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A United 747 with retro stickers in Los Angeles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

Changing Times: The Airline-Aircraft Combinations That Ended In The 2010s

As 2020 rolls around a decade of change has been brought to the airline industry and with mergers and acquisitions defining the 2010s, a round of aircraft removals drew headlines across the industry. So, as the next decade begins in under one week, let us take a look back at some of the aircraft that have disappeared from some of the airlines of the United States:

Delta Air Lines

As the dust settled from a merger the previous decade, Delta got to work in the 2010s making some notable and some quiet departures form the combined fleet of Delta and Northwest planes. The most recognizable would be the removal of the inherited fleet of Boeing 747s from Northwest. The airline would operate the final commercial Boeing 747 flight by the major four U.S. carriers on Dec. 17, 2017 with Delta Flight 158 operating one final flight between Seoul-Incheon and Detroit. A set of employee flights would be offered before the aircraft would disappear to the Arizonan desert in the beginning of 2018. Most of Delta’s old 747 routes are now operated by Airbus A350s and Boeing 777s.

Delta’s 747 is parked near the Dreamlifter facility at Paine Field (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Jace Moseley)

Also from Northwest, Delta would have the honors of retiring the Minneapolis-based carrier’s old fleet of Douglas DC-9s. Removing both the DC-9-31 and DC-9-41 would leave the honors of the last flight to the largest Northwest variant, the Douglas DC-9-51. Delta Flight 2014 would depart Minneapolis-St. Paul for Atlanta on Jan. 7, 2014 and bring the aircraft’s service history to a close.

Delta had seen 162 DC-9s operate for the carrier, including over 50 models that made the transition from Northwest. The DC-9 would be replaced by a fleet of 88 Boeing 717s, which were acquired when Southwest was not interested in the old AirTran models. Delta would preserve one DC-9-51 at the Delta History Museum in Atlanta, where N675MC now sits in the front entrance alongside ex-Song Boeing 757-200 N608DA and ex-Northwest Boeing 747-400 N661US.

In its recovery from bankruptcy and its fight with a weakened market during the U.S. recession, the ex-Northwest AirLink fleet of Mesaba Airlines Saab 340s would see the time spent in Delta liveries limited with the last of the type leaving in 2011. The airline was looking to shed costs and the 34-seat turboprop was only being used for Essential Air Service routes, which the airline would drop with the fleet’s retirement.

Delta would also have to accept the loss of the Embraer ERJ-145 in 2016 when the last operator of the type in Republic-owned Shuttle America worked to remove the aircraft from the fleet. Republic saw the removal of the aircraft as vital to the survivability of the airline as the carrier was suffering from financial uncertainty. Delta originally wanted to extend the ERJ-145 contract to 2021 but was talked into allowing the aircraft type to be retired in 2016.

United Airlines

Similar to Delta, the end of the Boeing 747 would occur for United in the 2010s. The ‘Queen of the Skies’ would take one final ride with the airline of the ‘Friendly Skies’ on Nov. 7, 2017 with United Flight 747 operating the flight between San Francisco and Honolulu, a route that mimicked the original United 747 service. The airline’s fleet stretched 88 aircraft across four variants: the 747-100, 747-200, 747-400 and 747SP. The airline applied retro stickers to the final 747 and would base the theming of the last flight around the 1980s, when the jet was in it’s prime.

After the last United 747 flight, the aircraft wore a lei created by local airline staff. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Alex Navitsky)

To much less pomp and circumstance, United would also phase out all mainland-based turboprops from the fleet with the Bombardier Q200 taking to the skies for the final time for CommutAir. The aircraft would operate one final Syracuse to Washington-Dulles flight on Jan. 7, 2018 before disappearing and leaving CommutAir to operate an all Embraer ERJ-145 fleet.

Quietly, two more aircraft were retired from the merged United Continental Holdings fleet. The parent company would remove the old Continental Boeing 767-200s and 737-500s by 2012 due to a combination of age and overlapping compatibility with other aircraft types like United’s Airbus A319s and Boeing 757s.

American Airlines

In a decade of bankruptcy and merging with US Airways, the loss of some aircraft was inevitable at American. During rebuilding the regional jet arms would see the most damage done with the once island-hopping ATR 72s fleet being quietly disposed of in 2013. This occurred as Executive Airlines’ exited from flying with the final American Eagle branded ATR flight on Mar. 31, 2013.

Just one year later, American would announce the end of a deal with faltering Chautauqua Airlines and the termination of the AmericanConnection brand, ending the carrier’s ERJ-135, ERJ-140 and ERJ-145 flights, of which the ERJ-135 would never return.

The parent company at American would have the privilege of retiring the Boeing 767-200 from two separate fleets in the 2010s. The first retirement would be that of the carrier’s main fleet of Boeing aircraft on May 7, 2014 with American Flight 30 taking one final trip between Los Angeles and New York-JFK with the 767 variant. Then, following the US Airways merger, the Phoenix-based carrier would phase out its fleet of 767-200s.

US Airways Flight 767 would take the smallest 767 type between Philadelphia and Charlotte on Feb. 12, 2015. Both the US Airways and American types would see Airbus A321s be the replacement aircraft, with the A321T taking over for the American type and the regular A321 assuming the US Airways route map.

