What Happened To Delta Air Lines’ MD-11s?

The first Delta Air Lines MD-11 was delivered on December 7th, 1990, making the company the first United States-based airline to operate this aircraft. However, the trijet did not last long as part of Delta’s family. By the time the new millennium was in full swing, all of Delta’s 17 units of the plane had been let go.

Delta Air Lines MD-11
The MD-11 was billed to be Delta’s flagship aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

High hopes

The airliner was powered by three Pratt & Whitney PW4460 engines and had a range of 8,460 statute miles. Therefore, the widebody was perfect for the longer routes that it was hoping to conduct with it.

Additionally, the plane could hold 248 passengers onboard. 16 travelers could fit in first class, 53 in business, and 179 in coach. Nonetheless, there was some sort of comfort to be felt regardless of where a flier was seated on the aircraft. Ultimately, according to an MD-11 brochure, Delta sought to deliver an unmatched comfortable experience with the plane.

“Total passenger satisfaction is the goal of Delta Air Lines with the MD-11. In fact, the MD-11 is so well-suited to that goal that it has made Delta’s job easier. For example, wider aisles and taller cabins make the MD-11 easier to move around in, for both the passengers and the crew,” Delta said in its brochure.

“So, when you combine complete passenger satisfaction with state-of-the-art aircraft technology in an airplane specifically designed for extended flight duration, international travel can be more enjoyable than ever.”

Delta MD-11 interior
There was plenty of room for movement throughout the aircraft. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

A short but sweet relationship

The Delta Flight Museum reports that the first Delta MD-11 flight departed Atlanta for Dallas/Fort Worth on February 5th, 1991. After that, it took a cross-country trip to Orlando and Los Angeles.

The next day, the jet went international with a flight to Tokyo from Orlando via Los Angeles. This operation was Delta’s first direct service to Asia from Los Angeles. Additionally, it was the first flight across the Pacific with an MD-11 in the world. At the time, the plane offered more interior space per passenger and more carry-on baggage capacity than any other widebody.

However, despite the initial fanfare, Delta’s affection for the jet soon dwindled. The airline grew more fond of Boeing’s 767 and 777 rather than this model. Subsequently, after only 14 years of being part of its operations, the final Delta MD-11 took to the skies on New Year’s Day 2004. This last service was a trip from Tokyo to the carrier’s home of Atlanta.

Delta Air Lines MD-11 Tail
The plane was identifiable with its unique winglets and tail cone. Photo: Delta Flight Museum

So what happened to the planes?

When the jets were taken on, they offered more cargo capabilities than any other aircraft. With this point in mind, every single unit went on to eventually become a cargo specialist.

According to Planespotters.net, the first two MD-11s that arrived in December 1990 were taken on by São Paolo-based carrier VASP in 1993 and 1994. However, they were snapped up by Western Global Airlines in 2015 and remain active on shipping services.

Three other units went to World Airways in 2003 before ending up with UPS. Furthermore, two other planes were taken on by the latter in 2005, before another one joined in 2006. All of these are still in service.

Additionally, the remaining nine planes were transferred over to FedEx in the two years after Delta performed the final MD-11 flight. Four of these are still shipping goods across the globe.

Altogether, even though Delta did not operate these planes for so long, it is great to see that most of them are still in the air. With cargo flights dominating the skies more than ever this year, companies are still heavily relying on the MD-11.

What are your thoughts on Delta’s MD-11s? Did you ever do fly on one of these planes? Let us know what you think in the comment section.