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Delta’s first-ever Boeing 767 jet was bought for $30 million in 1982 with the help of employees and the public. See the historic plane’s full history.

The Spirit of Delta 767 in 1982.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 1982.

Delta Air Lines

  • Delta Air Lines just celebrated the 40th anniversary of its first-ever Boeing 767-200 aircraft.
  • The plane, dubbed the “Spirit of Delta,” was purchased by employees for $30 million in 1982.
  • The jet helped the carrier crawl out of hard times with its improved fuel efficiency and passenger comfort.
Delta Air Lines’ first-ever Boeing 767 has a unique story behind it.The Spirit of Delta 767.The Spirit of Delta 767.

Delta Air Lines

The carrier, like most others, was suffering from financial losses after President Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978.Jimmy Carter signing the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978Jimmy Carter signing the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978

National Archives

It used to be illegal for an airline to cancel routes the way Delta just took 3 cities off its flight list

This is partially due to increased competition from low-cost airlines, which could more easily enter the market thanks to the new law, and was exacerbated by the recession in the early 1980s.A 1968 photo of three flight attendants for Southwest AirlinesA 1968 photo of three flight attendants for Southwest Airlines, which was one of the budget carriers that rapidly expanded after deregulation.

Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images

Unfortunately, many of the once-great carriers didn’t survive the downturn, like Pan Am and Eastern Airlines. However, Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines were able to power through due to strong management and financing.Braniff International Airways Boeing 747.Braniff International Airways Boeing 747.

Tim Rees/Airliners.net

Source: The National Air and Space Museum, Photos show the glory days of Pan Am, a symbol of a bygone era of luxurious air travel before the airline went bust 29 years ago

But, that doesn’t mean they weren’t feeling a hole in their wallets. In 1982, Delta posted a $17 million annual loss — its first since 1957 — while United posted an operating loss of about $67 million.A United Airlines aircraft passes by a Continental Airlines aircraft as it taxis to takeoff from the runway of Ronald Reagan National Airport August 16, 2006 in Washington, DC.A United Airlines aircraft passes by a Continental Airlines aircraft as it taxis to takeoff from the runway of Ronald Reagan National Airport August 16, 2006 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Source: The New York Times, Aviation Pros

While most airlines opted to cut their workforce to cope, Delta, in a surprising move, actually decided to give everyone an 8.5% pay raise that year. Though, the carrier was criticized for its decision.Delta Air Lines pilots in the cockpit of a Boeing 747 in 1973.Delta Air Lines pilots in the cockpit of a Boeing 747 in 1973.

Delta Flight Museum

Source: Delta Air Lines

However, the criticism empowered three flight attendants — Diane Carvelli, Virginia (Ginny) Oxford, and Jean Owens — to give back to the company.Delta CEO Dave Garrett with the three Project 767 flight attendants.Delta CEO Dave Garrett with the three Project 767 flight attendants.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Air Lines

In September 1982, the women decided to buy Delta an aircraft as a symbol of gratitude.The Spirit of Delta 767.The Spirit of Delta 767.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Air Lines

To make this happen, over 18,000 employees donated at least 2.5% of their paychecks for one year, and donations were collected from retirees and local businesses.The Spirit of Delta 767.The Spirit of Delta 767.

Delta Air Lines

Source: The New York Times

In just three months, the flight attendants raised $30 million to pay for Delta’s first-ever Boeing 767-200, which was already on order when Project 767 started.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 1982.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 1982.

Delta Air Lines

Source: The New York Times

“We were amazed at how many people volunteered,” Carvelli said in a 2022 press release. “Delta people are special folks. Every department, every place—when they work together, they can do pretty wonderful things.”The Spirit of Delta 767.The Spirit of Delta 767.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Air Lines

Dubbed the “Spirit of Delta,” over 7,000 people, including employees, friends, family, and the media, unveiled the widebody plane in a hangar during a ceremony in Atlanta, and it soon became a workhorse for the carrier.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 1982.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 1982.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Flight Museum

“The Spirit of Delta galvanized our people during a difficult period in our company’s history,” Delta told Insider in a statement.Delta employees at the 767's unveiling ceremony in 1982.Delta employees at the 767’s unveiling ceremony in 1982.

Delta Air Lines

Speaking on how the 767 helped Delta during its troubled times, a spokesperson told Insider that the “pivotal aircraft” supported the recovery of the business…The Spirit of Delta 767.The Spirit of Delta 767.

Delta Air Lines

…and contributed to Delta’s “continued growth over the past four decades.”A Delta 767 brochure in 1982.A Delta 767 brochure in 1982.

Delta Air Lines

Specifically, the widebody plane helped develop the carrier’s “intermediate and transcontinental routes…”The Spirit of Delta in 2006.The Spirit of Delta in 2006 on its way to its retirement ceremony.