Continuing its retiring of old US Airways models, the merged American fleet would result in the Bombardier Dash 8s seeing an end of service in 2018. Piedmont Airlines operated the final Dash 8-300 on July 4, 2018 when the carrier would fly the final route from Charlotte to Salisbury, Maryland. Upon retiring the turboprop, American would become an all-jet fleet and regional arm Piedmont would become an all Embraer ERJ-145 operator.

The last Dash 8 taxis at CLT (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

But the most notable of all is also the most recent retirement for American: the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80. With 383 aircraft consisting of MD-82s, MD-83s or MD-87s in the American fleet, the airline made it the backbone of the airline for its 36 years of service.

The final day of operations would be on Sept. 4, 2019 with 26 ‘Super 80s’ starting that morning at cities across the country. American Flight 80 between Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago O’Hare would have the honors of being the last scheduled flight before most of the aircraft would make the journey to Roswell, New Mexico for disposal.

An American Airlines MD-80 in Roswell (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joe Pesek)

Southwest Airlines

Being an all-Boeing 737 fleet, the airline would see only Boeing 737 models retired over the previous decade while the newest Boeing 737 MAX would join in its place. That being said, the Boeing 737-300 and 737-500 would meet their demise in the Southwest fleet this previous decade.

The first of the retirements was that of the Boeing 737-500, which would take place in 2016 when Southwest Flight 337 would fly an inter-Texas route from El Paso to Dallas-Love Field as it had done many years before. The airline’s small, 25 aircraft fleet would leave minor changes when in comparison to the 737-300, but a celebration of the aircraft was made nonetheless.

The following year would see the 737-300 meet its end in the Dallas-based carrier’s fleet. At its peak, the aircraft was 195 planes strong, however, this would slowly dissipate in the years prior to the final flight with just 30 operating on the aircraft’s final day at Southwest. On Sept. 29, 2017, the 737-300 would close its 33-year history with aircraft N632SW having the honors of flying one final flight between Houston-Hobby and Dallas-Love Field. Just two days after the retirement flight, Southwest would start Boeing 737 MAX service.

Frontier Airlines

With an unstable beginning of the decade and a merger with Midwest Airlines occurring, Frontier Airlines would see widespread retirements as contracts with Republic Airlines would be terminated when the airline changed ownership in 2013. Upon shifting, the airline would remove Republic flights including the Embraer ERJ-170, ERJ-190 and ERJ-135 from the Frontier route map and would turn to codesharing to win over its smaller western United States markets.

Finally, the airline has made improvements on reducing some of the older versions of Airbus models in the fleet. The Airbus A318s were terminated under the previous parent company in 2013 as part of the restructuring efforts despite some models seeing less than three years of service for the airline. The newer Airbus A320neos have been tasked with replacing the airline’s Airbus A319s, which will finish phasing out the 53-plane fleet in 2020.

Allegiant Air

The most notable departure from the Allegiant fleet would be the removal of the McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 over the course of the decade. The squadron of 61 aircraft once stretched four MD-80 models with the MD-83 making up 49 planes in the fleet. The airline would phase-out the MD-82 and MD-87 in 2013 while Airbus A319 and A320 arrivals in the mid-2010s would begin the end of Allegiant’s MD-83 and MD-88 operations.

The airline would finish phasing out the jet on Nov. 28, 2018 with the final MD-83 flying a flight between Fresno and Las Vegas. The route was the original flight that Allegiant had started operations with and upon completion a majority of the remaining McDonnell-Douglas models would move to Birmingham, Alabama for storage and salvage.

An Allegiant MD-80 in Las Vegas (Photo: AirlineGeeks | William Derrickson)

The Las Vegas-based carrier also would begin and end Boeing 757-200 operations with the aircraft using it to begin Honolulu service in 2010. The six aircraft fleet would take part primarily in Hawaii operations but would also be seen on the mainland operating some of Allegiant’s more popular routes and charters. However, the new aircraft type was expensive and with the airline struggling to turn a profit in the island, the carrier opted to remove both Hawaii and the Boeing 757. The airline’s last 757 flight would be on Oct. 29, 2017 as Allegiant Flight 533 between Cincinnati and Las Vegas, just one day after Hawaii service was suspended.

Others

Hawaiian Airlines bid ‘aloha’ to the once ocean trekking fleet of Boeing 767s as the airline upgraded to Airbus A330s and A321neos. The final scheduled flight of Hawaiian’s 767 was operated on Jan. 7, 2019 and signaled the end of an 18-year run with the airline. The 18-plane fleet was the replacement to Hawaiian’s previous group of Douglas DC-10s and would help propel the airline through the challenging U.S. recession as other Hawaiian going carriers like ATA and Aloha Airlines would collapse. The 767 would also help the airline during a period of great expansion, seeing 16 new routes launched with the 264-seat aircraft.

Further north, Alaska Airlines would say farewell to the Boeing 737-400 Combi fleet on Oct. 18, 2017 with Alaska flight 65 letting the jet take to the skies a few more times in a multiple-stop flight between Seattle and Anchorage. A 36-year service would come to a close for the part cargo, part passenger plane that had made itself well known in Alaska for the aircraft’s ability to reach smaller communities. The plane, and its all-cargo compatriot, would be replaced with Boeing 737-700s. Alaska would also remove similar types including the all passenger variant the same year.

Sun Country, Spirit Airlines and jetBlue Airways have all managed to avoid retiring an aircraft type with only the latter two receiving newer versions of the Airbus A320 family in the last ten years.

Ian McMurtry
Ian McMurtry
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