Why Did Delta Air Lines Take On The Boeing 727?

Over the years, Delta Air Lines flew 184 727 units. The Atlanta-based carrier highlights the plane’s ability to land on smaller airport runways and fly on short to medium routes as key reasons why it was a fan of the trijet. Here is a look at the operator’s journey with the plane through the decades.

Delta Air Shuttle 727
The Boeing 727 formed part of the Delta Shuttle. Photo: Delta Air Lines

In the beginning

Delta’s first Boeing 727 services began with 21 Model -100s and early Model -200s snapped up from the merger with Northeast Airlines in the summer of 1972. The airline only flew one type of the -100, which was the 727-95 that came with the merger.

The Model -100 flew for Northeast in December 1965 with 96 seats. However, following the deal, Delta modified it to 97. The model then stopped flying for Delta in October 1977.

Nonetheless, the airline recognized the value of the type. It had notable success with the -200 variant.

Delta’s advanced Boeing 727-232s arrived with a range of 1,950 statute miles and could reach speeds of 566 miles per hour. Moreover, they could fit in 131 passengers with 26 people in first class. Notably, these planes were powered by three Pratt & Whitney JT8D-15 engines.

Northwest 727
Northeast Airlines contributed to Delta’s Boeing 727 holdings. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

Exciting prospects

According to the Delta Flight Museum, Former Delta VP of engineering, Julian May, said the following about the 727 in 1981:

“The 727 has a place in the Delta fleet for many years. It is popular with our passengers, and its modern, low-noise and fuel-efficient engines help us keep ticket prices down while being a good neighbor at the airports we serve.”

At the beginning of the 1980s, Delta had 129 727-200 stretched models. In 1981 the planes were jointly flying 426,000 miles each day. Moreover, within a year’s time, a typical 727 of the airline logged 1.4 million miles.

There were some significant units in the carrier’s fleet, such as the first model -200 in the world to enter commercial service, which Northeast Airlines first flew in December 1967. Another notable member included the 500th 727 produced by Boeing, which was also originally delivered to Northeast. Additionally, the 1,000th 727 built by Boeing was also in the fleet.

Delta 727-200
The Boeing 727 was a well trusted aircraft for Delta. Photo: Getty Images

Fitting in well

Delta made the first order of its own for the 727 on March 29th, 1972. The airline sought 14 units of the advanced stretched model.

The carrier flew at least seven variants of the Model -200. The -295 came as part of the Northeast merger. Meanwhile, -232 and -232A were bought directly by Delta. There were several more editions that came following deals with other operators. -247, -247A, and -2Q8 came from the merger with Western Airlines in 1987, while -225A, was taken on from Eastern Airlines. Eventually, the final 727-200 to arrive at Delta’s facilities came on November 12th, 1981. This unit was Ship 546.

Delta was a fan of the 727-232’s fuel efficiency, performance, and range. The plane would fit in nicely with Delta’s operations. The aircraft had an initial setting of 131 seats. So, the airline could increase capacity on services to and from Washington, D.C. National and New York’s LaGuardia.

Furthermore, it could make trips to smaller airports on the carrier’s network that did not have the activity that required four-engined aircraft. Altogether, the variant replaced the operator’s Convair 880, early Douglas DC-8, and smaller DC-9 jets, which were all becoming less efficient.

When the Delta Shuttle began operating in 1991, the 64 daily trips were conducted by 14 former Pan Am 727-200 jets in a special Delta Shuttle livery. Services from LaGuardia to Boston and Washington, D.C. left every hour from 06:30 to 09:30. However, there was a reduced schedule on the weekend.

Delta showcases that inside the plane, passengers were treated to all-leather seating and GTE Airfone telephones at each row. Inflight cuisine featured special items from Delta’s First Class domestic service. Moreover, Starbucks coffee was available, which, at the time, was far less famous on the East Coast. Additionally, there was Samuel Adams beer, which wasn’t so popular outside of Boston during this period.

Delta 727
Delta Air Lines is proud of its history with its Boeing 727 aircraft. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

A change of scene

In the middle of the 1980s, Delta began taking on Boeing 757 aircraft to help on short and medium routes. The initial 757-200 units that Delta took on came with modern wings and engines to give the best fuel mileage of any standard-body jetliner at the time. In the years leading up to the company’s acquisition of the jet, the aircraft provided approximately 45% better fuel efficiency than the 727 it took over on a 500-mile trip.

Delta Boeing 757 Getty
The Boeing 757 would become an integral member of Delta Air Line’s fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Additionally, the plane had more seats than its predecessor. It held 187 of them compared to 148. So, the jet was ready to be deployed on Delta’s short to medium services in the years that followed. This process was the beginning of the end for the 727 on Delta’s services.

Nonetheless, the 727 continued to remain part of the fleet for a few more decades. Eventually, in 2003 Delta retired the jet as part of simplifications efforts and to improve operational reliability.

Delta Boeing 727 Jet
Delta’s Boeing 727 aircraft adopted several different liveries over the decades. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

End of an era

Delta was the last major airline in the United States to fly the Boeing 727. Its final commercial trip with the jet was between Greensboro, North Caroline and Atlanta, Georgia, on April 6th, 2003.

Delta Flight Museum shares that former Delta president and COO Frederick W. Reid said the following about the Boeing 727 in 2003:

“The Boeing 727 served as an elegant and durable workhorse of Delta’s fleet for more than 30 years. It was a vital part of our company’s growth.”

The Boeing 727 may well be in the history books for Delta Air Lines. However, the plane helped it considerably grow in the crucial decades following the emergence of the jet age.

What are your thoughts about Delta Air Lines’ Boeing 727 aircraft? Have you flown on any of the jets over the years? Let us know what you think of the type in the comment section.

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