Only Two Airlines Left Flying a Douglas Widebody Commercially

This week Finnair KLM MD-11 PH-KCD Florence Nightingaleretired its last MD-11 airplane with a flight from Delhi to Bangkok. With that retirement, only KLM is still operating an MD-11 commercially. In fact, there are only two airlines operating any Douglas widebody commercially anywhere in the world. Biman Bangladesh still flies a couple DC-10s around. As a resident of Long Beach, where Douglas built those airplanes for 60 sixty years, this is really very sad.

Though the DC-10 had some serious problems when it rolled out in the 1970s resulting in devastating accidents, once the issues were fixed, the plane went on to be a reliable flying tank. Personally, I have great memories flying DC-10s. My first intercontinental flight was on an SAS DC-10 from LA to Copenhagen in 1985. Most of my other DC-10 flights were taking me to Hawai’i. (No wonder the memories are good.)

I can remember flying Leisure Air Douglas DC-10Western, American, United, and even Delta (when they briefly operated the DC-10s they inherited from Western) to Hawai’i. I even flew on some more interesting characters – World Airways when they had scheduled flights, for example. One time, I remember flying on a Leisure Air-operated ex-United DC-10 flying under the Suntrips banner. It’s probably fitting that the last time I flew on a DC-10 was on a Hawaiian aircraft from LA to Maui on July 11, 2001.

The MD-11 first flew in 1990 with Finnair, an airline which stayed loyal to the type for 20 years. Unfortunately, not many others felt the same way. The MD-11 was a longer, more efficient update of the DC-10 but it didn’t live up to its performance specs. Airlines walked away early and it never regained its footing. Besides, why buy 3 engines when you could stick with 2? The MD-11 did find a very successful home as a cargo airplane, however, and it continues to fly in great numbers in that capacity today.

I had two experiencesFile06618 on the MD-11. My first was in the early 1990s flying from LA to Portland on Delta. Seems like a strange route, but remember, Delta has tried to make Portland its transpacific gateway. This airplane fed that network.

The other was, conveniently, on good ole’ Finnair. In October 1998, I flew roundtrip from New York to Helsinki on my first big trip using pass travel as an airline employee. We flew over there for the weekend, and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever.

Over 600 Douglas widebodies rolled off the line here in Long Beach, and now it’s almost impossible to find one flying passengers around. If you’d like to get on one, your best bet is to ship yourself via FedEx. If that’s not your idea of fun, you can always try to get on one of the two remaining passenger operators worldwide.

As I mentioned, the last passenger MD-11 operator is KLM. They still are flying their fleet from their Amsterdam home to the following cities:

  • Bonaire
  • Delhi
  • Guayaquil
  • Montreal
  • Panama City
  • Paramaribo
  • Quito
  • St Maarten
  • Toronto
  • Vancouver

In addition, for most of September, the airplane will go to Atlanta and Dubai.

If you want to fly a DC-10, well, that’s a lot tougher. The last passenger operator of that airplane is Biman Bangladesh. They are quickly phasing them out for 777s, but they still have some flying from Dhaka to the following cities on random days:

  • Abu Dhabi
  • Chittagong
  • Dammam
  • Doha
  • Dubai
  • Hong Kong
  • Muscat
  • Riyadh
  • Sylhet

My guess is you won’t see these flying for much more than a couple years, so get out there and hop on one while you still have the chance.

Photos
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ianfuller/ / CC BY-NC 2.0
http://www.flickr.com/photos/33465428@N02/ / CC BY-ND 2.0
http://www.flickr.com/photos/husseinabdallah/ / CC BY 2.0

55 Responses to Only Two Airlines Left Flying a Douglas Widebody Commercially

  1. David SFeastbay says:

    I’ve flown mostly the L10 which I just loved, mostly TWA since I worked for them….and Eastern.

    My only DC10 was a LAX-HNL-LAX on American and I was worried the whole time we were in the air. And that was in the 90′s, long after the early trouble. But I still sat there wondering if the engines were going to fall off. Silly I know, but that’s what I kept thinking all those hours.

