Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Northwest Airlines or North "Worst" Airlines

I've traveled back and forth to Washington DC countless times over the past 25 years, but my recent trip -- which isn't completed yet as I sit delayed in the Minneapolis airport -- was my first (and last) trip using Northwest Airlines. The trip started out wrong on Sunday, December 14th when we were delayed leaving Boise by over an hour and a half.

Why?

Well, the flight was the first of the morning meaning the plane needed to be de-iced due to an overnight storm that lightly blanketed Boise with our first real snow of the year. Northwest -- despite the implications of the company name which suggests an understanding of winter weather in the winter -- ran out of de-icer and had to borrow some from another airline. The resulting delay caused me to miss my connecting flight in Minneapolis causing me to miss a business dinner that evening which was a major reason for the trip.

In addition, having flown primarily on Southwest (where customer service is paramount) and United (which at least seems cognizant of reasonable boarding procedures) both of which have orderly and logical boarding down to a science, I was stunned to participate in my first Northwest Airline boarding process which essentially meant special fliers (participants in a myriad of feel-good and great sounding clubs) got to board first and then, I kid you not, the announcement immediately after special boarding that "we are boarding all rows" caused a stampede. The boarding was chaotic with no thought about the logic of boarding from the rear of the plane first. If we were late before, we were later then.

Fast forward two days for my return. The Northwest Terminal at Reagan National Airport should be a clue because it hasn't been upgraded since Ronald Reagan starred in the "GE Theater." I languished in the 1950's era terminal for a while, and was a bit optimistic that the poor boarding process I experienced on the original flights wasn't common. The gate agent after announcing the incomprehensible list of special privileged boarders, did indicate the rest of us riff-raff would board by row. Of course, because so many people had already boarded in a hap hazard manner, the wait to get seated was about 15 minutes due to people spread throughout the plane and aisles with little organization. With frustrated passengers still coming aboard, the airline actually announced the plane was ready to depart. Better boarding procedures would have helped.

Late leaving DC as a result of Northwest's incomprehensible boarding process, we arrived in Minneapolis a bit late as well but at least in time to make my connection. I shouldn't have worried about missing my connection, because, you guessed it, Northwest was late again.

The board showed an on-time departure for quite a while. Ultimately, as the boarding time approached, a nonchalant Northwest Gate agent strolled to the podium carrying a Subway sandwich. The time was changed on the board, but he gave no reason. In fact, he sat down, munched on his sandwich, read USA Today, and sighed as he reluctantly approached the podium to answer a customer question. Immediately after that he sat down again, and spent nearly 15 minutes on his cell phone while customers approached the podium, started at him expectently, and finally walked away.

He finally made an announcement that the flight would be delayed because a pilot was delayed and would be arriving in time for a departure 25 minutes later than originally scheduled.Then the agent, left the podium, walked across the concourse, sat in a secluded area, and finished his sandwich as people stood in line at his podium.

Several minutes later -- about 10 minutes ago as I type this -- he announced the delay would be longer because the pilot wasn't just delayed. The pilot wasn't going to make it, and evidently alternative pilots were coming.

And so I sit in Minneapolis at a Northwest gate with nothing but a WiFi connection, a laptop, my frustration, and my blog to keep me company.

We will see, and I will update this blog post with the final chapter.

As it is, I guarantee my first Northwest Airlines experience was one of my worst flying experiences, and it will be my last Northwest experience.

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