Delta retires first B767

This past weekend, Delta took its first B767 out of service after 23 years. Dubbed "The Spirit of Delta," the $30 million plane was purchased by Delta employees and donated to the airline in 1982 as an expression of their gratitude for the carrier's steadfast commitment to workers during a difficult period, including Delta's first loss in 35 years.

Fittingly, "The Spirit of Delta" will be given a permanent landing spot in the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum.

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Imagine that...a time when airline employees had the financial wherewithal and the goodwill toward their employers to take it upon themselves to make such a grand gesture.

Those were the post-Deregulation years, when it was becoming clear that the newly unleashed forces of competition would force the airlines to become leaner, meaner versions of their former selves. But no one could have foreseen the financial chaos that has roiled the industry for the past five years, much less the humbling and debilitating salary cuts workers would be forced to endure in the decades to come.

While hardly the intended effect, the commemoration is a vivid reminder that, as unpleasant as air travel has become for passengers, the most corrosive impact of the industry's ongoing restructuring has been on reservations agents, ticketing and check-in personnel, flight attendants, and other moderately paid workers.

Perky service? Maybe at JetBlue, where they've cherry-picked the young and the enthusiastic. But rarely from the so-called legacy carriers.

This isn't 1982, after all.

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