    I even felt safer on a two engine 757 to Hawaii then a three engine DC10, now that would really seen silly to some.

    At least between the L10 and DC10/11 you could always tell which was which by how that third engine was mounted. I still liked the looks of the L10 better, and the L10 overall. I could still sit on one today and just marvel at the door going up into the ceiling.

  2. Jeff K says:

    I see a KLM MD-11 at SFO pretty often. Based on your list I’m guessing it doesn’t go to AMS or it’s a swap for a 777 on that route?

    Love that plane as well as a KLM MD-11 took me overseas for the first time (SFO-AMS) back in 2002. It also taught me the true bonus of getting a bulkhead seat in coach for such a long flight (I’m 6’5″)

  3. CF says:

    Jeff K wrote:

    I see a KLM MD-11 at SFO pretty often. Based on your list I’m guessing it doesn’t go to AMS or it’s a swap for a 777 on that route?

    It looks like I missed that one – it’s still an MD-11 for another month before switching to a 777.

  4. By “commercially” you are referring to some form of passenger configuration, yes? The all-freighter versions are being excluded it would seem for FedEx, UPS and I believe also KE and LH are still running various models around the world.

    My 1st D10 was with AA, ORD-DFW. I was sweating bullets just like you were David especially since it was the same make and airport as AA#191 (may they rest in peace). Since then I’ve flown them all over AA’s system, including Europe to LGW and FRA on the Dash-30 and the MD-11 during the first DFW-MAD service in the early 90s.

    The thing I remember most about them was how quiet they were for engines of that generation during taxi and while cruising in flight. Their profile was certainly eye-catching, crude and simplistic to some (the ones who favored the L-1011, usually) but definitely one-of-a-kind.

    Thank heaven for sites like Airliners.Net where the pictures will live on.

  5. Bobber says:

    My one and only DC-10 flight was on CO from LGW-IAH, en route to MSY. Through a thunder storm. There and back – sweet.

  6. Chris says:

    KLM is flying the MD-11 from ATL to Dubai in September? Why is that? or is it going via AMS?

  7. WillinSacto says:

    My first DC-10 was on American from LAX-HNL. Loved it. There is something exciting seeing that 3rd engine mounted on the tail that screams: “This is a big airplane!” Also flew on a Continental DC-10 from Stapleton to Newark back in 1987. That was a great ride as well.

    Also loved the L10 as well. Flew that many times on Western, Delta, TWA and on Suntrips carrier, Ryan Int. to Hawai’i.

  8. slappy says:

    ahhhh, the DC-10

    flew them on NWA many time… DTW-AMS… DTW-MSP… even ten years ago it felt like i was flying in an antique…

  9. CF says:

    The Traveling Optimist wrote:

    By “commercially” you are referring to some form of passenger configuration, yes?

    Scheduled passenger config. World still has a couple of tri jets in charter config, I believe.

    Chris wrote:

    KLM is flying the MD-11 from ATL to Dubai in September? Why is that? or is it going via AMS?

    No, it’s going from Amsterdam to both Atlanta and Dubai, not between the two cities.

  10. Daren S says:

    I flew on the ex-BCAL DC-10s many times after BA acquired them during the late 80s and most of the 90s from LGW to various US cities. Had a great feeling of space inside and just loved the whine from those engines on approach. It was one of the only planes where you really noticed the power, the feeling of the G forces pushing you into the seat. Flew on an MD11 just once I think, AA flight from JFK-MIA. Flight was almost empty and the take off was unbelievably short! Sad to see it go, it is one of the most recognizable aircraft in the skies.

  11. Christophe says:

    “My first intercontinental flight was on an SAS DC-10 from LA to Copenhagen in 1985. Most of my other DC-10 flights were taking me to Hawai’i. (No wonder the memories are good.)”

    1985 ? I guess you were no even a teenager at that time ! I’m amazed that you still remember it !!!

  12. CF says:

    Christophe wrote:

    1985 ? I guess you were no even a teenager at that time ! I’m amazed that you still remember it !!!

