

On one hand, as an aviation geek I’m sad any planes sent to the “airplane boneyard.” I love planes, and Roswell is the equivalent of an airplane cemetery.

At the same time, American’s MD-80s are long overdue for retirement, as I wrote about late last year. It’s one thing if American had invested anything in the plane’s interiors, as they could have added 110v power adapters, new seats, etc., but instead the planes just felt like a throwback to the 80s.


Then again, perhaps the problem isn’t the plane as such, but rather American’s unwillingness to invest in their existing fleet. American still hasn’t announced plans to update the interiors of their ex-US Airways A320 and A321 aircraft, which they plan on holding onto long term. Those planes don’t even have power ports, Main Cabin Extra, etc.

RIP, American MD-80s. You’ve served American very well over the years, though your time has come.

Are you happy to see American retire more of their MD-80s?

  1. I liked the Mad Dog for a 1-3 hour flight. First Class had really comfortable seats, and there were a lot of them so your chance of an ugprade was good. In economy it was great to be able to snag a seat on the left side where there wasn’t a middle seat to contend with. If you could get up front, it was nice and quiet being far away from the engines… Yes, lack of power ports wasn’t ideal, but for short/medium range flights, they were comfortable.

    I’m sad to see them go.

  2. “American still hasn’t announced plans to update the interiors of their ex-US Airways A320 and A321 aircraft, which they plan on holding onto long term. Those planes don’t even have power ports…”

    It’s worse than that. Remember that A320s from US Airways before the America West merger had seat power and power WAS REMOVED from the planes to save weight and fuel.

  3. I agree with Kevin. Relative to legacy US Airways metal I would prefer these for all the same reasons. It’s so frustrating to see all these exciting upgrades coming to AA yet there’s no timetable for bringing them to the US Airways fleet. As a Philly based flyer I do a lot of flying on the legacy A320/321, even transcontinental and there are sorely lacking relative to the rest of the fleet (other than my pet hate aircraft the Air Wisconsin CRJ-200. Ugh)

  4. Throwback to the 80s? If you actually flew AA in the 80s/90s like some of us you’d know they’ve had several cosmetic enhancements. Yes they’ve served the company well, but it’s nostalgic for many of us as these are the aircraft we grew up on and have spent most of our careers with.

    Didn’t Ford once say the 737-8 was older than him? The first 737-8 came on in 1999…seems you both have strange perceptions of relative age and fleet history.

  5. I’ll miss the 2 in the 2-3 configuration. MCI-DFW is a route I frequent that is or at least was as of this week still served by an MD-80 or S-80. Noisy in the back but still a good plane, seats and all.

  6. @Taz Delta is replacing their MD80s with the new Bombardier CS100 so the MD80s time is over. Seems like Delta bashing is a sport on this forum despite the fact that Delta and United are investing more in aircraft refurbishing/renewal than AA

  7. Didn’t mind this one as a passenger, but their operational reliability has gotten REALLY bad. I loved the 2 seat side and will miss that.

  8. A much needed change to the aircraft lineup at American. The only time I’ve flown one in the last two years, the pilots window wouldn’t close and pressurize…. 2 hour delay onmy last flight back from Australia.

  9. Sad day to see so many aircraft being retired. The Super 80 was a very comfortable aircraft in my opinion. It was really wonderful when AA had 20 seats in first class on the Super 80. this plane kept thousands of people employed with McDonnell Douglas when AA decided to make this aircraft the workhorse of their fleet.

  10. I have to say I will really miss them. Yes it was a crap shoot whether the plane would work or not on any given day but I think it has the most comfortable first class seat. Way better than the ones on the 737-8. Also the first class cabin is way quieter with the engines in the back of the plane.

    As an ORD-DFW weekly flier I have come to love those little ugly ducklings. That being said I noticed they replaced many with A321 in September. Please don’t let them be USAir equipment. The worst in the air!!!

  11. I am not too sure if I am keen on the MD-80s immeninent departure from the AA fleet. 2x of PIT-DFW frequencies were replaced with the A319 which is a significant capacity cut. A mix of 2×738 and 2×319 will be ok for the route, but all signs seem to point that this route will eventually go to all A319/E175. This is on top of already reducing the route from 5x daily to 4x a couple months back.

    Capacity and schedule options are more important to me than onboard hard product domestically.

