A Page Turns.....On August 19, 2008, I got this email from Alaska Airlines
Retirement of the MD80 Fleet at Alaska Airlines
as told firsthand by my friend Capt. Jeff Johnston
Magadan, Russia, to Mazatlan Mexico, and all points between, the "Mad
Dogs" helped make Alaska Airlines what it is today during their 23
years of service. As we bid farewell to the MD-80, we salute our Alaska
Airlines crews and the customers who flew with us along the way. Our
last two MD-80 flights take place on August 24, 2008. Flight 331 will
depart San Jose at 7:50 p.m. and Flight 363 will depart Sacramento at
8:20 p.m. There are still seats available if you'd like to join us for
this historic moment as we transition to an all Boeing 737 fleet! Book Now.
luck would have it, my friend Jeff Johnston, is an MD80 Captain with
Alaska, and would fly that day. The following is his
description and photos of the eventful day.
last Sunday (the 24th of August), the MD80 was officially retired at
Alaska Airlines. I may have told many of you that it was my
intent to ride the MD80 to the bitter end (think Slim Pickens'
character riding the H-bomb down in the final scene of Dr.
Strangelove), figuratively speaking, of course. Well, we
missed being THE
very last revenue MD80 flight by 10 minutes, which made us the
MD80 flight at Alaska. In the words of Maxwell Smart, "Missed
it by that
much!" Our flight, Alaska 331 (aircraft N972AS), SJC-SEA
24AUG2008 blocked in to Gate C18 in Seattle at 9:52pm. Flight
363 SMF-SEA blocked in to Gate C12 at 10:01pm.
kicker...it wasn't even supposed to be my flight.
a Reserve Pilot at Alaska (meaning I fly when someone calls in sick
or a trip needs covered for someone on vacation), it was purely a
fluke and luck-of-the-reserve-draw. On the evening of the
23rd, I received a call from scheduling who proffered me Pairing 8045
(SEA-SJC-SEA). The reason: Captain Dave "Too Tall"
Mendenhall had been removed from the trip due to a 30 in 7 problem (a
flight-time regulation preventing him from flying more than 30 hours
in a 7 day period). I'm not sure how many captains had already
turned down the trip by the time they called me.
reason I had the 25th in my head as the last day of MD80 scheduled
flights (Scheduling wasn't sure either) and I almost turned down the
trip myself. After a brief moment, I decided to take the trip,
though, because I thought I might not get another opportunity to fly
the MD80 before it rode off into the proverbial sunset. It was
not until reporting to Gate D3 in Seattle at the beginning of the
trip that I learned our two flights were part of the official "Last
the distinction of being THE last MD80 flight into Seattle was
offset, somewhat, by our being THE last MD80 departure out of San
Jose, CA (SJC). In addition to the SJC agents and ground
personnel making us feel like rock stars, the airport fire department
gave us the dual firetruck water arches normally reserved for
On the ramp in SJC prior to Alaska Airlines Flight 331 (L-R): First Officer Michael Wilson,
F/A Dana Sorenson, F/A Marty Berthiaume, F/A Cynthia Hawkins, and me (if you couldn't tell -
hey the camera adds 10 pounds - and yes, I had quite a few cameras on me)
Why is this man smiling? No 737 training until December 1st.
Taxiing to Runway 30-Right via taxiway Zulu-Foxtrot-Alpha.
Making the right turn onto taxiway Foxtrot while barely getting my window closed in time.
"Can we get the Premium Wash and Wax?"
The last MD80 climbs out from SJC into the proverbial sunset.
Sacramento climbing through Flight Level 300 (30,000 feet) on our way
to FL340, we called Sacramento Operations on the company frequency to
check on the status of Flight 363. Captain Bob Carlson chimed in and
told us they were just about to push back from the gate, which meant
they would in fact be behind us (I'm betting they waited until they
found out we were airborne). He and First Officer GC Harris ended up
being 80 miles behind us the entire way to Seattle and blocked in only
9 minutes behind us.
Our crew after our arrival in Seattle.
