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A Last Word about Northwest Airlines…

As Northwest Airlines officially disappeared this week (goodbye; goodbye NW code; goodbye Grovers Corners), I thought I’d re-print a column from last year when Delta announced Northwest was disappearing…

Delta announced that the Northwest Airlines brand will disappear by the end of 2010.  I’m fully aware that most airline brands become far more beloved once they’ve been gone for a while (Eastern?), but even so I always felt that Northwest was unfairly trashed.  Sure, they stranded those people on the tarmac for what, 7 hours, during a blizzard a few years back.  That wasn’t good.  But I think there are 5 things we didn’t fully appreciate about the airline:

1) Elite members always – always! – got upgraded.  I had silver or gold status with Continental for a few years and I frequently flew Northwest because I knew that I would absolutely always be upgraded.  While I was getting upgrades about 1/5 of the time on Continental, my butt was always in the not-particularly-comfy-but-certainly-better-than-coach first class section of a Northwest 757.  Those were good days.

2) They turned Detroit’s airport from a facility you’d expect in, oh, Tashkent into the best airport in North America.  For those of us who used to fly into, out of, or through Detroit, the transformation was like when I saw Mimi Doyle at my high school reunion.  I don’t remember her at all from high school, but damn did she get hot (that’s for you, Mike J).

3) The DC-9s.  I don’t know why everyone complained all the time about these ancient workhorses (maybe the 30″ pitch in coach?), but, since frequent flyers were always upgraded we were treated to a nearly silent flight up front, since the engines were about 35 rows behind us.

4) Cash and Miles.  They were the only airline in the US (that I’m aware of – feel free to correct…maybe Alaska had this?) that frequently offered a cash and miles deal for flights.  It was a nice way to get rid of orphaned miles you had in your account and get to Europe pretty cheaply.

5) Al Lenza.  This is completely inside baseball, so I know that just about no one will care:  When I worked for Jupiter writing about online distribution, I learned about Al — he headed up distribution for Northwest.  He was a constant thorn in the side of the GDSs (the technology that agencies use to sell airline tickets).  Why does this matter?  GDSs are slow to change, and they used to charge the airlines a fortune for their services.  Al was in many ways responsible for the shift to online sales, which is how you buy your tickets now.  Was he completely responsible?  No.  But his constant harassment and annoyance about distribution fees helped build the market for online distribution and changed how we buy airline tickets.

Anything you’ll miss about Northwest?

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  1. There are a lot of things I will miss about Northwest Airlines. I agree with you that I think that NWA was unfairly bashed. Everyone has had a bad experience on almost every airline out there but Northwest was the one they talked about. NWA had the most experience in international travel of any of the US legacy carriers. That experience showed in great service from a dedicated staff. I recall the old “Regal Imperial” service they flew many years ago across the Pacific. Multiple carts with caviar in an ice mold, salad tossed seat side, choice of 3 entrees, fruit & cheese, ice cream sundaes, etc.

    I’ll miss seeing rows and rows of red tails lined up side by side in Detroit, Tokyo, or Minneapolis. Farewell Northwest Airlines.

  2. Being from Detroit, (Dearborn…. whatever) I agree that it will be strange not seeing all the NWA planes. Also in the late 90′s I was back and forth to Osaka very often. Always sitting upstairs on the 747-A400, I thought the service was excellent (no caviar) and the cabin comfortable albeit dated. Question: Does Delta do the “around the world” tickets as NWA used to? It used to be very close to the same price for a business class ATW ticket as a round trip DTW to Osaka. I saw a lot of places I otherwise wouldn’t have if not for that.

  3. Hey Joe Z,

    I know a lot of things you did in Osaka that you wouldn’t have otherwise done…oh wait, yes – you would’ve done those things.

    All of the alliances have around-the-world tickets, so you aren’t restricted to just Delta. Skyteam (of which Delta is a part) is probably the worst option for around the world due to their limited selection of airlines, but yes – you can still buy a ticket like that (though you’re a daddy now, so you won’t)…

  4. What will I miss? My wife saying “I can’t believe they put NWA on that airplane” whenever a Northwest jet taxied by our aircraft.

  5. It’s an old post, I know, but having spent the last 5 days trying to get my spouse home from AMS (S2 priority) I found myself shouting “I hate Delta!” So I googled that (as you do :-) and found this blog. I hope I’m not just being sentimental, but I miss those red tails enormously. I’m from DTW, transplanted to MSP, so perhaps I’m biased- but truth is, Delta (bankrupt absorbed NWA, (solvent), – how does that bode well?- and is hell bent on repeating its own bad business practices! Pruning flights, erasing hubs, working employees ruthlessly. And, let’s face it, NWA’s planes may it have been new, but Delta’s are butt ugly.! Grrrrr

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