  12. More first class seats meant better upgrade chances. As EXP out of ORD I would always get upgraded.

  13. Those are the best planes, especially if you are stuck in coach. The seats were built in a day when comfort was the number one priority, not lightweight, cram as many seats in as we can, was the directive. I’ll take exit rows on those any day over any other coach seat. the FC seats, while a bit narrow, are far more comfortable than the older-ish 737 seats (the newer ones with TVs are fine). I agree, things like AC power are nice, I’m sad to see them go.
    I guess I can throw away my DC power converter….

  14. Happy to see this go and a little dismayed they stuck out this long. They served when it was there time, but living near DCA right on the glide path and I can tell that the MD-80s and MD-90s have the loudest engines in contrast to the newer 737s and 318/9/20s.

  15. I was always a little nervous when flying an MD-80. My former mech. engineer eyes always look at the rear mounted engines and see “unstable design”. It’s the same reason I don’t like riding in training operating in reverse “push” mode. Pushing is inherently unstable, pulling is self correcting. Goodbye and good riddance, MD-80.

  16. I don’t mind flying in an old aircraft, as long as it’s been well-maintained *and* updated along the way. Many of the general aviation aircraft I find myself in are much older than the commercial planes I fly in, BUT they’ve upgraded them multiple times over their service life.

    One thing I really like about JetBlue is that they have a very consistent fleet, and consistent experience. You’re getting either an A32x or an E190. Interiors on all of their planes are very similar.

    This is also one of the things I like LEAST about Delta. Might be on a brand new or overhauled A340 for one leg with all the bells & whistles, then find yourself on an ancient 757-200 with a tired/old interior on it. One of the A340s I was on had just been refitted and this was the second revenue flight it had been on since the refit. Even had that new-plane smell.

  17. “Then again, perhaps the problem isn’t the plane as such, but rather American’s unwillingness to invest in their existing fleet.”

    I don’t think AA had funds available since they were in bankruptcy reorganization…

  18. I used to hate the MD-80’s due to lack of technology, but with the introduction of the 737 and A321 seats I would preferentially fly an MD-80 anytime. With the lousy seats present in newer aircraft I will miss the more comfortable MD-80 seats very much.

  19. @ JH — That goes back several years. They’ve been investing billions of dollars in their fleet over the past several years, so they could have made the Super 80 experience better as well.

  20. Always like the planes, didn’t like how loud they were or all the delays for mechanical issues. Not a fan of the big metal power boxes under the seats in all the new planes. I wear a size 15 shoe so naturally anything that takes away from my foot space is a negative.

  21. In theory, the MD-80 is great – roomier F, MCE, 2-3 configuration in coach. In reality, the things are the worst for operational reliability. They have constant mechanical delays and cancellations. I have learned the hard way to avoid routings on AA that include them if at all possible. I will take a tight F seat on an A321 any day over a misconnect or cancellation.

  22. @Taz

    Yeah, Richard Anderson’s probably kicking himself not to still be CEO over at Delta so he could buy more of these “on the cheap”!

    Can someone over on the Delta-Delusional side of this site please tell us HOW Delta can fly more of these ancient DC9s (even the MD80/MD90 still fly on the type certificate issued for the DC9 in the mid-1960s. Really. Look it up.) than anybody else, have all the attendant maintenance and cancellation issues– and still, with a straight face, claim to have a 10% BETTER ontime performance than any other US Major airline?

    Doesn’t compute. These MD9x/MD8x/DC9s are a maintenance nightmare– the good news now is that the only way you’ll see them at a local airport is in the concourse gift shop cooler, after they’ve all been made into Pepsi cans. A better, higher use for them, IMHO.

  23. As a DFW based flyer, it seemed like most of my flights over the years was on a Mad Dog. Was on one this past Sunday and it it so quiet up front. l loved the 2 seat side when traveling with my wife too. But it looked tired. Sad, but the 321 I was on a few weeks ago had IFE at every seat and was new. So no complaints from me as long as they keep buying new planes.

  24. My favorite route on the MD80 was STL – SNA which was a 4 hour flight . I flew that maybe twice when I was a kid and the 12 seat first class cabin was usually empty . I also flew JFK – PHX in the late 90’s and that was a 5 hour flight. One time from BUR -DFW my flight made two unscheduled stops. And the Alaskan Airlines crash featured on Mayday really made me cringe . Watching about it was bad enough. What those poor souls had to endure.

    Delta uses 717’s which people might be mistaking for MD80s.

  25. @Justin H

    The Boeing 717 was just a re-branding of the MD80 series after Boeing Company bought McDonnell-Douglas years ago. Same plane, same 3-2 seating, same flight controls, same jackscrew elevator control activations, same maintenance nightmares, same FAA_issued type certificate. There is no confusion. It’s the same plane.

