Review: American Airlines MD-80 First Class St. Louis To Chicago

Review: American Airlines MD-80 First Class St. Louis To Chicago

While the MD-80 or Super 80 is the oldest plane in American Airlines fleet today, it’s one of my favorite. I’ve gone over my love affair with the MD-80 in the past, but essentially this was the first plane I remember flying on as a kid. The MD-80 took me all over the country when I was growing up. I’m definitely going to miss this aircraft in the future.

One thing I particularly love about the MD-80 is that the wings and engines are located toward the rear of the aircraft. This setup means the front of the cabin is extremely quiet, especially during the takeoff climb and throughout the decent. Also, since the wings are so far back, you have nearly unobstructed views of the ground below if you’re seated forward of the wings.

For my trip back to Chicago after Christmas break I was lucky enough to book an early morning flight on the MD-80. Then, thanks to my Executive Platinum status, I received an upgrade to first class approximately 100 hours prior to my scheduled departure. The flight left extremely early in the morning, but ended up being one of the most memorable flights of the year.

Arriving At St. Louis Lambert International Airport

St. Louis Lambert Airport isn’t exactly the thriving hub of days past, but it’s still a very iconic airport. In fact, this airport has served as the backdrop for a few feature films, including Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as well as one of my favorite films Up In The Air. The airport’s departures hall features high flowing ceilings designed by none other than Minoru Yamasaki, the same architect that designed the original World Trade Center.

St. Louis Lambert International Airport
St. Louis Lambert International Airport

The American Airlines check-in counters are located toward the east end of the terminal very near the escalators which take passengers downstairs to the security checkpoint.

St. Louis Lambert International Airport
St. Louis Lambert International Airport

The above photos are actually from a previous journey. My flight departed at 6AM the Wednesday following Christmas and the airport looked completely different. As I entered the departures hall at 5AM I had a hard time walking through the terminal. It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen the airport.  After navigating the crowded departures hall I went downstairs to the C gates security checkpoint.

When I reached the bottom of the escalator I discovered a security line of several hundred people. The line ended very near the beginning of the A gates security checkpoint.

Apparently the TSA K9 Unit was screening all passengers. This mean there were no TSA PreCheck lanes or Priority Access lanes. Instead, “all passengers [had] to pass the dog” per the TSA agent directing passengers.

Surprisingly, clearing security took just 30 minutes. Typically there is no line at Lambert and anyone with TSA PreCheck can expect to clear security in less than 5 minutes.

Boarding The American Airlines MD-80

Our flight departed at 6:05AM from gate C12 and was scheduled to board at 5:35AM. I reached the other side of the security checkpoint at approximately 5:30AM. Once past security I walked straight to gate C12 where I joined the queue of other First Class passengers waiting in the “Priority” boarding lane.

St. Louis Lambert International Gate C12
St. Louis Lambert International Gate C12

After a very short wait the gate agent introduced the flight and began the boarding process promptly at 5:35AM.

St. Louis Lambert International Gate C12
St. Louis Lambert International Gate C12

After scanning my mobile boarding card I proceeded down the jet bridge until I saw the familiar exposed aluminum aircraft with the red, white, and blue cheat line.

American Airlines MD-80 Boarding Door
American Airlines MD-80 Boarding Door

As I entered the aircraft I simply had to take a picture of the manufacturers plaque.

American Airlines MD-80 Plaque
American Airlines MD-80 Plaque

As this was the first flight of the day the interior of the aircraft was a bit chilly upon boarding, but warmed up quickly.

American Airlines MD-80 First Class Seat

While the American Airlines MD-80’s interior is quite dated there’s something so comforting and familiar about it when you get on board. The First Class cabin is comprised of 16 reclining seats in a 2-2 layout. The seats aren’t anything particularly special, but do offer passengers plenty of space and padding to easily survive the 45 minute flight from St. Louis to Chicago.

American Airlines MD-80 Seat
American Airlines MD-80 Seat

Located on the window or aisle armrest is a small lever which allows the seat to fully recline. The seat actually reclines quite far which makes the short flight even more enjoyable.

