Looking Back: The Fall Of The ‘Mad Dog’

Almost a year has passed since Delta retired the MD-88 and -90, another casualty of the coronavirus crisis. This marked the end of the MD-90 worldwide, while the MD-80 series lives on – mainly in developing countries. Delta was absolutely vital for the MD-80/90, with over one-third of a billion seats in less than a decade.

Delta MD-90
Delta’s retirement of the MD-90 in 2020 marked the end of the type worldwide. The MD-80 series lives on. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Delta Air Lines retired its last MD-88s and MD-90s on June 2nd, 2020, ending an era for the ‘Mad Dog’ in the United States and the world. On that final day, the last MD-88 flight (DL88) was scheduled to arrive in Atlanta at 08:55 from Washington Dulles. In contrast, the final MD-90 service (DL90) was due to arrive three minutes later from Houston Intercontinental. The last touchdown by the MD-90 meant the end of the type worldwide in commercial service.

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Eight arrivals on the last day

That final day saw seven MD-88 and one MD-90 arrivals in Atlanta with Delta:

  1. Raleigh Durham
  2. Sarasota
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Richmond
  5. Norfolk
  6. Hartford
  7. Houston: last MD-88 arrival
  8. Washington: last MD-90 arrival
Delta Air Lines, MD-90, MD-88
In the first few months of 2020, some 48 routes saw Delta’s MD-90s. Photo: Getty Images.

Delta: over one-third of a billion seats

Globally, 126 million seats were supplied by all MD-80 series and -90 aircraft in 2011, analyzing OAG schedules data shows. This reduced to 44 million in 2019 and just 14 million in pandemic-hit 2020. Now, in 2021, there’s less than eight million available; this is explored below.

Delta has always been an important operator of the MD-80/90. If 2011-2020 is added up, that one airline had approximately 373 million of the 853 million seats. It was far and away number-one, with American Airlines second and Allegiant third. Simple Flying recently looked at Allegiant’s top airports.

American retired its MD-80s in September 2019, following Allegiant in 2018. In this 2011-2020 period, American had some 212 million seats and Allegiant 64 million. As you’d expect, these three airlines alone had the lion’s share of MD-80/90 capacity globally, at nearly eight in ten – a huge amount.

MD-80/90 development
Think MD-80/90, think the United States. Source: OAG Schedules Analyzer.

Now an aircraft in developing countries

MD-80s are now mainly used in developing countries, primarily Iran but also the likes of Venezuela and Nigeria. The type’s top-three operators – Caspian Airlines, Zagros Airlines, and Iran Air Tours – all come from the Middle East country.

The reason is simple. Such older aircraft result from strict sanctions and the inability of Iranian airlines to re-fleet or meaningfully grow aircraft numbers. In fact, in 2021, the MD-82 and -83 are the most common aircraft in Iran, OAG data shows.

Delta MD-88
The end of the MD-80 series with Delta (2020), American (2019), and Allegiant (2018) means that the type is now mainly used in developing countries. Photo: Getty Images.

Delta’s MD-88/90 routes in 2020

In the first few months of 2020, Delta used its -88s on 60 routes, all from Atlanta. A handful were one-offs, but most were regular or semi-regular. The 259-mile service to Charleston, South Carolina, was top, followed by Columbus, Nashville, Sarasota, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Toronto, Philadelphia, Hartford, and Cleveland.

The -90s, meanwhile, appeared on 48 routes, again all from Atlanta. Houston Intercontinental was number-one, followed by Buffalo, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Raleigh Durham, Syracuse, Memphis, Philadelphia, Rochester, and Richmond.

Delta's MD-88/90 routes
Delta’s core 20 routes for the -88s/-90s (when combined) in early 2020 are shown above. Image: GCMap.

Everything comes to an end, with aircraft retirements – and the push for better economics and fleet simplification – clearer during coronavirus than probably ever before. Objectively, it just makes sense. By replacing them with newer aircraft, they’ll probably also have more seats, benefiting from lower costs and more revenue-generating opportunities.

The airline will be better prepared to face the future. But on a personal level, the author is sad to see such characterful and exciting aircraft disappear, never to return.

What are your memories of the MD-88/90? Comment below!