A commemorative certificate handed out to our passengers.
is still the chance that a few of the MD80's could be used as equipment
substitutions (if a 737 or 737 crew is unavailable) through the end of
the month, but Sunday was the last of the scheduled flights. The
remaining airplanes will be ferried to the boneyard in VCV
(Victorville, CA) - most of them going this week - where they will be
put in long-term storage. After September 1st, the MD80 base in SEA is
officially closed and I'm a man without an airplane until trained on
the 737. I will be officially assigned to the 737 in SEA as a captain
on September 1st, but don't start training until December 1st due to
classroom capacity issues in having to retrain all the MD80 pilots.
MD80 Farewell Party on Thursday August 28th, Alaska will also unveil
our newest Boeing 737-800 called "The Spirit of Seattle" sporting a new
paint job (I guess it's not really too much of a surprise as the photo
below was downloaded off of airliners.net). The paint job commemorates
our transition to a true, all-Boeing fleet (either that, or we've just
been bought by Boeing - just kidding)."
Happy (con)trails, MD80! Jeff
Capt. Jeff Johnston
MD80 B-737 SEA
The 737-800 that replaced the last of the MD80s - named the Spirit of Seattle, and painted in Boeing Company colors.
Alaska Press Releases
Alaska Airlines Transitions to All Boeing 737 Fleet
Unveiling the "Spirit of Seattle"
Alaska Airlines has bid farewell to the MD-80 after a quarter century of service. On August 28, the last
retired from the fleet and the airline welcomed a new 737-800. The
aircraft was adorned with the striking blue-striped livery of The
Boeing Company along each side of the plane and, of course, the
carrier's proud Eskimo on the tail.
Named the "Spirit of Seattle," the aircraft symbolizes the valued,
longtime business relationship between Alaska Airlines and Boeing.
With this transition, Alaska Airlines now operates one of the
youngest, most technologically advanced fleets in the industry. The
benefits of this newer fleet include better reliability, increased
passenger comfort, and significant improvements in fuel consumption and
Alaska Airlines Completes Transition To All-Boeing Fleet
New "Spirit of Seattle" Boeing 737-800 revealed today as last MD-80 retires
8/28/2008 2:05 p.m.
SEATTLE — Alaska Airlines today completed its transition
to an all-Boeing 737 aircraft fleet with the retirement of
its last MD-80 series airplane, part of a two-year plan to
increase the airline's operational efficiency and improve
"With the last of our MD-80s retiring today and scheduled
deliveries of additional new Boeing 737-800s this year,
Alaska Airlines now operates one of the youngest, most
fuel-efficient and technologically advanced fleets in the
industry," said Bill Ayer, Alaska's chairman and chief
executive officer. "Our all-Boeing fleet will make a major
difference in customer comfort, fleet reliability and
operating costs, at a time when it matters most."
The 737-800 burns 850 gallons of fuel per hour, versus 1,100
gallons per hour by the MD-80. A common fleet type also will
result in lower costs for maintenance, training and flight
As the airline's last MD-80 circled Washington state's Mount
Rainer in a symbolic final flight, it was joined in the sky
by a newly delivered and specially painted Alaska Airlines
Boeing 737-800 airplane, dubbed the "Spirit of Seattle" in
tribute to the airline's now all-Boeing fleet and unique
hometown partnership with the airplane manufacturer.
"Your newest Next-Generation 737, with its commemorative
livery, is symbolic of our great working together
relationship," said Mark Jenkins, Boeing 737 vice president
and general manager. "Boeing is committed to Alaska
Airlines' success, and we're proud to be your hometown
The 737s are equipped with the most advanced safety and
navigation systems. Chief among them is Required Navigation
Performance precision approach technology and Head-up
Guidance System, which allows takeoffs and landings in
low-visibility conditions. Alaska's 737s also are equipped
with Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, which alerts
pilots of ground obstacles.
The airline has firm commitments for an additional eight
Boeing 737-800s through 2008, which will bring its fleet to
116 Boeing 737 aircraft. That compares to 26 MD-80s and 110
total aircraft at the onset of the airline's fleet
transition in 2006.
Alaska Airlines acquired its first MD-80 aircraft,
manufactured by Long Beach-based McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft,
in 1985, and once operated 44 of the jets. The MD-80, with
its larger fuel tanks for extended range, was the
cornerstone of the airline's expansion up and down the West
Coast, as well as into Mexico and the Russian Far East
during the 1980s and ‘90s.
Pictures and text courtesy of Capt. Jeff Johnston and
Copyright 2008 Robert A. Bogash. All
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