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Alaska Retires the MD-80

Another week, another airline retires the good ole’ MD-80. This past Sunday, Alaska flew its last MD-80 operation, and the airline is now an all-737 fleet. Alaska had a particularly interesting relationship with the MD-80 that brings out all different kinds of emotion in people.

The MD-80 really gave Alaska some long legs to expand their route map. They pushed into Mexico, This seat sucks.Russia (yep, they used to fly over the Bering Strait), and eastern cities like Toronto with that airplane. This truly was a workhorse of a plane for the airline, and it served them well, for the most part.

Of course, we can’t forget about the horrible memories that Alaska and the MD-80 spawn in people. Those who live up and down the west coast have never forgotten Alaska 261, the aircraft that spiraled into the ocean off the coast of Point Mugu. That accident brought the word “jackscrew” into our lexicon, and put a lot of fear in many people when they had to fly the MD-80. Of course, we later learned the crash was caused by poor maintenance and not the airplane itself, but that initial impressions still stayed with many fliers.

Personally, I had only one experience flying the Alaska MD-80. In July 2004, I was scheduled to fly a 737 from Seattle to Anchorage. My family and I arrived at the airport early and we stood by for an earlier flight. That flight was on an MD-80, and I will always associate it with the beautiful twilight views we encountered descending upon Anchorage after midnight. Then again, we didn’t have to sit in the dreaded seat next to the engine (above left, thanks to P.C. Loadletter on Flickr) that so many people rightfully despise.

The airplane may have been officially retired by Alaska yesterday, but the most significant goodbye in my eyes happened Monday, August 18. That day, Alaska flew its final MD-80 into Long Beach, the proud former home of Douglas Aircraft Co and the location where those MD-80s were born.

The saddest part of all of this is that each time an MD-80 retires, we get closer and closer to the end of seeing Douglas-born planes in regularly scheduled service. That will be a very sad day when they’re all gone.

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