On American Airlines slowly retiring its MD-80s

It is nearly the end of the era for American's Super 80s. Photo: Dylan Ashe, via Creative Commons.

It is nearly the end of the era for American’s Super 80s. Photo: Dylan Ashe, via Creative Commons.

If you haven’t already seen it, the article to read from the weekend is Terry Maxon’s excellent piece on the MD-80s now being retired by American Airlines.

Even if you’re not an avid aviation follower, you know the plane if you’ve flown American at all in the past decade. It has been the workhorse of the fleet, perhaps best known among casual fliers for its 2-3 seating configuration and the two smallish engines mounted near the tail. And if you have ever taken a peek in the cockpit, you’ve probably noticed that it lacks some of the modern equipment you see in other 21st century jetliners. (Of course, it’s very safe, and pilots say they like flying it.)

Yes, it’s just an airplane. But Maxon, who follows the retirement of one plane – N7530, which joined American’s fleet in 1990 — tells a nice story about the changing economics of the airline industry.

At one time, American operated more than 370 MD-80s, which it dubbed the Super 80. Now there are fewer than 160 left, and the fleet will shrink to under 140 by year’s end. By the end of 2018, if plans aren’t changed, the last MD-80 will be out of American’s enormous fleet.

Almost every American pilot of the last three decades has spent time in the MD-80 cockpit. Billy Parker, hired at American in 1989, logged 13,250 flying hours in the plane, which he described as “just a good, reliable pair of blue jeans.”

“It’s not as sexy as the newer airplanes,” he said, “but man, it has been a workhorse.”

A bit of trivia for you. The MD-80s operated by American go by a few nicknames. Can you name any?

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American Airlines retires its 767-200s, which it used from JFK to LAX

It is the end of the line for American's 767-200 fleet. This photograph was taken in Zurich in 1995. Photo: Commons.wikipedia.org

It is the end of the line for American’s 767-200 fleet. This photograph was taken in Zurich in 1995. Photo: Commons.wikipedia.org

Tonight marks the end of an era for an American Airlines workhorse, the Boeing 767-200, an aircraft that has long been deployed on the New York to Los Angeles route.

American’s final scheduled 767-200 flight will be tonight from Los Angeles to New York. Flight 30 is to leave LAX at 11:30 p.m. and arrive at JFK at 7:55 a.m. The airplane is N319AA, and was built in 1985, according to FAA data.

N332AA is also scheduled to make its final commercial flight tonight, flying JFK to LAX, as Flight 21. It departs New York at 7:10 p.m. and arrives at 10:30 p.m. This 767 joined American’s fleet in 1987, according to FAA data. (American took its first 767-200 in 1982.)

This is good news for travelers. American is now flying brand new A321 airplanes on the Los Angeles to New York routes, planes with all the bells and whistles travelers want — like flatbed seats in business and first class and in-seat video in all classes.

It is the end of the line for American's Boeing 767-200 fleet. In its place? Airbus A321s like the one. Photo: American.

It is the end of the line for American’s Boeing 767-200 fleet. In its place? Airbus A321s like the one. Photo: American.

And if you ever feel nostalgic, there’s always US Airways, an American Airlines Group company. US Airways is holding on to its 762s for a bit.

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How did the explicit US Airways Tweet get sent out? The airline explains in note to employees

How did US Airways end up sending a lewd Tweet this week? And what happened to the person responsible? Photo: US Airways.

How did US Airways end up sending a lewd Tweet this week? And what happened to the person responsible? Photo: US Airways.

Remember the pornographic Tweet sent earlier this week by US Airways?

Well, news cycles are short these days. And it’s old news. But it is important enough that the airline’s parent, American Airlines Group, did a Q & A on the incident its most recent employee newsletter. US Airways had already said that the picture was an honest mistake and no one would be fired over it.

Here’s what went out to US Airways and American employees on Thursday:

As reported, a customer posted a tweet to the US Airways Twitter feed with a link to a very offensive image that any of our followers could view by clicking the link. Under our previous protocols (“previous” because we’ve improved them following this incident), an employee alerted other members of the social team to not engage with the poster and not respond to the tweet. They also captured the link and used an “explicit warning” notification to warn the rest of the social team not to open the link, and to watch for attempts to post it on other social media channels. They did that by copying and pasting the offensive link. The post was subsequently deleted as part of this process.

Later, when responding to a completely different customer on a completely different matter, the same employee pasted what they thought was a customer service link. But, of course, the link they pasted was the offensive link. …And you know the story from there.

In response, we immediately accepted responsibility for this accidental share of the link and posted an apology on the US Airways Twitter feed. Twitter also disabled the account to prevent others from posting to it. We also shared that apology with a number of media outlets who had seen the social media traffic.

From a process standpoint, we have made improvements to help prevent such accidental occurrences, including deleting offensive posts immediately and not sharing these links internally. The employee involved was attempting to do exactly what they should do – prevent a very offensive post from being shared broadly and to warn co-workers not to open the link. They then made a simple mistake that any of us could do with an errant email or text message. In this case, it was able to be viewed by a broad audience.

We continue to work with the social media team on improving our process, and appreciate their promptness in alerting our company to the problem and accepting direct accountability for the error.