    Actually, if you are a history buff, the 717/MD80/MD88/MD90 all flew (and fly) on the original type certificate issued to Douglas Aircraft in November 1965… (The Beatles Revolver Album hadn’t even been released by then!) And, Delta took delivery of the first DC9 the following week… (i’m pretty sure the DL flight attendant on that flight still works for the airline– I saw her the other day out of ATL, snarling and sneering her way toward her pension.) It’s still the same plane that Delta flies so many of today.

    Here’s the data from the FAA site:
    This data sheet, which is a part of Type Certificate No. A6WE, prescribes conditions and limitations under which the product for
    which the Type Certificate was issued meets the airworthiness requirements of the Civil Air Regulations and Federal Aviation
    Type Certificate Holder: McDonnell Douglas Corporation
    Long Beach, California
    Type Certificate Ownership Record: McDonnell Douglas Corporation transferred ownership of the TC A6WE to The Boeing
    Company on January 30, 1998. MDC is a subsidiary of The Boeing Company.
    The DC-9-10, -20, -30, -40, and –50 Series, and DC-9-81/-82/-83/-87, MD-88, MD-90, and 717 are defined as follows:
    DC-9-10 Series ………….……………DC-9-11, DC-9-12, DC-9-13, DC-9-14, DC-9-15, and DC-9-15F
    DC-9-20 Series ………….……………DC-9-21
    DC-9-30 Series ………….……………DC-9-31, DC-9-32, DC-9-32 (VC-9C), DC-9-32F, DC-9-32F (C-9A, C-9B), DC-9-33F,
    DC-9-34, and DC-9-34F
    DC-9-40 Series ………….……………DC-9-41
    DC-9-50 Series ………….……………DC-9-51
    DC-9-81/-82/-83/-87…….……………DC-9-81 (MD-81), DC-9-82 (MD-82), DC-9-83 (MD-83), and DC-9-87 (MD-87)
    MD-88 ……….…………..… MD-88
    MD-90 ……..……………..….MD-90-30
    717 …..……………………717-200

  26. While we may have fond remembrances of the MD-80/90 or whatever version we like it just doesn’t fit well with how we travel today. AA only magnified that with only required maintenance and little in upgrades to the interiors (let alone deep cleaning). I flew often on a 727 in the ’90s and think back on those trips fondly…but that doesn’t mean I miss the plane.

  27. High time for these to go – good riddance! Hope they get rid of the rest soon.

    About as nostalgic for these ancient MD-80s as I am for pneumatic plastic tube headphones…

  28. For another history note, the old Northwest Airlines, now part of Delta, flew the oldest “MD-80s” in the air — and, yes, those were called DC-9s. No stretch, just age. A lot of age.

    And in a twist of fate, the guy who masterminded that strategy for NW back in the day is now again at Delta. Small world, evidently.

    Delta’s much shorter 717s I think came from Air Tran (via Southwest) and are very considerably newer.

  29. Personally, I’m shocked to find so much love for the MD-80 . . . I always HATED the MD-80s!

  30. To me, what matters most is personal space, and I really enjoyed my personal space on the 4 flights I took in 2013 on the MD-80. Both seat width and pitch were extremely comfortable, more so than other aircraft I have flown on recently. I can live without the bells and whistles if I have enough space. Or rather, I am more than happy to read a good book or watch a movie on my iPad instead of having an IFE, or to be extra vigilant that my devices are fully charged before flying, in order to have a bit of extra room. That is one amenity that you cannot supplement if you don’t have enough of it.

  31. Slight irrational perhaps but I have NEVER liked rear-engined planes. And I include in that category the DC-10/MD-11. I was OK with the L-1011, illogically perhaps, but that was it.

    And how many of you have flown a British VC-10? Four engines, all at the rear. The Queen used to fly around in

  32. Not happy at all. MD-80 is very comfortable in Y and quiet in F. AA would do well to keep some of these as hot spares to address any dispatch reliability issues.

  33. “or perhaps even find a second life in another country, where some carriers are anxious to pick up planes on the cheap.”

    …did anyone else expect a picture of a Delta something or other after this sentence?