American Airlines MD-80 Seat
American Airlines MD-80 Seat

There is a small tray table located in between the two seats that also features a smaller retractable table for additional beverages.

American Airlines MD-80 Seat
American Airlines MD-80 Seat

A larger tray table is located in the aisle or widow armrest, but there was no reason to remove it for the 45 minute flight. The center tray tables proved roomy enough to accommodate the drinks of my seat mate and myself during the flight.

American Airlines MD-80 In-Flight Service

As this flight is only 45 minutes long there really isn’t a lot of time for flight attendants to serve beverages. Sometimes on these shorter flights the cabin crew aren’t as attentive as you’d expect, however that was on the case on this particular flight.

Shortly after boarding the flight attendant visited my seat to take my winter jacket and at that point offered pre-departure beverages. I ordered a water which arrived shortly thereafter in a plastic cup. Pre-departure service items were retrieved shortly before takeoff.

Once airborne the flight attendant once again stopped by to offer a full beverage service. As it was just 6:20AM I decided to order a water and a coffee.

American Airlines Water Glass
American Airlines Water Glass

The water arrived in a signature American Airlines branded glass while the coffee arrived in a generic white ceramic mug. I’m not sure if these plain white mugs are replacing the American Airlines branded mugs of years past, but I sure hope not.

Old American Airlines Coffee Mug
Old American Airlines Coffee Mug

Shortly after the drink service the flight attendant again circulated the cabin, however this time she carried with her a basket of assorted snacks. I opted for a small packet of cookies which paired well with my coffee.

A short while later the flight attendant returned to my seat to retrieve all of the service items from the flight. She then offered me another cup of coffee in a paper cup for landing which I gladly accepted.

American Airlines Paper Coffee Cup
American Airlines Paper Coffee Cup

At this point in the flight the sun began to rise as I stared out the window during our decent into Chicago.

Approach Into Chicago O’Hare International

As I stared out of the window I took in some of the most incredible views of Chicago that I’ve ever seen. There was something wonderful about the combination of the rising sun and the snow covered streets. At this point I’ll stop talking and let you enjoy a few photos from the flight.

Chicago O'Hare
Downwind Approach Chicago O’Hare
Chicago O'Hare
Downwind Approach Chicago O’Hare
Downtown Chicago
Downtown Chicago
Downtown Chicago
Window View Downtown Chicago
Downtown Chicago
Passing Downtown Chicago

Our approach into Chicago O’Hare international featured a sweeping turn that began directly over the Magnificent Mile and ended right over the Lincoln Park Zoo. Views like these remind me of why I love flying so much.

Arriving At Chicago O’Hare International

We landed a few minutes early which meant we had to wait for a gate. We taxied around the airport for a few minutes before settling into the Penalty Box to wait. Pro tip, if you find yourself crossing the taxiway bridges at O’Hare there is a good chance you’re in for a wait. We parked in the penalty box for about 5 minutes before taxing to the gate.

Once parked at the gate we exited the aircraft and entered to coldest jet bridge I’ve been on for some time. It was -15 degrees with the wind chill in Chicago when we landed.

As I walked through the terminal I arrived at the iconic Hall of Flags which was decorated for the holidays. You may recognize this hall from Home Alone.

Chicago O'Hare Hall Of Flags
Chicago O’Hare Hall Of Flags

Final Thoughts

I am absolutely not a morning person. Waking up at 4AM for a 6AM flight is not my ideal start to a day. However, I rarely mind getting up for a flight as I truly love traveling, no matter the distance. Also, there is something so special about flying into a sunrise. This flight was no exception. The morning views of Chicago were fantastic and this was a truly memorable flight.

Additionally, the cabin crew on this flight were excellent. You could tell the primary flight attendant loved her job. She was incredibly attentive and friendly throughout the flight.

This was my last flight of 2017 and it ended up being a special one. I’m not sure how many more chances I’ll have to fly on the MD-80. If you get a chance to fly on the aircraft before they’re fully retired, please take it as these aircraft won’t be around for long. Just don’t do it in the summer. MD-80’s are incredibly uncomfortable in the summer heat!

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