Delta Air Lines to Retire Its Entire McDonnell Douglas Fleet of Aircraft in June of 2020

The fleet of McDonnell Douglas aircraft comprised of MD-88 and MD-90 airplanes — which are also colloquially known as mad dogs by frequent fliers and aviation enthusiasts — of Delta Air Lines are being retired earlier than previously planned effective as of June of 2020 because of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic…

Delta Air Lines to Retire Its Entire McDonnell Douglas Fleet of Aircraft in June of 2020

Delta Air Lines airplanes view from Sky Club Concourse B Atlanta airport

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

…so if you want to travel on what is generally considered workhorses of the fleet of airplanes which are operated by Delta Air Lines across its domestic network of flights in the United States, you only have through sometime next month to do so.

The retirement of the aircraft is only part of an effort by Delta Air Lines to reduce its capacity systemwide due to a substantial drop in demand as a result of the pandemic. The overall active fleet of Delta Air Lines had already been slashed by approximately 50 percent, as greater than 600 mainline and regional aircraft had been idled in the last two months and parked in various places; while other older and less efficient airplanes are also being considered for retirement earlier than scheduled.

The fleet of MD-88 aircraft was previously set to retire by the end of 2020, according to this article written by Michael Thomas of Delta News Hub. As of February of 2020 — prior to the reduction of the fleet of airplanes as a result of the pandemic — 47 MD-88 airplanes and 29 MD-90 airplanes were still in service for Delta Air Lines.

Delta Air Lines bankruptcy emergence Technical Operations Center

A Delta Air Lines McDonnell Douglas MD-88 aircraft begins its take-off on the runway located nearest to the Technical Operations Center hangars at the airport in Atlanta. Photograph ©2007 by Brian Cohen.

Coincidentally, the official announcement of retiring the fleet of McDonnell Douglas aircraft of MD-88 and MD-90 airplanes occurred exactly 13 years after Delta Air Lines officially emerged from bankruptcy protection back on Monday, April 30, 2007. On that day, Gerald Grinstein — who was then the chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines — said that “what currently costs approximately US$75,000.00 per month for maintenance and upkeep of the MD-88 fleet used to cost approximately US$225,000.00 per month” and that “Delta Air Lines must maintain its balance sheet — it must not be over-extended. It must strive for best-in-class cost structure. It must simplify its aircraft fleet, and over the years, Delta Air Lines will replace its 767 and MD-88 series over the coming years, and it has recently ordered 737-700 and 777 series aircraft.”

Few Bad Seats Aboard the Airplane

I have flown as a passenger aboard both the MD-88 and MD-90 aircraft which were operated by Delta Air Lines countless times — and there were few bad seats aboard the airplane.

Exit row seat extra legroom rear of MD-88 airplane

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

For example, seat 33A is a window seat in the exit row which had no seat in front of it — meaning extra leg room which rivaled a seat in the premium class cabin.

More information pertaining to my experience with seat 33A is documented in this article, which I wrote on Sunday, December 6, 2015.

Delta Air Lines Economy Comfort seat

There was plenty of leg room in my seat located in the Economy Comfort section of the McDonnell Douglas MD-88 aircraft operated by Delta Air Lines. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Seats located in what was called the Economy Comfort section of the aircraft were fairly comfortable and offered ample leg room. The seat in which I sat in the photograph shown above was during a flight operated by Delta Air Lines from Washington to Atlanta as part of my journey to Nairobi for a safari in Kenya.

The worst seats aboard both models of aircraft were generally in the last few rows in the rear, where the engines are located. The experience was quite noisy. Because the engines were located at the rear on either side of the aircraft, seats which are located in the front of the aircraft were among the quietest of any in commercial aviation — although the experience of being a passenger aboard an MD-90 airplane is thought to be quieter overall than that of the MD-88 airplane.

The Differences Between the MD-88 and MD-90 Aircraft

At first glance, the fleet of McDonnell Douglas aircraft of MD-88 and MD-90 airplanes appear to be identical — but with up to 160 seats aboard it, the MD-90 airplane is longer than the MD-88 airplane, whose maximum capacity is 149 seats. More seats result in more passengers, which meant that three members of the flight crew were necessary for flights which were operated by Delta Air Lines with the MD-88 aircraft — whereas four members of the flight crew were usually aboard the MD-90 aircraft.

Delta Air Lines airplanes view from Sky Club Concourse B Atlanta airport

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

The engines of both aircraft are different. In the photograph shown above, the airplane whose registration number is N936DN is a McDonnell Douglas MD-90-30 aircraft; whereas the airplane whose registration number is N953DL is a McDonnell Douglas MD-88 aircraft. Notice the difference in the engines: the engine of the latter appears longer than that of the former.

Also, take a look at the exits over the wings of both airplanes. Note that only one window is between both emergency exits of the MD-88 aircraft; whereas two windows are between both emergency exits of the MD-90 aircraft.

A distinctive feature of the interior seating of the economy class cabin aboard both airplanes is the configuration of two seats on one side — which were more popular with passengers due to no middle seat — and three seats on the other side. The difference is that the bank of three seats was typically on the right side on the MD-90 aircraft and on the left side on the MD-88 aircraft.

The MD-90 also had up to 900 nautical miles of longer flight range than the MD-88; so it was used on flight routes with a farther distance between the origination airport and destination airport.

Other minor differences also marked the distinction between the two otherwise seemingly identical models of airplanes which were manufactured by McDonnell Douglas prior to its merger with Boeing in 1997.