  34. @Johnny

    Funny you should mention “backup DC-9s” on DL… that actually explains something that always bugs me flying out of BWI on the Maryland side of DC. On a weekday afternoon DL has very frequent DC9 service to ATL, less so to DTW and MSP– and it’s not uncommon for 30-40% of those flights to be canceled or hour+ delayed. But, across the field, they’d have half a dozen to 10 or more of the same planes parked… seemingly undergoing maintenance or something. Always seemed weird, since BWI isn’t a hub and isn’t a maintenance base for Delta? Why all the DC9s sitting around during the work week? Spares! Because they are so unreliable!

    Maybe Anderson thought they were so cheap he could just keep them lying around like we used to keep extra remote controls for the VCR… one broken or lost? Just pull another one out of the drawer! I’m convinced that’s Delta’s attitude toward passengers, too, for that matter.

  35. I loved them
    2×3 seating
    So for a couple that’s a no brainier to take the 2 seats on one side. No middle seat
    The seats were invented in an age where comfort was first and now how many thin seats can be crammed in
    A little noisy in the back but I try to stay closer to the front
    I don’t need bells and whistles. If I fly a 2-3 hour flight I just sleep and bring all my stuff charged
    So sad to see them go !!!!!!

  36. @Ben
    Hello Boeing! Are y’all paying attention here. “Love the 2-3 seating”. A sure winner for those of us who find ourselves without an upgrade but still have big shoulders and excess baggage in the “trunk”, as many Americans seem to have, at least in my unscientific survey at major airports.

  37. @ Martin
    Ahh, the L1011 TriStar. A pilot’s airplane and one of the safest aircraft ever built. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to fly the TriStar for almost two years. An aircraft well ahead of it’s time but unfortunately only powered with one engine option: gas guzzeling RR RB-211

  38. Ever since airlines have started using slimline seats, I look forward to the opportunity of flying in an older coach seat.

  39. OMG…. still remember when they called these “Stretch 80’s”. The last thing you can do on them in coach is stretch!

  40. As a “Heritage McDonnell Douglas” employee, I’m sad to see the MD-80’s go. I helped build and design them earlier in my career in Long Beach. Pilots loved them because the were an “aviator’s airplane” by which they meant there was very little automation in the cockpit. They felt more like real “stick-and-rudder” pilots, rather than “video console jocks” of more modern, automated cockpits.

  41. Why would anyone rejoice upon hearing this news? I’ve always liked traveling on American Airlines specifically because of their S-80 aircraft. It was always a pleasant experience and the S-80 was such a quiet and comfortable airplane to fly on. I don’t fly weekly anymore but even flying every couple of months like I do now, I’d rather drive my car long distance than fly on an American Airlines 737. While the 737 may be slightly better than the Airbus airplanes it is so noisy, cramped and uncomfortable that I will never fly on one again. I never had reliability issues with S-80 flights and in fact I was always told by AA employees that it was their most dependable aircraft. Older DC-3s are still being operated daily in some places so I predict that another airline will soon purchase the ex American Airlines S-80s and fly them for years to come. Whichever airline that buys them will get my business in the future.

  42. @Sam Peterson

    I used to be nostalgic about these A/C– and always thought the seating upfront was among the quietest in any commercial flight setting. HOWEVER, the Alaska Air “jackscrew” crash was a huge wake-up call. That design never should have been released– and it’s fundamental to the DC9 lineage.

    For me, though, the “Gorilla in the Hangar” is actually the fuel-consumption. Even being charitable on the MD8x’s ‘almost’ 60 seat-miles per gallon, the reality is that the new Airbus NEO and Boeing 737-MAX series almost DOUBLE the fuel economy. It’s staggering how much fuel these things burn– a daily use MD80 could easily burn 4 MILLION gallons of JP4 a year. Equalizing for seat count, a NextGen A/C on that same route could save 2 Million gallons. Every year.

    With 20 of them coming out of AA’s fleet, that’s 40 Million gallons a year.

    It’s really time for the airlines (Delta, are you listening???) to put the Mad Dog down.

  43. That’s sad….I bet I worked on every one of those retired planes and knew them better than anything else, That was my bread and butter in ONT. I even had my own way to unmelt a frozen and waterlogged pitot tube to get the PFD on line again. I used to get out my NIT bottle for tires and blow air at a right angle in front of the pitot tube creating a vacuum and sucking the water out of the line into the hot tube. Burned a hole in more than one jacket doing that lol! But it worked every time.

    Oh…and just try changing a MLG tire by yourself! I must have done 50 of them, bigger than a 747 tire. I loved challenges on the line.

