This week Finnair retired 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 Western, 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 experiences 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:
- Panama City
- St Maarten
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
- Hong Kong
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.