    You’re right – I was just shy of my 8th birthday when we took that trip. But I was an airline dork long before that – it’s definitely not something I could forget!

  13. chris e says:

    I used to fly DC-10′s and MD-11′s on Garuda Indoneisa while growing up in SE Asia. Usually between Jakarta and DPS, as extensions of longer flights. Only MD-11 ride on DL was from ZRH-ATL in the mid 1990′s.

  14. Richard says:

    According to Flightstats, the KL YYZ route is operated by a combination of 747 & 74M

  15. A says:

    Last flight on a DC-10 was September of 2001 just days after they opened up the skies again. Was a RyanAir Int’l charter from MSP to LAS. Vegas was on sale big time and this was the cheapest flight. Still remember my friend (not an airplane dork like me) said, “this thing is huge, I could park my truck in here, like sideways.” He didn’t believe me that the plane was probably 20+ years old at that time.

    Do think the L1011 was a superior aircraft and actually have more fond memories of flying on that type with Delta for many years. Heard there might be someone in still Africa flying that type. Anyone know? Still, can’t discount the deep history that Douglas had. Wish that they could’ve made it on their own. Think how exciting plane spotting would be if we had a tri-opoly of major aircraft manufacturers today? The Boeing/Airbus world we have is just a little bit boring.

  16. Boeing/Airbus world we have is just a little bit boring…

    So here’s a challenge for all of us “dorks….”

    The 757 is no longer being built. Boeing is looking at stretching the 737 yet again according to rumor. The A320 has just about run its course as well.

    For all the geeks, dorks and road warriors out there….why not submit your OWN design for a medium-long range narrowbody?

    Assume the engines you’ll need are already in production or soon will be. Concentrate on configuration, seating density, target markets and don’t forget to make it powerful but nimble…has to be able to land at LaGuardia, take-off from Denver and have the range for Hawaii or at least Western Europe.

    Ready? Go.

  17. And don’t forget the aesthectics! Aerodynamics takes care of most of that but what would YOUR personal dreamliner look like?

    T-tail? 2, 3 or 4 engines? Wide-body? Narrobody? 767-type hybrid? Winglets?

  18. I’ve flown extensively on MD-11. Delta between LAX-TYO, old SwissAir between New Delhi to Zurich, and between Zurich to Los Angeles, among others. Swiss had wonderful first class layout (pre-bed). Seeing that bird in New Delhi was emotional. Good memories.

    Aloha, Jeff

  19. KeithL says:

    I used to fly United’s DC10′s from Chicago to Cleveland. I always thought it was interesting that they would fly that big an aircraft on that short a route.

    However, when returning to Chicago on Friday evening, the flight was ALWAYS packed with bunches of standbys.

    Now United flies nothing but RJ’s and one A319 a day on that route.

    How the world has changed!

  20. CF says:

    Richard wrote:

    According to Flightstats, the KL YYZ route is operated by a combination of 747 & 74M

    The M11 comes in 3x weekly at the end of March.

    A wrote:

    Heard there might be someone in still Africa flying that type. Anyone know?

    There are no L1011s in scheduled passenger service that I know of, but there are some for charter in places like Africa and the Middle East. The last scheduled one I remember was for Hewa Bora Airways out of the Congo, but that was put on the EU banned list and that pretty much killed it.

  21. JM says:

    I remember flying DC-10s on National Airlines as a kid during the 1970s.

    We flew LAX-Houston-Tampa. 1979, I think.

    Great post!

  22. Benji says:

    I thought it was “required” to fly Tristars to the Galapagos… that airlines could only fly there with a 3+ engine plane… so they were using that model… I dunno what TAME and Aerogal do now, but that’s what they were doing back in 2005.

  23. CF says:

    Benji wrote:

    I thought it was “required” to fly Tristars to the Galapagos… that airlines could only fly there with a 3+ engine plane… so they were using that model… I dunno what TAME and Aerogal do now, but that’s what they were doing back in 2005.

    I know they were flying 727s, but it’s now all 737s from what I can see.

