What Happened To Delta Air Lines’ MD-90s?

For 25 years, The McDonnell Douglas MD-90 was one of the workhorses of Delta’s domestic fleet. Between 1995 and 2020, the Atlanta-based airline operated 78 MD-90s. Now, a year after the last MD-90 flew for Delta, it is a good time to look at what happened to Delta’s MD-90s.

A Delta Air Lines MD-90 in 2018. Photo: Getty Images

Delta’s final MD-90 flight

Delta Air Lines began withdrawing its MD-90s in 2017. At the time, the move raised eyebrows. Why was Delta retiring the newer and more efficient MD-90 over the older MD-88?

The Atmosphere Research Group’s Henry Harteveldt may have had the answer. He told FlightGlobal at the time two issues could have been in play. Retiring the MD-90 ahead of the MD-88 could have been a matter of curbing capacity growth at the time. There was also the matter of ongoing costs and looming heavy maintenance checks.

“It’s likely that these are aircraft that have reached a certain stage in longevity where maintenance requirements are worth more than the value of the asset,” Harteveldt said.

On June 2, 2020, the final revenue Delta MD-90 flight departed Houston Intercontinental Airport for the hop to Delta’s Atlanta hub. The MD-88 versus MD-90 debate of the previous few years was suddenly redundant. The travel downturn forced Delta’s hand, and by circumstance, the final MD-88 flight also operated on June 2.

N925DN operated the last MD-90 flight from Houston. The plane was 21 years old. N925DN wasn’t always a Delta plane. It flew for China Eastern Airlines before transferring to Delta in 2010. After been withdrawn from service, the plane was transferred to Arkansas International Airport (Blytheville), where it is now classed as ‘partially scrapped.’

Delta’s final MD-90 flight flew in June 2020. Photo: Delta Air Lines

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Mixed fate for Delta’s MD-90s

Most of Delta’s MD-90s avoided that fate. The majority of Delta’s former MD-90s are classed as stored rather than scrapped. Of course, if there isn’t much love put into the storage process (and it’s not known how much love Delta’s former MD-90s in storage are getting), the difference between storage and scrapping can be a fine one. A few years without care can leave most planes in a pretty sorry state.

Two Delta MD-90s, N962DN and N908DA, were picked up by Boeing earlier this year. What exactly Boeing plans to do with them is unknown. N962DN remains classed as parked, and N980DA is classed as stored.

An MD-90 in the early days (1997) of flying for Delta. Photo: Getty Images

Delta’s MD-90 had a lot of fans in North America. Regular flyers frequently talked about how quiet the plane was. Others remember the plane for different reasons.

“I can always tell one on approach,” one person posted in a FlyerTalk forum. “It looks like the mothership has come to check out life on earth.”

“I think the MD-90s are great,” posted another person. “One of the best birds to fly on Delta.”

Like airlines everywhere, the travel downturn hit Delta hard. After a few years of bumper profits, older, less efficient planes like the MD-90 were the first casualties of Delta’s fresh focus on the bottom line. Delta wants a less complex and more fuel-efficient fleet. You can’t fault any airline for that.

The recent clean-out of Delta’s fleet saw a few aircraft types fall by the wayside. After 25 years of service at Delta, the passenger-friendly McDonnell Douglas MD-90 was one of them.