It was a cold day in Minneapolis, the coldest in decades. Despite the bitter temperatures, spirits were high at Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport (MSP) as Delta Air Lines was preparing to operate their final scheduled McDonnell Douglas DC-9 flight. As the aircraft touched down after the first flight of a two-leg ceremonial routing, the sendoff began and the DC-9 would soon be history.
A small gathering of Delta pilots, flight attendants, and tech ops were on hand to say goodbye to an old friend. A banner commemorating the DC-9 was hung on the wall for all to sign as passengers and employees indulged in the decorative DC-9 cakes. Before boarding, a ground operations employee shared some final thoughts about the DC-9, slipping up and saying “on behalf of Northwest Airlines,” which really sums up the history of the DC-9 at Delta.
Born 48 years ago, the DC-9 has outlived many other fleet types since its introduction with Delta in 1965. The DC-9 was once before retired from the Delta fleet in 1993, but was introduced again in 2008 after the merger with Northwest Airlines. Northwest also inherited their DC-9s via a merger, this time with Republic Airlines in 1986. The airframe which operated the final flight, N773NC, started its life with North Central Airlines in 1978.
The flight itself was rather low-key as there were only a small handful of media and aviation enthusiasts on board. Most passengers had no idea of the significance of the flight they were on. Towards the back of the DC-9, enthusiasts peered out the windows to the roaring Pratt & Whitney JT8D turbofan engines as the sun set. Throughout the flight, the crew made a few special announcements about the history of the aircraft, and had a surprise waiting for passengers before approaching Atlanta – champagne for all! Sipping champagne in a real glass in the economy cabin of a DC-9 was a real throwback, and the passengers clearly enjoyed this perk.
As the flight touched down at Atlanta, a few passengers gave the DC-9 three cheers and a round of applause. Further applause was heard as the cabin crew announced that as this was the final flight of the aircraft, passengers were free to take all the safety cards they wanted. Needless to say, I cleared out my row.
Once at the gate, the flight crew opened up the flight deck for a peek at just how old school this aircraft really is. The DC-9 is about as far from a glass cockpit as you can get. Despite the aircraft’s old age, Delta has done an amazing job keeping the interior up to date. Most passengers would never be able to tell the difference between a newly delivered 717 and a 36-year-old DC-9. Delta even installed in-flight WiFi on the DC-9 fleet a few years back, which is amazing considering “internet” wasn’t even a word when the aircraft was built.
In Concourse A at ATL, the crews said their final goodbyes, and went home to prepare for a day of work on a different aircraft. Some will go to the MD-88, others will find themselves in in a much larger aircraft such as the 757 or 767-300ER. The DC-9 will remain on standby with Delta through the end of the month to assist in irregular operations as needed, but scheduled flights for the DC-9 at Delta are no more. So long, old friend. Take a break, you’ve earned it.