Mad Dog Mitigation: How Retiring an Aircraft Effects the Cities It Serves

The iconic t-tail of an American MD-80. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joe Pesek)

It is undeniable that a commercial aircraft type will retire and when it does, there has to bee some aircraft to step in to take its place. Even before the sun had set and the party had died down on Wednesday, the gradual retirement of the Super 80 had taken its effect on American Airlines’ route network and airports that the aircraft once served have been greeting new aircraft at their gates for quite some time now.

But while the party raged on at airports across the United States, it is easy to forget that the routes once served by the workhorse will be either a beneficiary of or victim to the retiring aircraft in terms of what comes next.

For some of the former MD-80 routes, American has simply decided to replace the mainline aircraft with another mainline aircraft and what was once a McDonnell-Douglas route is now being served by either an Airbus A321 or Boeing 737-800. Calling in the larger narrowbodies has been a benefit to some markets like Cleveland, San Antonio, El Paso and Raleigh-Durham, which will all see double-digit increases in seats offered as a result.

The Omaha-Dallas route, for example, will swap out its four daily MD-80 flights for four alternating Airbus A319 and Boeing 737-800 flights. A beneficiary of the retirement, capacity on the route will increase the daily number of one-way seats available from 560 to 576.

However, the change may not be so welcome to other cities seeing a reduction in capacity. Prior to Wednesday, the Dallas-Des Moines route was operated three times daily with the 140-seat MD-80 and also a morning 65-seat Bombardier CRJ-700 service between 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. While the number of flights remains the same, American is leaving the city with three A319 flights and the CRJ-700 flight. Downgrading to the 128-seat Airbus will leave Des Moines with a drop in daily one-way seats from 485 to 449.

A similar issue also exists in Cincinnati, where the weekday one-way seat count to Dallas will drop from 566 seats to 530 seats because of the deployment of three Airbus A319s to replace three times daily MD-80 service. The route is also serviced by two 73-seat Embraer ERJ-175s, which has not changed with the retiring Mad Dog.

The changing of the seasons has also played a key factor in which cities get reduced service. Both Pensacola and Destin/Ft. Walton Beach in Florida were seeing American’s polished aluminum birds operating flights to Dallas; the latter now receives five daily flights operated by the A319 and CRJ-900 while the former, which one saw once daily MD-80 and twice-daily Embraer ERJ-175 service, now sees double CRJ-900 and A319 service. Overall both cities lose over 100 daily seats because of the lost MD-80 flight.

Just because a city may see increased flights after the MD-80 leaves, that doesn’t mean the seat count increases. Wichita, which saw MD-80 service on American to Dallas, was operating with four daily MD-80 flights with single service CRJ-900 and ERJ-175 in the morning and afternoon, respectively; but the loss of the aircraft has changed the schedule dramatically and the only aircraft that will carry over is the CRJ-900.

The rest of the frequencies to Wichita will be altered to become a schedule of three Airbus A319s and four CRJ-900s. While the Aviation Capital of the World does gain an additional flight to Wichita at 10:40 a.m., the city loses seats in total with the deployment of the regional jet, bringing available weekday one-way seats down to 688 from 709.

While some cities do fluctuate either positively or negatively, there are a few other routes that will remain consistent in seats, but not consistent in aircraft. The Mad Dog had seen heavy use on the Dallas-St. Louis route and American wanted to keep the seat count as close as possible.

The change in service will see the weekday schedule of six MD-80s and two 737-800s transform into flights on six 737-800s, one Airbus A319 and a Bombardier CRJ-900. This service change will take the number of seats on the day from 1160 potential passengers to 1164 potential passengers each way.

Life goes on and as the now-retired fleet of McDonnell-Douglas MD-80s sits idling in the New Mexico sun after decades of being the workhorse of the narrowbody fleet, it will now fall on other aircraft to become the workhorses and take over these routes. And while these numbers of 20-30 daily seat gains or losses might not look significant, it does play a key role in how much revenue both the airport and airline can make off the paying customer.

So either willow in sorrow at the sight of another regional jet flight or get excited that there is an increase in service because the retirement of the MD-80 has probably brought that change to your local route. And one day, these new planes will be in the same position the MD-80 was Wednesday.

Ian McMurtry

Although Ian McMurtry was never originally an avgeek, he did enjoy watching US Airways aircraft across western Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. He lived along the Pennsylvania Railroad and took a liking to trains but a change of scenery in the mid-2000s saw him shift more of an interest into aviation. He would eventually express this passion by taking flying lessons in mid-Missouri and joining AirlineGeeks in 2013. Now living in Wichita, Kansas, Ian is in college majoring in aerospace engineering and minoring in business administration at Wichita State University.
Ian McMurtry