Why United Airlines Flew The Boeing 737-500 After The Type’s Retirement

United’s history with the Boeing 737 Classic ended eight years ago. Not helped by the rising price of fuel and other economic problems from the global financial crisis, United withdrew the B737-300 on October 28th, 2009 – three months after the last scheduled B737-500 flight. These retirements temporarily ended United’s use of the B737, but it didn’t last long.

United B737-500
This B737-500 is seen on approach to Los Angeles in 2007. Registered N927UA, the aircraft was with United between March 1992 and January 2009 and scrapped at Tupelo in 2010. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr.

United’s B737-500s

When United retired the last of its Boeing 737-500s (IATA code: 735) in late August 2009, nearly exactly 12 years ago, it must have assumed that would be the last it saw of them. But no. They reappeared in 2012 with the ‘new’ United, having inherited 27 former Continental 735s following the pair’s full integration in 2012. The year 2012 was the first time that they appeared with United’s code.

The 735 didn’t remain for long, though, as they were retired for good in May 2013. This was also the month that United withdrew its ex-Continental B767-200ERs, bringing to an end those older and less efficient – but different and exciting – types.

United B737-500
United’s average length of haul for the B737-500 was 648 miles. Photo: Caribb via Flickr.

The B737-500 was about Chicago and Denver

If 2004-2009 and 2012-2013 are analyzed, the 735 was especially strongly used at Chicago O’Hare and Denver, with three-quarters of the type’s total flights. In contrast, of United’s hubs, Washington Dulles saw it the least flights by the series, based on schedules information obtained from data experts Cirium.

United B737-500
This 735, N17627, was clearly previously used by Continental Airlines. It was with Indonesia’s Sriwijaya Air between 2013 and 2015 and is now with Indonesia’s NAM Air. Photo: Gene Delaney via Flickr.

O’Hare to Minneapolis was number-one

The top-10 routes for the 735, shown below, had one-fifth of the series’ total flights; they were all-important. They were led by the 334-mile service from O’Hare to Minneapolis, with the type the third-most-used on this route, after the Embraer 170 and the B737-300.

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  1. Chicago O’Hare-Minneapolis: approximately 17,445 round-trip flights 2004-2013
  2. Los Angeles-San Francisco: 9,569
  3. Denver-Minneapolis: 7,105
  4. Chicago O’Hare-Toronto Pearson: 7,137
  5. Chicago O’Hare-New York LaGuardia: 6,995
  6. Chicago O’Hare-Philadelphia: 6,258
  7. Chicago O’Hare-Newark: 5,984
  8. Chicago O’Hare-Pittsburgh: 5,679
  9. Denver-Houston Intercontinental: 4,809
  10. Denver-Oakland: 5,102
United B737-300
The 735 and B737-300 (as shown here) were often used similarly, with a very similar average sector length (648 miles versus 667). Chicago and Denver were the main hubs for both series, while O’Hare-Minneapolis was the number-one route for them. Photo: Vince Amato via Flickr.

United’s B737-500s

Unlike the B737-500, which had two ‘lives’ with United, the larger 124-seat B737-300 wasn’t so lucky. Its end, in October 2009, was commemorated by an around-the-country scheduled flight via important United hubs.

UA737 – what else? – had a scheduled departure time from Dulles of 06:04 and an arrival time in San Francisco – via O’Hare, Denver, and Los Angeles – at 17:59 local time. The -300 was ultimately replaced by the 126-seat B737-700, all ex-Continental, of which United still has 53.

What are your memories of B737 Classics with United? Let us know in the comments.