Boeing 747-451 Next to a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-51 Delta Air Lines

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Just for fun, the photograph shown above compares the size of a McDonnell Douglas DC-9-51 airplane — which is similar in size to an MD-88 airplane — to that of a Boeing 747-400 airplane. You can view more photographs of the comparison between both airplanes in this article which I wrote on Sunday, May 22, 2016.

McDonnell Douglas was formed in 1967 by the merger of McDonnell Aircraft and the Douglas Aircraft Company, which were respectively named after their founders of James Smith McDonnell and Donald Wills Douglas.


Delta Air Lines airplanes view from Sky Club Concourse B Atlanta airport

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

My vast experience of being a passenger aboard both airplanes was good overall. The experience of being upgraded to the premium class cabin was nice — but because the flight routes were generally shorter domestic flight routes, it did not compare to the premium class experience aboard larger aircraft on longer flight routes.

I will miss the fleet of McDonnell Douglas aircraft comprised of MD-88 and MD-90 airplanes once they are taken out of service for the last time with Delta Air Lines…


Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

…and I suppose I will no longer need to know how to escape from a McDonnell Douglas MD-88 aircraft in the event of an emergency, as I learned how to do at the world headquarters of Delta Air Lines back in 2009 and 2010. I intend to find photographs pertaining to that and documenting the experience in a future article…

All photographs ©2007, ©2009, ©2015, and ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

8 thoughts on “Delta Air Lines to Retire Its Entire McDonnell Douglas Fleet of Aircraft in June of 2020”

  1. Jimmy says:

    This is a real bummer. These planes actually had a bit of legroom and space where you could fit a bag under the seat in front of you. And no bulky IFE box taking up the footwells. I know, I know…..some adults need to be entertained but as one who brings a device for streaming – as well as a powerpack – I appreciated the space. Oh, and not having to deal with the woodpecker TAP TAP TAP on the back of the head all flight long was nice too.

  2. Barry Graham says:

    I wish they would retire their CRJs. Like Jimmy I had nothing bad to say about these aircraft. I am glad that I am not the only one that noticed the issue with IFE boxes under the seats and with IFE in general. A good friend used to call TV an electronic income reducer and the same can be said for IFE.

  3. ffi says:

    We loved the Mad Dogs, as couple, then as a family of 3, 4 and 6.

    DL is already ahead of AA & UA with the A220. That model is better for economics going forward.
    If Airbus goes with A321XLR with a little bit of extra space between rows they will remain far ahead of the rest.
    Small airports are going to see CRJ for a while, unless DL standardizes on A 220 on all domestic routes as Southwest did with 737.
    It may make sense ultimately to have just 1 or 2 fuel efficient types, but DL has got value out of these old aircraft for a long time.

  4. Paul Bridges says:

    Funny that you mention your emergency egress training. I participated in the initial emergency evacuation certification for the DC-9 Super 80 in 1980 while working at McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach. Brought back immediate memories, and still the only time I’ve ever had to evacuate an airplane. I too will miss this generation of airplanes.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I would be interested to learn more about your experience, Paul Bridges.

      Does the DC-9 have that unique emergency exit in the tail similar to that of the MD-88?

      1. Paul Bridges says:

        Yes, as far as I know all DC-9’s, including the “Super 80”, were equipped with the tail one exit.

        In the FAA certification, they packed the airplane full of volunteer company employees with a full compliment of flight attendants from launch customer airlines. The only thing they gave us was booties to slip on over our shoes. We boarded the plane (a brand new Swissair as I recall) through a mock tunnel in a flight test hangar so no one could see the exterior.

        We loaded the plane and went to our assigned seats – mine was a middle seat about 2 rows behind the wing. All the windows were blacked out so no view, and everyone studied the safety card like I had never before or since seen. The flight attendants gave a normal safety briefing and then threw large chunks of styrofoam down the entire aisle.

        All at once and without warning, the lights flickered several times and then went to emergency lighting. The flight attendants began screaming, and all of a sudden you felt like you were in a real emergency and had to get off that airplane. What they didn’t tell us was that half the exits were locked and unusable, in our case on the left side of the airplane. So after many pileups at the wing exits, I realized the left overwing was not going to work. I turned around to head for the tail and the line was at a standstill, so headed for the right overwing climbing over the seats only to be met by an older woman on that couldn’t get the window exit open. Several of us basically pushed her out of the way, opened the right side and began escaping the aircraft on the right wing and a ramp that led to the ground. The airplane had to be completely evacuated in 90 seconds and as I recall it took us 82 seconds.

        I was 20 years old at the time, but ever since that experience I study the card so I can see how to operate the exits and look for my primary and secondary exits. It was a great learning opportunity.

  5. Paul Bridges says:

    That should be tail “cone” and I just remembered, it wasn’t a Swissair, it was a brand new Hawaiian Airlines plane.

  6. Paul Bridges says:

    Here is another event that happened during certification at Edwards Air Force Base that many might not know about.

    This was flight test #1 aircraft. After its repair, Swissair refused delivery on this new-but-“slightly-used” plane so it was painted in the multi-shade McDonnell Douglas blue stripes over white and used as a sales demo and ambassador for its flying career.

    Incidentally, the new tail put on FT#1 came From FT#2 after the aircraft was a loss in Yuma. A boom on one of the lifting cranes sliced the fuselage in half. Two major setbacks in the MD-80 flight test program.

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