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Sunday, September 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  Fair
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Why Northwest Airlines sucks

I was going to write this as a complaint to Northwest Airlines but decided to instead post it here for all the world to see, for several reasons.

First, I hate Northwest Airlines. Second, I am writing this at work and can't really justify spending my employers' time pursuing private grievances. Third, Northwest Airlines, which I hate, has one of those annoying Web pages for customer feedback that I don't want to deal with. (The nearest thing on "Choose menu" to what I was looking for -- "Why we suck" -- was "Comment on your travel experience.") Fourth, the folks at Northwest probably do Web searches for things written about their airline, so there's a good chance they'll see this after all. Fifth, if I wrote Northwest they might give me a voucher for free or discounted travel, which I don't want, because I hate them.

To be fair, I don't do a lot of airplane travel and I have no idea whether Northwest is manifestly worse than other airlines. For all I know, they all suck. And in fact, my specific grievance is over how Northwest Airlines lies, which I'm fairly certain is common among airline companies. (Once when I was coming back from Mexico, the airline -- I don't remember which -- claimed the flight was delayed because a blizzard had shut down the airport in Chicago, our destination. Passengers calling home on cell phones soon discovered that no snow had fallen there at all.)

On Saturday, I was heading home from Philadelphia, which had been pelted with freezing rain and snow all day Friday and into early morning. So before driving me to the airport, the friends I was staying with went online to see if the flight was delayed. Nope, the airline assured. Flight 1765 to Detroit was "On Time." We called and got the same information.

We drove to the airport on perfectly plowed streets and saw that the airport was also apparently plowed clear. I got to the gate around 8 a.m. for my 9:30 flight; the flight was still "On Time." The problem with this assurance was the conspicuous absence of a plane at the gate.

The flight time eventually got pushed back a half-hour or so amid announcements that a plane was on its way and we would be leaving shortly thereafter. Of course this didn't happen. The flight time kept getting pushed back and we continued to receive similar assurances.

Long story short: It was about noon before the plane arrived. After everyone was on, the pilot announced that it still needed to be de-iced, which he said would take about an hour, although I doubt anyone believed him. Obviously, the airline had known all along that the plane would not be leaving soon after it showed up.

The de-icing took another two and a half hours, most spent waiting in a line of planes needing the same. I suspect the long delay in boarding was because a large number of planes had to be de-iced and there was only one such station.

I got to Detroit about 4 p.m., more than four hours after my connecting flight to Madison. I also missed the 5 p.m. flight, standing in a humungous line of passengers seeking rebooking, staffed by a grand total of two employees. When my turn came I was polite -- it wasn't the workers' fault, I realized -- but a guy who showed up behind me was loud in his complaints. "Call security," barked the woman at the counter, shutting him up like a bullet to the head. Northwest Airlines doesn't take any crap from its customers, even though it treats its customers like crap.

I did get the 7:30 plane and made it home safe. It took more than 14 hours door to door for a journey that involved about three hours of flight time.

Please do not misunderstand. I know that weather conditions create challenges, and sometimes delays. Had the airline told its customers we would be long delayed due to the need for de-icing and inadequate facilities for same, we would have understood. Several of my fellow passengers made exactly this point. "Just don't lie to me," said one, as the departure screen and airline staff persisted in their series of false assurances.

And really, is that too much to ask? Why can't a company that purportedly values its customers and relies on repeat business do them the courtesy of telling the truth?

I know, if I continue to fly, I'll probably be lied to again. But never again, if I can help it, by Northwest Airlines.

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