If you were to look out the big glass windows of Terminal 2 East at San Diego International Airport sometime before 2013, you would have seen little besides shining, chrome-colored McDonnell-Douglas MD-80’s, all sporting a big “AA” on their tails. These venerable old birds seemed to be everywhere at SAN, operating the vast majority of American Airlines’ San Diego flights. The “Mad Dog” ruled the roost.
San Diego was not an outlier. American, at one point, operated a fleet of over 400 MD-80’s, operating an insane number of domestic flights. No airline embraced the MD-80 as much as American did– they were the backbone of American’s fleet, and AA held on to them long after much of the MD-80 fleet should have been retired. Some of these Mad Dogs are almost 30 years old.
MD-80’s were always hated by passengers. They were cramped, loud, and prone to mechanical problems. Inflight entertainment and power plugs were non-existent. However, American held on to them for decades, all the while postponing their retirement even if passengers thought they sucked.
However, American’s merger with USAirways brought on an aggressive fleet modernization program. American ordered hundreds of new aircraft, everything from Dreamliners to A319’s, and began to seriously consider retiring their ancient MD-80’s.
The retirement has been slow. The MD-80’s numbers slowly dwindled over several years, until only 81 remained out of the original 400’s. New aircraft, A321’s and 737’s, began arriving at San Diego, replacing the aged, chrome-colored Mad Dogs. The sight across American’s route network was similar: MD-80’s were going away.
However, American just massively accelerated the retirement process. Today, American retired 20 MD-80’s, reducing their fleet by 25%. These aircraft will be sent to the Roswell, New Mexico aircraft boneyard, where they will either be torn apart and scrapped or sold off to another airline. American now has only 61 Mad Dogs left, only about 15% of what they once had.
It’s good to see American finally sending their MD-80 the way of the dodo. Now we just have to hope that they decide to improve the hard products on their ex-USAirways aircraft, the cabins of which are nearly as outdated as those on the MD-80’s. The MD-80 was ancient and adding new cabins would not have helped with the operational woes these Mad Dogs caused, but the ex-USAirways aircraft are newer and still have a good long life ahead of them, so American could just improve their onboard product and continue to use them for many years to come.
American just hastened the death of their MD-80’s. Now we’ll just have to see how long their twilight years last before they disappear…