Out with the old, in with the new: The cycle of airline changes

A collection of United 747s at SFO in October 2014


What a weekend!

The past few days have seen an airline die and aircraft types retire. For many that means memories of past adventures and longing for “the good ol’ days.”

Air Berlin is gone

KLM Retired the Fokker

United’s final commercial 747 flights landed


Brussels Airlines retired its Avros

But this weekend is also a time of renewal for airlines. New routes are launching.

New aircraft types are entering fleets (I’ll be on one tomorrow!).

Airlines are shifting operations at terminals.

And one airport is opening a massive, brand new terminal, with 9 airlines making the move.


That’s a lot of change coming all at once. And while some of it is simply convenient timing (SIN T4, AB collapse) there is a very real reason so many changes happen in commercial aviation on the last week of October: It is the end of the IATA Northern Summer Season.

IATA splits the year in half, switching seasons in March and October. For airports that have slot controls the IATA seasons matter a lot. Slots are allocated and renewed for each season (Monarch’s recent bankruptcy reportedly has its slots – the primary fungible asset remaining – in jeopardy) and airlines key their operations to meet those schedules. So when a carrier wants to launch a new route to or from a slot-controlled airport there are two primary dates that happens. This weekend is one of them.

And it happens pretty much every year, though this year certainly is seeing a ton of changes, many of them more significant than in years past. Still, when KLM retired the MD-11 from service three years ago it was on this weekend. When the 747 stopped flying to St. Maarten it was this weekend.

And more change typically comes in October than in March. Summer is a busier season so airlines ramp things up then. Heading into the winter is when things slow down and planes are retired. It is a cycle that runs year after year and won’t likely change any time soon.

Which is good, because I love all of it. The nostalgia and the new are both spectacular.


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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.