As American Airlines retires its MD80s, penning my experience from 2014 on the MD83.
I was to travel to Mexico for work and spend three days in Dallas post that. A long ride from India! The destination in Mexico shifted – initially it was to be Mexico City, which then moved to Monterrey and led to re-arrangement of travel plans. The final plan looked like this
PNQ – OTP – FRA – MEX
Lufthansa flight operated by Privat Air B737 BBJ with Tech stop in Bucharest, Romania
MEX – MTY
MTY – DFW
American Airlines MD83
DFW – FRA – BOM
Lufthansa A343, Lufthansa B744
The Monterrey – Dallas leg had two options. One on United via Houston on the ERJ. While this would have been a new type and a flight more, it would have meant a repeat airline and airport. The other option was American Airlines, non-stop. What sealed the choice was the aircraft type – MD83, apart from the new airline!
Aviation is an addiction. No sooner had I received flight confirmation for AA1272 to Dallas, I thought of checking if there is any option of landing at Dallas Love Field. My Lufthansa flight back to Mumbai via Frankfurt would be taking me to DFW in any case! But there weren’t any viable options!
A weekend to go for the flight, I decided to know more about the MD-83. A year before this flight, I was close to the McDonnel Douglas plant in California, but never got an opportunity to visit it. In fact, the trip to California was the first one when I saw the MD80 series, a rare plane in India or neighboring countries.
What a great history the aircraft has! I never imagined the aircraft could sit as many. While I have never been a fan of 2-3 seating, this would be the first time for me inside such an aircraft. The only time when I had seen this before was when I visited the Sukhoi Super Jet (SSJ100) at Aero India in 2011. Apart from the seating, this would also be an experience of the P&W JT-8D powerplants after such a long time, with the last one was probably in 2006 between Hyderabad and Mumbai on the rickety Alliance Air B737-200.
No flight of mine is complete without tracking rotations and predicting the airframe a few days in advance. In case of American Airlines or any other large carrier, it is the most difficult hobby to have. None the less, I tried, and this time around guessed it right!
The airline did not allow blocking seats till the flight was open for web check-in and when it was open I realized that the airline did not allow seat selection even later. Limited seats were available and all at a cost. A colleague was to fly with me and we were auto assigned seats – Window and Middle in the three-seater. This was Seat 11E and F – marked as premium economy. I was eager to be seated near the rear side to get a closer view of the engines though.
All the American Airlines MD80 series aircraft are a legacy of TWA and so was my aircraft an ex-TWA bird. Glad to have made it on this flight and aircraft type as this and other airlines have been progressively phasing out these aircraft, replacing them with modern airliners with better comfort, seating and economics.
Monterrey airport is located about 35kms away from the city and has three terminals, named A,B and C. With A being used by all airlines except AeroMexico which uses B and VivaAerobus which uses C. The two busiest routes as listed on the web are to Mexico City (from where I came) on the domestic leg and Dallas (where I am headed) on the international segment. The airport has two runways with the longer Runway 11/29 being 9843 feet long.
It was time to leave Mexico after 15 days of good food, hosts and some solid work. Knowing my luck with taxi’s, we had requested the hotel for a taxi at 0500 hours and it came late! It was raining heavily as we left the hotel and made our way to the airport. The American Airlines counter had a long queue and the check-in machine suggested that we need assistance to check-in – which was promptly available. This was to check our passports and visa.
Baggage drop was quick as we made our way to the counter and we proceeded for security. Mexico does not have immigration for passengers leaving the country. The counterfoil handed over the time of entering is attached with the boarding pass and kept with the airlines. The passport is not stamped, like the system followed in the United States.
The terminal is small and does not have a good view of the tarmac. Our aircraft had landed the night before and parked at Gate 7 – from where we would do a zone wise boarding, a little while later. I noticed that there was a flight boarding to Chihuahua and wondered if the dogs are named after this place and yes it indeed was the case!
Boarding was announced 45 mins before departure time and before that – announcements were done for some Senguptas and Iyers – I wondered how many Indians are suddenly visible around as we head to the USA. My colleague remarked if zone wise boarding has shifted to Name wise boarding.
We were in Zone 3 and part of the last call for boarding. I was overwhelmed to step inside the aircraft. The dull yellow lighting was on expected lines when traveling in a vintage aircraft, but I wanted to ignore all such things and experience most of the aircraft in this short ride. I was overwhelmed with emotions as I entered the aircraft, only to be interrupted by my colleague who quipped that the aircraft looks pretty much like the State Transport bus which has 2 by 3 seating.
Doors were closed at 0838 in what looked like an On Time Departure. This was followed by a sudden increase in noise and a cool blast of air for few seconds and this routine repeated thrice. The safety demo followed as we continued to wait on the ground. The pilot announced on PA at 0851 that there is a delay. The delay is due to APU not starting and we were waiting for the ground power unit to start the engines. It was getting study inside the aircraft, but we had little choice. Around 0917 hours we commenced push back and engines came to life. We taxied to runway 29 from where I had one of the memorable take-off.
The climb rate and angle were way higher than any previous experience and something I will remember for a lifetime. We soon stabilized at FL330, as announced by the captain and the quick drink run started. I opted for Water and Orange juice. Both my colleague and me noticed how things were handed over impolitely.
Like always, I was keen to visit the lavatory and see how the MD80 series lavatory is, but the Flight Attendant did not allow to use the loo since it was a short flight. I still managed to make a quick dash to the aisle and walk till the last row to see the 4th emergency exit in the tail, the lavatory, engines and the galley along with the 4 seats between the galley and the toilets.
With the flight being full, there wasn’t a chance to click the engines from the near seats. By 1010 hours, we started our descent and landed at 1034 hours on runway 36L at Dallas Fort Worth, one of the 7 runways at Dallas – head quarter and hub for American Airlines. DFW was then the third busiest airport in the world by movements and ninth busiest in terms of traffic, with direct connections to 205 planes!
The hub and connections were evident since the FA announced a long list of connections and gates for passengers who are onboard.
Immigration was quicker than expected and baggage was already rolling on the belt when I reached. Customs was a breeze and we were out in the sunny Dallas weather in no time. With limited public transport, we headed for the taxi since we weren’t driving as well in this trip to head to our hotel! I came back to DFW – once to visit the spotting location and then to depart on Lufthansa.
This definitely was a once in a lifetime opportunity! As I keep saying – aviation is about the newest and the oldest. Aviation geeks flock to fly the latest aircraft and then the oldest – about to be retired aircraft. As American Airlines bids good bye to the MD80 series, memories came back about this flight and made me write
American Airlines MD-83
Registration: N978TW / MSN: 53628
Delivered to TWA in Oct’99.Switched to AA in 2001.
Currently in old AA livery
Seating Configuration: 16J, 124Y All of which was full in this flight