The husband drove a Dodge Aries for nearly 300,000 miles, until it was rear-ended in what could only be considered a mercy killing. But Northwest Airlines could teach him a thing or two.
Northwest is flying 109 DC-9’s that are, on average, 34 years old. And while this is the most remarkable case, all the domestic airlines have been letting their fleets age as their economic recovery gets a foothold.
To some extent, older planes once tended to offer a roomier ride. But many of the biggest – the L-1011s and the 747s – have largely faded out of airline fleets. So riding on an older plane is less likely to be the equivalent of riding in Grandpa’s grand old Cadillac and more like riding in Uncle Louis’ beat-up Taurus.
Beat-up, but well-maintained. These older planes are considered safe, according to the New York Times, but not necessarily comfortable:
… the industry’s aging jets contribute to the general unpleasantness of air travel these days. They are often noisier and less comfortable than newer models.
They are delayed by mechanical problems more frequently than new planes and often have built-up grime in passenger spaces.
In a story last month, the Associated Press pointed out that Northwest has upgraded its international fleet and says it will start replacing its elderly DC-9’s in the next couple of years.
But the Times article also points out that very few of theheralded Boeing 787s and Airbus A380s on order will go to domestic airlines. While Boeing is having its second record-breaking year for orders, most of those planes will be flown by airlines outside the United States. To the extent that domestic airlines are replacing planes, the trend has been toward smaller regional jets.
The exception? Some of the newer airlines are flying newer planes – JetBlue, AirTran and Skybus among them. Among the majors, Southwest has the youngest domestic fleet. Continental’s fleet is only slightly older, but its newer planes are the bigger ones flying more international routes. Northwest has the youngest international fleet among domestic carriers.