  24. David SFeastbay says:

    Chris wrote:

    KLM is flying the MD-11 from ATL to Dubai in September? Why is that? or is it going via AMS?

    Starting Sept 6 ATL-AMS will be M11 3x a week with Airbus equipment the other 4 days. Same for their night flight AMS-DXB, it’s Airbus until Sept 5 then Sept 6 starts M11.

    Looks like they move service around by season or day of the week to have the right size aircraft where it’s needed.

  25. DRP says:

    First time I flew on a DC-10 was AA #73 CLE-LAX back in 1972. I’ve flown on the DC-10 a number of times on AA during the 1970′s usually in First Class. Did LAX-IAD three times (the return flight on two of those occasions was on the B-707) and the longest flight on DC-10 was BOS-LAX. I had 10 cokes on that flight. Last time I flew on a DC-10 was late 1986 ORD-LAX.

    I also flew the DC-10 a couple times LAX-SEA on Western “The Only Way to Fly” and Western called their DC-10′s “Spaceships” due to the spacious seating and back then the configuration in coach was 2-4-2.

    My father was captain for American Airlines and he ended up on the DC-10 and he retired in 1988.

  26. Chris M says:

    While I was with Eastern Airlines, we flew two DC-10s from MIA to GIG and EZE during their last foray into the southern tier of Latin America…Also Continental flew the DC-10 with a stand up bar; great fun on long flights.

  27. Chris says:

    David SFeastbay wrote:

    Chris wrote:
    KLM is flying the MD-11 from ATL to Dubai in September? Why is that? or is it going via AMS?
    Starting Sept 6 ATL-AMS will be M11 3x a week with Airbus equipment the other 4 days. Same for their night flight AMS-DXB, it’s Airbus until Sept 5 then Sept 6 starts M11.
    Looks like they move service around by season or day of the week to have the right size aircraft where it’s needed.

    Thats good to know, might have to try and catch a ride of one of those MD-11s coming to ATL.

  28. Bryan B says:

    @ KeithL:
    The first wide-body jet that I ever saw up close was around 1977 as a child. I was traveling with my mom and dad on UA from FNT-DCA. We had a connection in CLE, but because of bad weather in DCA, our connecting flight was cancelled. Our flight from Flint to Cleveland was continuing on to PHL, so they kept us on the plane so we could make a connection in PHL.

    I was disappointed that we weren’t allowed to get off the plane in CLE, but my disappointment soon disappeared when a huge United DC-10 “Friendship” pulled up to the gate next to ours. I remember just staring out the window at the DC-10. I was mesmerized by its size as I watched the crew unload the luggage. I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to someday fly on a DC-10; which didn’t happen by the way until 1989.

  29. Doug Swalen says:

    I would ammend your KLM list to include SFO because I’ve seen quite a few there over the past year. But not always.

  30. Oliver says:

    @ CF:

    CF wrote:

    Benji wrote:
    I thought it was “required” to fly Tristars to the Galapagos… that airlines could only fly there with a 3+ engine plane… so they were using that model… I dunno what TAME and Aerogal do now, but that’s what they were doing back in 2005.
    I know they were flying 727s, but it’s now all 737s from what I can see.

    I’m fairly certain I flew on a TAME A320 to the Galapagos.

  31. Oliver says:

    Doug Swalen wrote:

    I would ammend your KLM list to include SFO because I’ve seen quite a few there over the past year. But not always.

    I saw the KLM MD11 approaching SFO as recently as yesterday, and it should be back in about 15 mins.

  32. A says:

    The Traveling Optimist wrote:

    For all the geeks, dorks and road warriors out there….why not submit your OWN design for a medium-long range narrowbody?

    My eternal dream is that Lockheed someday get back into commercial aircraft. If the hole that Boeing left by killing the 757 leaves an opening for that to happen I’d be more than happy. Have always been a big fan of the concurrent development of the DC-10 & L1011. The history is truly made to order for an airplane dork. Maybe, just maybe, a big airline will someday send out another request to aerospace companies that will result in not one, but two great planes.