    Tail overtemps in the summer looking for a duct leak in the APU compartment

  44. Sure, let’s rejoice at the fact that this nostalgic piece of history is being trashed. No problem there, right?

  45. Bet you a Venezuelan carrier will buy one of them. Maybe Aeropostal. Or if Clnviasa already doesn’t have a crazy enough fleet…

  46. It was much more comfy than the 737 was at the time, maybe apart from the last seat rows next to engines. I enjoyed flying the DC9/MD80s. But everything comes to an end. Better to stop now than to let them decay with bad maintenance, which is the real cause of the unreliability of the latter years.

  47. 2 million gallons a year of fuel savings for everyone of these things they park in the Arizona desert… many millions of pounds of CO2 savings.

    ’nuff said.

  48. Oh yes! The horrid AirBus 321s! These replaced those long, lean, beautiful silver birds? Silent up in first class, banging power in the back. End of an era, for sure. We can all save the planet from CO2 by just staying home LOL!

  49. Tachyon – Wow, you certainly have a LOT of opinions! I wonder though, are you even a pilot? If so, have you ever FLOWN the MD-80? It’s one of the last airplanes that a pilot can turn off all that automatic junk and actually FLY. That’s one of the things I love most about it.

    By way of background, I have flown the DC-9 series in the military and with the airlines (10, 30, 32F, 40, 50, 82, 83, 717) off and on since 1984 in both seats for WELL over 10,000 hours. I am also type rated (for FAR 121 Airline Operations) on the 727-100/200, 757-200, 767-200/300/ER, A-319, A-321, and ERJ-170/175/190/195. So that’s a couple of planes I can compare it to. I have also ridden in the back of most everything except the B-787, A-340 and A-380.

    The MD-80 has relatively simple aircraft systems, which are by design very reliable, easy to maintain, and the Pratt & Whitney JT8D series engines are some of the most reliable engines ever manufactured. You are “off” on your fuel numbers, but nonetheless with our extremely low lease costs this aircraft is profitable by noon on the first day of the month with the typical load factors we have day in and day out. Don’t forget the price of a gallon of Jet A was below $0.50 when the plane came to market, and although fuel got as high as $4.00/gal in 2008, the historical average is more like $1.75 according to As long as the price of crude remains below $90 / bbl and the refinery crack spread is below $40, this is one of the most profitable aircraft in the sky. Last time fuel was above $90 was Aug 2014 – so while it doesn’t exactly sip the fuel, it doesn’t crash itself either.

    The reliability variable is simply a matter of corporate will – some CEOs wanna say they have the newest stuff out there – a sadly unfortunate and misguided point of view that causes them to not have the historical level of general spare parts on hand. Saw an aircraft grounded recently for lack of a spare windshield wiper blade. Matter of fact it was the one I flew in during a gentle all-day rain event. Worn blade would not clear the windshield so I wrote it up – normal stuff. Happens all the time – they wear out just like the wipers on your car. I have had exactly one emergency return on this aircraft in the last 35 years, and that was due to decreasing engine oil quantity on rotation and initial climb-out, because the mechanic who serviced the engine didn’t properly secure the oil cap. Again, not an aircraft problem, a people problem.

    Quiet – First Class and the front 2/3 of the plane is very quiet, whereas aircraft with wing mounted engines have a lot of noise from the engines on back. Yes, in the last couple of rows the engines can be loud, but engine synch (if the crew uses it) helps with that tremendously . The seats are roomy compared to the new aircraft, and for personal space it’s hard to beat. The overhead bins are large and well designed. It was designed for short to medium length segments and does an outstanding job in that market. While I have flow it JFK – LAS and JFK – PHX (~2500 miles), it wasn’t envisioned for that. I have also flown it COS – PUB, and it did that just fine (45 miles).

    Versatile – As delivered, it requires no ground support, the ground crew can load and unload it with no special equipment, the fueler can reach the SPR on the right wing quite easily, and it is simple to refuel. Done it many times.

    Hot in the summer – Damn hot if management doesn’t allow the mechanics to “tweak” the APU to provide more cooling air. Once adjusted, all is good. Again, a people / leadership issue.

    If you don’t like the MD-80, then you certainly are entitled to your opinion. I just don’t want this storied narrow body workhorse of many airlines to be maligned. It was the best thing since sliced bread when it was manufactured – powerful, capable, roomy, cost effective, quiet (Stage 2 back then), reliable and autonomous on the ground. Great stuff.

    I accepted two for delivery from the factory in Long Beach, and I will be taking at least one to the desert in Roswell. I’m sad to have to do that, but just like when we had to put a beloved pet down due to cancer, I would rather be there than not.

    I for one, will miss her.

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