Delta Air Lines

…and offered an improved customer experience and 30% greater efficiency compared to older aircraft, according to the carrier.A collage of the aircraft's interior.A collage of the aircraft’s interior.

Delta Air Lines

Moreover, the plane’s cockpit was similar to the Boeing 757, which entered Delta’s fleet in 1984, so pilots did not have to undergo additional training to operate both types.Pilots and flight attendants on the Spirit of Delta in 1982.Pilots and flight attendants on the Spirit of Delta in 1982.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Flight Museum

During its 23 years of service, the Spirit of Delta flew about 70,700 hours and over 34,000 cycles, meaning one takeoff and one landing.The Spirit of Delta 767.The Spirit of Delta 767.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Flight Museum

Over the decades, the plane also sported several paint jobs to celebrate historic events, like the Atlanta Olympics in 1996…The Spirit of Delta 767 in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics livery.The Spirit of Delta 767 in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics livery.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Flight Museum

…and Delta’s 75th anniversary in 2004.The Spirit of Delta 767 in the company's 75th anniversary livery.The Spirit of Delta 767 in the company’s 75th anniversary livery.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Flight Museum

The Spirit of Delta retired in 2006 in its original 1982 livery after completing a two-week farewell tour, stopping in 12 cities along the way.The Spirit of Delta 767 being repainted to its original livery.The Spirit of Delta 767 being repainted to its original livery.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Flight Museum

A permanent exhibition was created for the 767 at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta that same year.Moving the Spirit of Delta 767 to its permanent home in 2006.Moving the Spirit of Delta 767 to its permanent home in 2006.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Flight Museum

Onboard, visitors will find most of the aircraft has been gutted and set up with displays of old flight attendant uniforms, pictures, posters, glassware, and other memorabilia.The Spirit of Delta 767 exhibit in Atlanta.The Spirit of Delta 767 exhibit in Atlanta.

Delta Flight Museum

Source: Delta Flight Museum

The items and information together tell the story of Delta’s first 767 plane and showcase the history of the airline’s jet age starting in 1959.The Spirit of Delta 767 exhibit in Atlanta.The Spirit of Delta 767 exhibit in Atlanta.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Flight Museum

But, the celebration of the historic Spirit of Delta doesn’t stop there.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 2006.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 2006.

Delta Air Lines

December 15, 2022, marked the aircraft’s 40th birthday. In honor of the jet’s legacy, company CEO Ed Bastian pledged $300,000 to the Delta Care Fund, which gives money to employees in need.The Spirit of Delta 767.The Spirit of Delta 767.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Air Lines

The goal is to raise $30 million — the same amount the flight attendants raised in 1982 to buy the first 767.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 1982.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 1982.

Delta Air Lines

Source: Delta Air Lines

Today, Delta has 77 Boeing 767s in its fleet and has operated all four aircraft types since 1982, including the 767-200, 767-300, 767-300ER, and the 767-400ER.Delta 767.Delta 767.

Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

Source: Delta Flight Museum, Planespotters

According to the carrier, the -200 and -300 versions were retired in 2006 and 2019, respectively, but Delta still flies the ER models.Flying on Delta's Boeing 767-300ER.Flying on Delta’s Boeing 767-300ER.

Taylor Rains/Insider

I flew on Delta’s Boeing 767 from Sweden to New York in economy and it was the best transatlantic flight I’ve taken in a long time

While the -300ER/400ER aircraft were on their way to retirement by 2025 as a result of the pandemic, Delta has since decided to be more flexible on the timeline.Flying on Delta's Boeing 767-300ER.Flying on Delta’s Boeing 767-300ER.

Taylor Rains/Insider

Source: Insider

“It’s hard enough to say what we’ll be flying in January, let alone what we’ll be flying in 2027,” Delta President Glen Hauenstein said during a November 2021 pilot webinar. “You don’t want to get yourself in a box where you’ve committed specifically to flying or retiring those planes.”Flying on Delta's Boeing 767-300ER.Flying on Delta’s Boeing 767-300ER.

Taylor Rains/Insider

Source: Airline Weekly

Although the carrier does plan to eventually retire its 767s, Delta is updating its -300ERs in the meantime.Delta 767-300.Delta 767-300.

Angel DiBilio/Shutterstock

Specifically, the upgraded “76K” layout will feature a new Premium Select cabin, as well as other improvements, like LED lights and adding power ports to economy.Delta Premium Select.Delta Premium Select.

Delta Air Lines

“Newer and larger versions of the Boeing 767 equipped with modern cabins and technology remain a workhorse for Delta’s fleet on transcontinental and transoceanic routes,” Delta told Insider.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 2006.The Spirit of Delta 767 in 2006.

Delta Air Lines

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