The McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 – end of an era

KLM MD-11On October 25, 2014 KLM will operate the last commercial flight of the MD-11 passenger jet. KLM has been the only operator of the last large passenger trijet since 2012, with four of its former MD-11 fleet of eleven planes still flying. All four MD-11’s are currently exclusively operating the Amsterdam-Montreal and Amsterdam-Toronto routes. Although once a pretty common sight at any major airport, only 200 MD-11 planes have ever been built, 53 of which in an all-cargo configuration.

As early as the 1970’s McDonnell-Douglas started developing a successor to its DC-10 trijet. But it wasn’t until 1990 that the MD-11 era eventually started, with the first flight of the first production model. That same year Finnair became the launch customer, quickly followed by Delta Airlines. However, sales of the new model remained behind expectation, due to lower-than-anticipated range and fuel economy performance. Competition from the successful Boeing 767 and Airbus A330 didn’t help sales either. After McDonnell-Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997, it was decided to stop selling the model. The last MD-11 passenger jet was delivered to Sabena in 1998, while the last freighter was delivered to Lufthansa Cargo in 2001. Nevertheless it became a popular aircraft for its passengers, due to a roomy cabin layout and its famous large windows. The four largest passenger MD-11 operators were Varig, Garuda Indonesia, Swissair/Swiss and Delta Airlines. All of these have long replaced the MD-11 with other, more modern jets.

My first flight on an MD-11 was on a Thai Airways MD-11 from Amsterdam via Zürich to Bangkok and back. Since then I have taken 13 flights on the MD-11, all over the world, covering just over 80,000 kilometers in 108 hours in total. I will have one more chance to fly the MD-11, when I visit Toronto in September 2014, a month before KLM ceases all MD-11 operations. Please follow me on a ‘virtual flight’, in this tribute to the MD-11.

MD-11 Thai Airways

My first flight on the MD-11 was on this Thai Airways HS-TME to Bangkok in February 1998. Note the large central video screen in front of the cabin and the large tray tables. This was the standard when flying in the 1990’s!


In May 2005 the PH-KCA (delivered in 1993) took me to Delhi in India. All eleven KLM MD-11 aircraft were/are named after famous women. Amy Johnson was a famous British pilot and the first woman to fly solo from Europe to Australia, in 1928.


In 2006 I flew KLM MD-11 PH-KCK ‘Ingrid Bergman’, still in its old livery, to Cairo.


The PH-KCK with the ‘old’ but very comfortable KLM World Business Class seats in 2006 (with my son).


Later in 2006 I got to fly the KLM PH-KCK once more, this time to San Francisco, where it is parked at the gate in this picture. Aircraft still in its old KLM livery.


The route from Amsterdam to San Francisco often overflies the Greenland ice sheet, a beautiful sight from the large windows!


When seeing the PH-KCK again in 2009, it had gotten a fresh new paintjob. The MD-11 was a common sight on the route to and from the Dutch East Indies. This time it took us to Curacao.


The roomy cabin and good inflight entertainment (modern for 2009 standards) made flying the KLM MD-11 a pleasure for all (including my son, again).


Especially the famous large windows were unheard of in other airliners. Until the introduction of the Boeing 787 of course. Nice detail: KLM will replace the phased out MD-11 planes with brand new Boeing 787-9 aircraft starting in 2015!


In 2011 this KLM MD-11 PH-KCB flew me home from Miami. The ‘Maria Montessori’ is one of the four MD-11’s still flying at the time of writing.


In July 2014 I boarded the PH-KCA ‘Amy Johnson’ for a flight to Montreal At the time of writing Canada is the only country in the world served by MD-11 passenger jets. The last flight on 25 October 2014 will be from Montreal to Amsterdam.


This sight will very soon only be seen in a museum. When asking, the crew didn’t seem to be too melancholic yet, four long (?) months before its retirement.


On our way out to the rainy Amsterdam runway we pass one of our sister ships, the PH-KCE ‘Audrey Hepburn’.


The aft part of the cabin of the PH-KCA, en route to Montreal. Still looks totally normal for a 21st century airliner, but it will soon be an experience of the past.


A panoramic shot of the aft part of the MD-11 cabin, en route to Montreal.


Landing a tail-heavy MD-11 is trickier than other widebody aircraft according to some pilots. From the passenger window this seems a perfectly normal landing at Montreal’s Pierre-Elliott Trudeau airport. One of the last ones though!


I hope we will long remember the MD-11 as the last of the big historic trijets. I also hope that not all will be scrapped, as currently planned, but that at least one will survive in a museum or otherwise visible to the public.

For the occasion of the last flight, KLM will publish a commemorative book ‘Farewell MD-11’. The book will be issued after the last flight in October 2014, but can be pre-ordered through the beautiful special KLM MD-11 last flight website already. Get your copy now!

You can read all about the story of the MD-11 on Kevin Stokes’ MD-11 website. On his website you can also find info on the last MD-11 flight from Montreal to Amsterdam, planned for 25 October 2014. My 14th and last flight on the MD-11 is now planned for September 2014, on a flight from Amsterdam to Toronto. I may update this post after that very last experience.

Please find my complete #avgeek flight history on my Flightmemory page.

3 thoughts on “The McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 – end of an era

  1. That’s a fascinating look back at the MD11 and your travels on the type Remco. It is a lovely trijet aircraft. You’ve inspired me to start keeping a detailed record of my flights so I can look back in a similar way!

  2. […] Montreal was the final destination of the McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 Passenger trijet. I flew on one of the very last flights of this aircraft model with KLM, from Amsterdam to […]

  3. Appreciate this post as I’ve always been a plane geek. Lots of interesting stuff I didn’t know and I’ll miss the MD-11 – think I only got to fly it once myself (if I remember right it was Amsterdam – Montreal in 1993).
    Frank (bbqboy)

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