One of my favorite commercial aircraft is retiring from service with the world’s largest airline. The American Airlines MD-80, affectionately known as the S80, is leaving scheduled service, today, Sept. 4, 2019. The S80 was a workhorse for decades for the airline, which used more than 350 of the aircraft over almost 40 years to carry passengers from smaller city airports to its hubs.
My first memory of the American Airlines Super 80 was hearing a CBS Evening News report in the early 1980s about the airline’s record-breaking order for up to 167 aircraft to replace its aging Boeing 727 fleet. I remember looking at the artist’s mock-up of what the aircraft would look like and thinking it was a Douglas Aircraft Company DC-9 that had been stretched.
That is exactly what it was.
The aircraft’s design origins started in the 1970s as an extended version of the popular DC-9. The company wanted to retain customer familiarity with the airlines flying the current DC-9 by adding an aircraft that would carry additional passengers, have a higher maximum take-off weight, have upgraded avionics and, for its time, have greater fuel efficiency. The aircraft was named and certified as the DC-9 Super 80. Later, the aircraft became more popularly known in the industry as the MD-80 when the company merged with McDonnell Aircraft and the company’s name changed to McDonnell Douglas. Robert Crandall, American Airlines president at the time of the aircraft’s introduction, wanted it called the Super 80 for marketing purposes and it became more popularly known as the S80 due to the airline’s timetable reference. The S80 went into revenue service on May 15, 1983.
I loved flying on American’s S80s. The seat configuration was the narrow body two-by-two in First Class and two-by-three in Economy. I think the aircraft had the right mix of seats before the shrinking of legroom era. (Speaking of legroom, I remember when American had a huge promotion where they were taking seats out of Coach to provide additional legroom. Images of the Super 80 were used to promote the throwing out of seats to make enough room so that even passengers in a Coach seats could cross their legs without hitting the seat in front.)
I would always select a seat in the two-seat section ahead of the wing when traveling the S80. The plane was designed with engines in the rear and the wings also pushed more toward the rear of the aircraft. The design allowed for more seats ahead of the wing. I fondly remember the powerful takeoff. The aircraft’s engines forcefully pushed the aircraft down the runway to rotation. At rotation the nose lifted to a high-angle degree of ascent. I loved feeling the G-forces pushing me back into my seat, and with the high angle degree of ascent I felt like the plane was going vertical. It's a feeling unique to the S80 (and its other MD-80 derivatives) that I haven’t felt in any other commercial aircraft.
American Airlines has been gradually reducing its S80 fleet numbers as new, technologically advanced and fuel-efficient aircraft enter service. The final scheduled journey will happen as flight AA80 takes off from Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW) for Chicago O’Hare (ORD). The airline and airline enthusiasts have planned a few farewell events before the aircraft is ferried to the aircraft graveyard. Here's to memories and retirement after a job well done.
Do you have any memories of the S80 or a favorite retired class of aircraft? If so, then email us and our favorites might appear in an upcoming story on SeatGuru.com.