By June, Delta will retire its aging MD aircraft. Known fondly as the “Mad Dog,” the airplane has had a long history and is considered one of McDonnell Douglas’ finest aircraft; the type has had a venerable run. While the aircraft was a major upgrade for airlines at the end of the 20th-century, its time to move on in 2020. Although this author admires the aircraft’s legacy, I am more than happy to see the MDs exit the fleet.
The flying experience
The best part about the MD-90s is the solo seat in coach. After that, there’s not much to like about the aircraft. In economy, I always found the seats uncomfortable, and the lack of power outlets meant that I had to carefully time my devices or else charge them on the ground beforehand. While I did love reading Sky Magazine, there was only so much I could make out of it – especially if I were connecting from one flight to another.
I’ve flown the MD-90 more times than any other aircraft in Delta’s fleet. To San Antonio, Baltimore, and Minneapolis, the MD-90 was the most frequent aircraft on domestic hops. Somehow, perhaps it is just my luck, every itinerary that worked the best for me domestically involved an MD-90. I just could not get away from the plane. As a result, I’ve flown it in all three experiences – First, Comfort+, and Main Cabin.
The first “Delta” plane that I flew in was an MD-90. Growing up, I flew with Northwest Airlines until it was merged into Delta. Then, it was a flight from Minneapolis to Grand Rapids for a family vacation where I flew Delta the first time- row 39 on the plane. Frequent fliers may recognize this row as being the one with no window. Needless to say, the avgeek in me was not impressed – even less so when I heard the roar of the engines and recognized that I’d be getting no sleep on the late-night flight.
The A320 and 737
Growing up, my favorite plane was arguably the 747. Although, I did not fly it too much since it primarily operated international long-haul routes. And, when I was younger, being sick a lot and living as a hub captive meant international travel was not much on the horizon. My family did, however, find a lot of joy in domestic flights. And I started to fall in love with the A320 and 737.
I loved how Delta was putting seatback screens on these planes when the MD-90s lacked them. I loved how the A320s and 737s had a little more room for me to keep my bag with my favorite stuffed animals on them. I loved how the A320s and 737s were more comfortable and weren’t as loud. And, once I started to fly more, I tried to fly these planes as much as possible. These planes had power outlets and USB outlets. I could charge my phone after playing games on it at the gate and be able to call a ride when I landed.
And, of course, the seats! I could fall asleep easily on the A320s and 737s that had a little more padding. They were comfortable. They felt fresh and new. The interior was gorgeous, while the MD-90s just felt old.
The MDs didn’t get me where I needed to go on time
When I started to really ramp up my travels, being on time became critical. I started experimenting with tighter connections – a mistake with the MDs. Every time, it seemed that something was off with the MD. “Sorry, folks, the cargo door light is malfunctioning in the cockpit, so we’re going to be delayed while maintenance takes a look.” “Sorry, folks, there’s a problem with the engine, and we’re waiting on a go-no-go from maintenance.” “Sorry, folks, there’s an issue with the captain’s seat, and we’re going to have to see if it is safe to fly.”
Very quickly, I learned that, with an MD in the itinerary, I’d have to leave a two-ish hour gap for connections. Meanwhile, on the 737s and A320s, I’d be okay with 45 minutes or less if I felt a little risky. Even with Delta’s padding, I knew the MDs were not as reliable.
My last MD-90 flight
I had a last-minute trip to Houston on the books in 2019. Unfortunately, on that day, Delta only flew the MD-90 to IAH, where my ride would be waiting for me. Worse yet, it was the last flight of the day, getting in at about midnight. In my head, I planned to arrive in Houston at about 1 or 2 AM, assuming there would be some kind of issue with the plane.
I flew in from Baltimore to Hartsfield Jackson on a 737-900ER. The plane was one of the newest at the time, and I caught up on some TV shows inflight – making sure not to touch the Sky Magazine so I could have some entertainment on the MD-90 flight ahead of me. After a long day, the last thing I wanted to do was open up my laptop and remember the list of other things I had to do.
We arrived early in Atlanta, and my 65-minute layover became 90 minutes. I grabbed a sandwich and munched on it while waiting for my next flight. We boarded the MD-90 on time. And, at the gate, I even scored an upgrade to First – a window seat too! I love seeing the nighttime takeoff roll with the lights of the city and the airport and aircraft.
Sitting next to me, I came across a fascinating man – someone with whom I held a great conversation for the entire flight. We had a flight attendant who, even despite the late departure, was more than happy to be onboard. It was late, so I stuck to orange juice while my seatmate enjoyed a glass of wine, and the attendant kept filling up our cups. The flight seemed to pass by in no time. And, we arrived early in Houston.
Deplaning, I remarked to the flight attendant that this was my first early arrival with an MD-90 in ages. She smiled and said she understood but said the plane was “trusty” and had “good bones.” I told her I’d give it another chance again one day. Little did I know that I wouldn’t get a chance.
I still won’t miss the MD-90
No doubt, the MD-90 has gotten me where I need to go safely. At the end of the day, that’s really what we expect from an aircraft when we get onboard. But, the inflight experience is one I won’t miss. The 20th-century interior feels out of place as Delta flies more planes with the Delta One Suites and crisp inflight entertainment system.
With the A321neos slated to enter the fleet with a brand new First Class product, there’s so much more out there that’s better than the MDs. Delta never invested in the MD-90s and MD-88s the way it did in older 737s and A320s. Perhaps if the airline did, I’d walk away with a different impression of the jet.
Nevertheless, the MD-90 has had a venerable run. But, it is now time to say a farewell to the type. While plenty will have fond memories of the aircraft, I can’t wait to step onboard a new A321neo.
Will you miss the MD-90? Let us know in the comments!