  33. Ron says:

    I believe the only DC10s I’ve flown were Northwest (4 transatlantic and 1 LAX–DTW). These were among the most cramped seats I’ve sat in. TWA’s L1011s, on the other hand, felt very spacious — then again, I only flew those when I was 11–12 :-)

    The smallest place I saw a DC10 was Lawton, Oklahoma, it was Omni Air International, presumably operating as a military charter. I believe these are still around.

  34. Omni and World both still run D10s for military charters. Any given day of the week you can see one boarding or broken at BWI where most transatlantic flights depart from.

    I’d love to see a plane competition like the D10/L10 again but not quite sure that will happen given development costs, skittish investors and economic doomsayers.

    The A321 is a direct competitor of sorts to the 757 except it doesn’t have ESOPS/Transatlantic range that I’ve heard about. Also the Tupelov Tu-204 is almost a direct copy (ahhh, the good ol’ Cold War espionage days still linger on) but who buys a Russian make outside of the former Soviet bloc?

    Yup… no one.

  35. David SFeastbay says:

    ORBIS The ‘Flying Eye Hospital’ uses a DC10.

    You can check out their website at http://www.orbis.org/
    you can even see a layout and photos of the inside.

  36. Greg says:

    I’ve always love the tri-engine planes. It’s probably influenced by a dozen trip on DL53/54 between ATL and HNL. I think the only DC-10 I flew was EWR-LGW (CL) and the only MD11 between ATL-AMS (DL).

    The tri-engines were special, dating back to the old Ford-Trimotor’s and Ju-24′s. I doubt we will ever see any mor tri-engine’s.

    I remember in 1982 getting a packets from TWA extolling the the values of the L1011 (I think it emphasized the 0/0 landing capabilities, but I was only 8, so I just liked the photo’s). What I would give to fly now on a 707/DC-8/L-1011/DC-10 or even a 727 (last time on that was Christmas 1999 BNA-ATL). I guess three in the cockpit and the extra fuel (on older less efficient power plants) make them too costly for mainline carriers to continue flying.

    At least flying out of ATL you can see N of the 26R/8L runway all the OAI and World Airlines charter DC-10 and MD-11 still sitting on the ramps ready to take some eager passengers on a 10 hours flight overseas.

    For my dollar, the L1011 was a more pleasurable flight ATL-HNL than the 767 any day…

  37. YO says:

    Only flew the 11 once, last minute non rev on SwissAir after AF bumped me at LAX. We pushed back, and rolled right into the hangar for 4 hours of repair work. Then we took off for ZRH, of course, no chance at my next flight, no hotel room given to a lowly non rev. I grabbed a beer and a couch and was on my way to PRG about 8 hours later…

    Not a real fan of the MD-11.

    Remember when AA had them, and dumped them on USAfrica? Boy, there was a great idea for an airline…

  38. Travelnate says:

    Don’t forget Boyd Vacations charters using Omni Air DC-10s (and occasionally 757s) between Las Vegas and Honolulu.

    Omni still has a handful of DC-10-30s and World Airways has a few DC-10-30s and MD-11s for charters…. so there’s a chance someone could still hop on one

  39. NM says:

    Greg wrote:

    I doubt we will ever see any mor tri-engine’s.

    There are still two trijets in production: the Dassault Falcon 900 and 7X.

  40. Lance says:

    Going back to visit my grandmother in the Midwest through the 80s, it seems like it was always a DC-10 on the SFO-MSP route. On Northwest … ding ding … Orient Airlines!

  41. Mike says:

    Don’t know if this counts, but last year I had the opportunity to fly aboard a FedEx MD-10F to accompany two Cheetahs from MEM to SMF. An interesting way to fly and FedEx’s Memphis Hub is impressive.

  42. CF says:

    Mike wrote:

    Don’t know if this counts, but last year I had the opportunity to fly aboard a FedEx MD-10F to accompany two Cheetahs from MEM to SMF. An interesting way to fly and FedEx’s Memphis Hub is impressive.

    Man, that counts double.

