Forty years ago, United
landed their first 737. Tonight, they landed their last. The appropriately numbered United Flight 737
took off from LAX destined for San Francisco International and I was there for the festivities.
After securing a gate pass and going through the long security line, I found myself at LAX’s gate
70B. There they had a long table
set up against the window with some soft drinks and cookies
, mixed in between some old 737
photos. The gate was crowded, filled mostly with airplane dorks, including my buddy Brett Snyder
from CrankyFlier.com. Everyone
(including the pilots
) was taking pictures inside and out of the last 737
United would fly. They captured the departure board
and the information screens
. Some lucky United employees
who were granted runway access, got some memorable shots
of themselves sitting
on the engine or next to the wing with their colleagues.
When it was time to board, another pilot handed out 737 trading cards
and a number of United employees lined the area and clapped
for the First Class passengers, as they headed for the jetway.
In the past, most United frequent flyers (myself included) did everything we could not
to fly on the “Guppy.” Why? Because there wasn’t as much room (legroom, overhead compartments) as on the 747, 767, 757 or on the Airbuses. But we found ourselves aboard it often because the 737 was United’s workhorse.
United is retiring the 737 because it’s expensive to operate (fuel and maintenance). According to USAToday, “United Airlines President John Tague told employees in a memo that getting rid of the 737 would ‘dramatically simplify our fleet and reduce our maintenance liability, significantly cutting the future investment required to maintain a modern fleet at United Airlines.’”
I didn’t fly up the coast, which most passengers just did for the nostalgic ride but you can get the play-by-play on CrankyFlier.com
. Instead, I went home, ordered takeout and watched my beloved Yankees lose game one of the World Series.
This should give you some sense of the significance of the 737: I got to talking with a flight attendant who used his frequent flyer miles to take the last flight because he didn’t want to take the chance of not getting on flying standby (which would have been free for him) or forking out the $200 plus for the one-way flight.
It’s ironic that as United gets rid of their last 737, Southwest Airlines continues to order new ones. Southwest has almost 500 now and their whole fleet is comprised of only 737s. And guess what? Southwest is also one of the few airlines in the United States that’s actually making money.