What Happened To United Airlines’ DC-10 Aircraft?

The DC-10 was a well-known tri-engine, widebody aircraft. In the days prior to ETOPS certification, the DC-10 was a well-renowned aircraft for long-haul, overwater flights. Plenty of airlines operated aircraft like these. One of those airlines was American giant United Airlines. United had a sizeable number of DC-10 aircraft; Here’s a look at what happened to them.

United Airlines DC-10
United Airlines once flew a number of DC-10 aircraft. Photo: Andrew Thomas via Flickr

United’s DC-10s

Airfleets records that United flew as many as 68 DC-10 aircraft. That is more than the number of Boeing 787 in the carrier’s fleet. A fair number of these aircraft reached prominence in the early 1970s, and despite the type’s grounding, United showed confidence in the aircraft.

From 1971 through the mid-1990s, United took on DC-10s with some regularity Most of these, especially the early aircraft, were DC-10-10s. The DC-10-10 was the shortest range variant of the DC-10.


For the avgeeks, here is a seatmap for a 287-seater United DC-10-10 aircraft. On these aircraft, there were no Polaris seats but there were dedicated smoking rows within each cabin. Of course, nowadays, smoking is not allowed onboard any United flight.

United’s first DC-10s were DC-10-10 aircraft, the original variant of the aircraft. Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi via Wikimedia

The DC-10s served a long life with United. United flew both DC-10-10s and the longer-range DC-10-30s. By the mid 2000s, however, these aircraft reached the end of their service life with United. Most widebody aircraft went from three engines down to two. So, when it came down to replacements, United opted for 777 aircraft. United Airlines never placed an order for the DC-10s direct successor, the MD-11.

United 777
The 777 worked well as a DC-10 replacement for United. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

For airlines, three engines is a significantly higher amount of fuel to spend per flight than on a twin-engine widebody. Not to mention, newer, more fuel-efficient engines are better for the environment. As for replacement aircraft, the Boeing 777 proved to be an adept aircraft for long-haul flights. To this day, one of United’s workhorses on international long-haul flights are a number of Boeing 777 aircraft.

United DC-10
A United DC-10 in the “Battleship” livery. Photo: Bill Abbott via Flickr

Where did they go?

A handful of aircraft underwent conversions from passenger aircraft to freighter aircraft. Cargo conversions add additional lifespan to older planes, however, eventually, even these reach their limits. Most ended up in storage or else on their way to scrap. At the time, it generally ends up being cheaper for cargo carriers to acquire older aircraft compared to brand new freighters.

Some, however, flew for other carriers. These include the likes of Canadian Airlines and Biman Bangladesh.

Biman Bangladesh
A Biman Bangladesh DC-10-30 aircraft. Photo: Faisal Akram from Dhaka, Bangladesh via Wikimedia Commons

Now, United was not the only airline to fly the DC-10. Continental Airlines, with whom United merged with, also flew DC-10 aircraft.

Continental DC-10
A Continental Airlines DC-10. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Did you get to fly on a United Airlines DC-10? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below!


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Erik K. Weseman

Yes, I flew on United Airlines DC-10s when I was a kid growing up in the 1980s and early 1990s. I remember traveling on DC-10s between Chicago and Newark, NJ, Newark and Chicago, Newark and Denver, Denver and Washington, DC, Washington, DC and Denver, San Francisco and Honolulu and between San Francisco and Kona, Hawaii.

Vedant Ganesh

A beautiful jet. Shame to see it go.
RIP McDonnell Douglas; a great company

Rod Abid

I flew AA & UA DC-10s. I still say it was the most beautiful commercial jet ever.

Steve Holsten

Yes, McDonnell helped raise me in the ’60s & ’70s. My Dad worked in the St Louis MO plant from 1957 till he retired. Boeing took over hs retirement & insurance.


I dont agree you , if you check the TK 981 aircrash , you ll see MCDonnel Douglas killed all 346 people , and because of this they deserve to go off into the blue

Tim Congrove

Chicago-honolulu and San Francisco -chicago sometimes Cleveland to Chicago


Twin engines are not in any way more efficient than 3 or 4. With the same engine technology, the same amount of thrust uses the same amount of fuel. Twin engines are actually a bit worse, because each engine has to have enough thrust to continue a climb by itself in case of failure of the other. On a triple, two engines need enough thrust to continue the climb, and on a quad, the thrust can be shared by three. The only reason airlines prefer twin engine aircraft to more engines is that the engines themselves are the most expensive… Read more »

Helen boula

I dont care to fly at all.but when.i do fly its with unitef Airlines
.i dont like vlosed in places.just like an elevator.


I flew twice on UAL DC-10’s. 1973 SFO-ORD and 1980 LAX-IAD. Neither flight was that good. That last trip was when DC-10’s were falling out of the sky on a seemingly regular basis. It was also the last time I got sick on a plane, I was so scared. Should’ve been called a camel as it was not built by McDD as much as it was assembled from sub-contractor pieces. WIth that, you could perhaps call it a “pioneer” as that’s the way Boeing and Airbus do business today. General Dynamics built the fuselage shell in the old Convair plant… Read more »

Jojo Dancer

As a kid, we often were in 747s flying back and forth between Honolulu and the mainland. I always loved when we’d show up to the airport and end up on a DC-10 instead. I loved DC-10s.


The DC-10 had an awful early reputation that improved over time because of general improvements in aviation safety technology and elimination of the original design failure(s) and an improved understanding of the plane. The DC-10 has been used as a freighter and a military tanker. Then came glass cockpits and more automation and the MD-11 which unfortunately had some well known crashes of its own. 1979 was a terrible year for this plane. The biggest number of fatalities to this day in US Aviation occurred in May and most people who were alive then remember that American Airlines plane crash… Read more »