We understand the embarrassment this has caused our co-workers, and we’re working hard to mitigate the damage from this incident. We have a superb social media team that is highly professional, very responsive and navigating in a world where seven billion people are potentially their audience in real time. That’s a big responsibility and one they take very seriously. No one feels worse about this than the team, and they should not be judged by one moment in time and one mistake.
To this last point, the conversation has now gone from the scintillating photo and mistake tweet to how our company has handled the incident (see what Mashable had to say). The silver lining is we were upfront, transparent, swift in admitting our mistake and protective of our social media team, who has been recognized both in and outside of the industry as one of the best out there. This unfortunate mistake does not change that, and only gives us the opportunity to get better.

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American is evaluating LAX as possible hub for Asia flights, the airline’s president said

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

Will American build an Asian gateway at LAX? Photo: American.

American Airlines is evaluating ways to make Los Angeles a primary gateway to Asia, but that does not mean it will happen, Flight Global’s Edward Russell reported this week.

“Figuring out how to make Los Angeles successful and a gateway to Asia is a strategic issue for us,” American Airlines Group president Scott Kirby said on April 4 at the Phoenix International Aviation Symposium. The Flight Global story is behind the site’s paywall but Russell gave me permission to cite it. Kirby said LAX is “very important,” to American.

In terms of Trans-Pacific flights, Los Angeles has been a difficult market for U.S-based carriers. American (Shanghai and Tokyo), Delta (both Tokyo airports) and United (Tokyo and Shanghai) have relatively few flights from L.A. across the Pacific. United and Delta have both had Hong Kong flights in the past, but no longer. LAX is still well covered in terms of international lift, but most of it comes from major international carriers ANA, Cathay Pacific, JAL, Korean, Asiana, Eva Airways, etc.

It’s possible American will change the dynamic. Los Angeles is not the ideal place for a Pacific gateway because it has not historically been as strong of a connecting hub as other airports. Flights tend to work best when there’s a good mix of local traffic (Angelenos in this case) along with connecting traffic. (Passengers from places like Phoenix and Salt Lake and Sacramento, etc. who come to the hub only long enough to change planes.) These gateways tend to be more lucrative when there’s relatively little competition from international carriers.

Los Angeles has the local traffic. The connecting traffic issue is more complicated. Yes, American has flights from throughout country to Los Angeles. But compared to say, Dallas and Chicago, Los Angeles is a small hub. So there are far fewer connecting passengers to feed the international flights. And it’s hard for American to add more domestic flights to feed the international ones, because the airline is gate constrained in L.A. Russell says American has access to 24 gates at LAX, though 10 of them are in a remote terminal and can only handle regional jets. It is to receive access to a few more gates in the airport’s new international terminal, but that’s no panacea.

Still, American is now the world’s largest airline. And as the world’s largest airline, American may need a West Coast gateway. San Francisco is taken — United owns it. And Delta is building a global hub from scratch in Seattle. So that leaves L.A. (I’m assuming that Phoenix is not a viable option.)

Here’s another thing people don’t think about with L.A. It’s actually quite a bit farther from Asia than San Francisco and Seattle. Russell says L.A. is 327 miles farther from Asia than San Francisco. L.A is about 432 miles father from Asia than Seattle.

What do you think? Will American try to build an Asian gateway in L.A.?

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American’s plans for its fleet, and other aviation stories of the past week

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. Photo credit: American.

An American Airlines 777-300ER parked at LAX. American is taking delivery of six 777-300s this year, which will bring the total number in the fleet to 16. Photo credit: American.

What’s news in the world of aviation? These are the stories I have enjoyed most in the past week or so:

The size of American’s combined fleet will be just about the same this December as it was in December 2013, the Dallas Morning News reports. But the mix of the mainline airplanes will change a lot. “AAG plans to take delivery of 83 new airplanes in 2014 for American and US Airways, led by 42 of the Airbus A321s,” Terry Maxon writes. “That’s one new airplane every 4½ days, approximately. But AAG also plans to park 80 older airplanes, including 26 McDonnell Douglas MD-80s and 22 Boeing 757s.” The size of the total fleet will be about 970 airplanes.

Did you know that on 72 days in 2013 Delta did not cancel a single flight? And already this year, Delta told the Wall Street Journal’s Scott McCartney, it is already ahead of that pace. What’s Delta’s secret? McCartney breaks it down. One of the most interesting things? Delta moves flight crews around the system to ensure a flight does not necessarily need to be canceled just because the original pilots have gone illegal.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports on an interesting study on airline price volatility. Among U.S. airports, Bloomberg reported that San Francisco had the most volatility, while New York LaGuardia had the least. Among carriers, Alaska Airlines and US Airways played with their prices the least, according to the study.

In her regular column on Flyertalk, flight attendant Sarah Steegar says your flight crews like to mix things up with pranks. Apparently pilots will sometimes tell new hires that they have “forgotten the keys” to the airplane.  Hah!

Is Spirit interested in moving some flights from Fort Lauderdale to Miami? The Miami Herald says it’s a possibility. But that seems odd considering Miami has unusually high costs for airlines. Any ideas on why Spirit is floating this option?

And finally, one of my stories. I wrote a trend piece asking whether airlines have instituted something like an on-board caste system as they have added perks in premium cabins and taken them away from economy class travelers. “I just find it distasteful.” said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance and a consistent airline critic. Others, of course, see no problem with airlines rewarding their most lucrative customers.

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