Thursday, February 03, 2005

February 3, 2005
Trip Date: January 3, 2005


Happy New Year, seems like only yesterday it was the start of 2004 and already it is Ground Hog Day and we can look forward to 6 more weeks of wintry weather.

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Every now and then something occurs in the aviation industry that demands us to stop and take a look. Continental retiring their MD-80s is one such event. Here is the account of the last scheduled revenue service of such an airplane.

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I had read on my online aviation newsgroups that Continental’s MD-80 would have its last scheduled revenue flight on January 3, 2005. I really wanted to take that ride and as it turned out, I was able to pull it off.

I had taken a trip to London on the day after New Year’s Day and was scheduled to return on January 3, 2005. I was trying to fly directly into Dallas/ Forth Worth from London, but the British Airways (BA) flight would not work out as it was quite full and the American flight would have proved too expensive. Instead, I opted for the Continental flight to Houston and then take another Continental flight up to Dallas. This combination worked well until we were delayed arriving into Houston due to strong headwinds that day.

Houston-George Bush Intercontinental, Houston Texas (IAH)

Eventually, my ten hour and thirty-four minutes flight from London-Gatwick, England (LGW) arrived in Terminal D and taxied to our gate, after a few minutes of waiting, we were chocked and the deplaning process started.

It took about twenty minutes to clear immigration and then another few minutes to clear customs. I now had less than an hour to get to the gate in Terminal E. Since I was already checked in, I went straight to the gate using the new walkway between the two Terminals. This saved me a ton of time; at least fifteen minutes as walking from terminal D to E is no small feat in Houston Intercontinental.

At the gate I met a few co-workers who were also taking the flight. It was thirty minutes to the hour and standby seats were not yet distributed, so I chatted with them about our journey and my recent trip as well as how they had spent their New Year celebrations.

Since I realized that we were delayed for a few minutes, I took the opportunity to load my wireless card, then connected to the Internet by going to the nearby Presidents Club. I had tried to connect in Gatwick earlier that morning, but the networks were down so I was unable to do so.

In a few minutes, I was caught up and ready to go. By the time I got back to the gate, the agent had started clearing everyone, so I collected my Economy boarding pass and boarded.

Boeing Douglas DC9-82 (N72821)
Houston-George Bush Intercontinental, Houston Texas (IAH) to Dallas/ Ft. Worth, Dallas Texas (DFW)

This flight had actually filled up to about an 82% load factor with a full First Class cabin and about 8 standbys all in Economy. We had an uneventful taxi and takeoff and leveled off at about 29,000’. We were served beverages of choice and some peanuts as we headed on our way.

Our flying time was a quick forty-three minutes and we landed in Dallas/ Ft. Worth without incidents and any further delays.

Dallas/ Ft. Worth, Dallas Texas (DFW)

We had a short taxi to the gate, at which time I ensured that myself and the other four guys were the last to deplane. This enabled us to chat with the crew and take a few pictures ( The crew was really nice and actually excited that we took the time to come fly with them. It was the Captain’s second to last career flight and he seemed pretty pleased with how it went. He was now ready for the historic return flight. A fitting way for an MD-80 Captain to retire, I thought.

We were lucky to be escorted onto the ramp for some additional pictures as well. While photographing the airplane, I was fortunate to get a few shots an ATA Airlines (TZ) Boeing 737-800 w/ winglets as well as an American Airlines (AA) Boeing 737-800 taxiing by. I also saw the new DFW Terminal train doing some proving runs. That train will be a life saver as the current system is outdated and does not work well.

We then exited the ramp to the concourse and I then went to the Presidents Club to relax before the departing flight. As I was settling in, one of my co-workers called me to find out if I was taking the last MD-80 flight which I acknowledged; he was more excited than I was.

Soon it was time for boarding, so I left the Club and headed for the gate area, a short five minutes walk away. At the gate I met up with the others once more and also saw a DC-9 captain from Northwest Airlines. As it turns out, his flight was cancelled due to an equipment problem and he was hitching a ride to Houston on our flight. He was thrilled to find out that it was the last flight of the Continental DC-9-82.

After initial greetings and some small talk about airline schedules, we all boarded and settled in.

Boeing Douglas DC-9-82 (N72821)
Dallas/ Ft. Worth, Dallas Texas (DFW) to Houston-George Bush Intercontinental, Houston Texas (IAH)

I went and took some pictures of the interior as this was the last I’d see of it forever (at least with a Continental interior). I also met another aviation fan who was along for the final ride as well. My taking pictures inspired him not to be shy so he took out his camera and snapped away. We had about a 42% load factor for this historic flight. It is Interesting that the majority of passengers had no clue that they were flying into history.

Soon, the doors were closed and we pushed back after a short delay. The weather was starting to get a little bad (rain) as we waited our turn for the runway. This took a little longer than I expected, but eventually we were airborne into the rainy skies. I took the time to catch up on my reading material and take a few pictures; despite the inclement weather.

We were served beverages in the dimly lit cabin as our historic flight continued. The captain came on the PA and announced that we had slowed down as the weather in Houston was bad and Air Traffic Control was spacing out the arrivals. I had wondered earlier why we were going so slow, but did not mind it as I had no pressing engagements that day and was enjoying the ride anyway.

The captain came on again and said we were going to circle for a while as air traffic was building up in Houston. Well, soon we were able to land and we did so, on runway 8. This of course made for a long taxi, but again who cared.

Houston-George Bush Intercontinental, Houston Texas (IAH)

As we approached the gate, the Captain made an announcement that this was the last flight of the airplane and that the airplane would be sprayed with water from the local fire trucks as a mark of respect. As I looked out the window, I could see the trucks waiting on both sides of the gate. As we pulled into the gate, the powerful jets sprayed us with gallons of water. It was really cool, but since the windows were wet, I was unable to get any pictures.

I waited for all the passengers to leave and then congratulated the crew on my way out, especially the Captain on his retirement. He had only flown Douglas equipment commercially since he started his career; how cool.

I later found out that we were actually going to divert to Austin, TX (AUS) as we were running low on fuel and was almost at that decision point and then at the last moment we received clearance into IAH. Wow.

I then headed to the parking lot with one of my friends who had made the trip with me. It was good to recount his feelings about the trip and we were both obviously elated.

In about 45 minutes or so we arrived downtown via US59. I then took the bus home and arrived in about ten minutes. A perfect end to quite an eventful day; thank you Mr. McDonnell and Mr. Douglas, for a fine piece of machinery that is still flying today with other airlines.

You can view pictures here:


None this week, but please feel free to send me a question if you have one.

Dallas, Texas

Continental Airlines (CO)



Dallas/Ft. Worth International, Dallas Texas (DFW)

Flight # Date Routing Aircraft Type Distance (miles) Aircraft Registration
CO315 03JAN IAH – DFW DC-9-82 224 N72821
CO714 03JAN DFW – IAH DC-9-82 224 N72821

Total Air Miles: 448

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