  43. Todd says:

    If you’re a soldier on active duty, you’ll have a good shot at riding on one of Omni Air International’s DC-10-30s from your local base to Kuwait City. For civilians, you have a good shot at riding one on a charter to a bowl game next fall or to catch a cruise ship in Europe this summer. Most of Omni’s DC-10s are ex-NWA and ex-Continental.

  44. coldtusker says:

    MD-11 also saw duty as a moist lease for Kenya Airways in summer of 2009 from AMS-NBO. AF-KLM is KQ’s sponsor (& largest shareholder) in SkyTeam.

    Quite a comfy plane & it did not show its age. Seats were comfy & better than the 767 that KQ usually uses on the AMS-NBO route.

  45. jordan says:

    I can count the few times Ive flown on DC10s. LGW-MIA on Laker Skytrain, yep…I was a kid! AA DFW-HNL-LAX and LAX-HNL-LAX. I also flew 4 trans atlantic flights on CO DC10s back in the mid 90s The one trip that stands out, was suppose to be an AA LAX-BOS flight Dec 1993, to connect me on to the BOS-LHR flight. Well an engine exploded in midflight right over Chicago. Everyone remained calm, all traffic into ORD was put on hold, and we were on the ground in about 10-15 minutes.

    They had the nerve to come on the PA at the gate to tell us, they would need a couple of hours to fix the engine, and then we’d be on our way to BOS. I GOT OFF THE PLANE!!; walked over to the ORD-LHR flight and made them give me a seat on that flight. Upon arrival at LHR, my bags had already come off the BOS flight (hah). I guess the broken DC10 made it back into the air to BOS! hah! or maybe they switched aircrafts at the last minute in ORD…. who knows!

    During the mid 90s, AAs flagship aircraft was the MD11. I always picked these flights over the 767-300s, since the former had a superior first class cabin! I pretty much lived on these planes, boarding about 4-6 trans atlantic flights a month for well over a year! It was a nice plane to fly on!

  46. gorewest says:

    Why was the DC-10 so popular for flights to Hawaii?

  47. David SFeastbay says:

    gorewest wrote:

    Why was the DC-10 so popular for flights to Hawaii?

    I would think because most of the airlines that flew to Hawaii had DC10′s in their fleet. AA,CO,WA,NW,UA all had DC10′s, NW and UA also used 747′s.

  48. Brian Lusk says:

    CF
    My one and only MD-11 flight was Delta’s very first revenue service on February 5, 1991. It was a second section from ATL to DAL and it was almost cancelled because all but one of the revenue pax noshowed. I was one of a group of about 20 nonrevs, and we had the run of the airplane. The aircraft (N892DL) was one of the two DL initially leased before receiving their own.

    As for the “Ten”, I flew on DC-10s all over the place including to LGW, HNL, ANC, SEA, LAX, and DFW on AA, CO, DL, and WA. Interestingly, these were all DC-10-10s except for a CO DC-10-30 between IAH and LGW.

  49. Kathy says:

    Ah, World Airways. I worked for World from 79 – 86, at the dawn of degulation. Lots and lots of memories there. World was actually 30 years ahead of its time on the philosophy of alternate distribution channels. When we first started up, World sold tickets through Ticketron (the predecessor of Ticket Master). Of course, the travel agency community rebelled, and we soon had to jump to a traditional reservation system.

    Those DC10s had a lot of stories in them, from the PATCO strike to the groundings after the AA crash. A flight attendant was crushed in the lift on of them, I think it was aircraft 104. They said her ghost was seen on the aircraft every now and then.

  50. Scott says:

    I too flew on an MD-11 from New York to Helsinki (to St Petersburg). Finnair service was great; in fact, I’ve always been pretty impressed with European air service. Maybe it’s just because they serve better beer, I don’t know. I will say, that nothing compares to flight from Chicago to Frankfurt on the then-new 777 business class.

  51. mrp alert says:

    Omni Air has daily charter flights running LAS-HNL-LAS on DC-10s. See http://www.boydvacationshawaii.com/charterpkgs/schedules.asp for their schedules.

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