Northwest Airlines Gives Travelers Nightmares

During the last few weeks we have done more flying than I had ever thought possible, but the layovers and cancelations were enough to drive a sane person crazy. One flight in May, using American airlines was delayed by weather and was therefore understandable but since then several flights by other carriers have been canceled or delayed due to overbooking, crew shortages, and plane mechanical problems. One flight was actually run on schedule but had no air conditioning, causing my seatmate, an elderly lady with a pacemaker, to actually become ill.

However, while all the major airlines appear to be causing passengers an equal amount of grief resulting in booming business for airline concessioniers, Northwest cancellations seem to top them all. Within this airline pilots are blaming management for poor scheduling while the carrier itself is attempting to place all the blame on bad weather. However, no matter what the reason, Northwest has canceled more than 850 flights in the last week alone, mostly because of crew shortages that management blames on disrupted work schedules from past bad weather.

According to tracker FlightStats, Northwest on Monday canceled 10.9% of its 1,409 scheduled flights through 5 p.m. ET. That was, however, an improvement from Sunday when it canceled 14.2%, or 10 times the normal cancellation rate of the big airlines during good weather.

Compare its rate to Delta, Continental, or United, with a cancellation rate of under 1% on Monday and American and Southwest a rate of just under 2.5% and one will think twice before booking on Northwest. Northwest, of course, immediately hit the defensive claiming that the cancelation rate in recent weeks was due to severe weather in the East and Midwest that caused increased crew duty time and the inability to consistently position aircraft and crews as needed. Given this it is little wonder that if one figures 125 passengers per plane that more than 100,000 travelers had their Northwest flights canceled this past week. For business travelers and those who needed to return to work this may have increased the cost of their plane ticket two-fold.

I know from personal experience, having looked anxiously ahead for my flight, last Tuesday, United subjected us to numerous delays before finally canceling our flight. This frustration was increased, however, as I was then forced to stand in an hour long line hoping to be one of the fortunate ones to get on a later flight. However, this was nothing compared to a fellow traveler who had already been subjected to a plane cancellation on Sunday only to find herself still unable to get home.

So while Northwest insists that it is relaxing ticket restrictions and reservations staffing to deal with the situation the Airline Pilots Association said that Northwest’s management should have foreseen the end-of-the-month crew shortage. This has resulted in a vote of “no confidence” from the union in the carrier’s management practices, after its failure to recall 396 pilots who remain on layoff.

An additional problem that may cause concern among travelers according to Monty Montgomery, head of ALPA’s communication committee, is the airline’s scheduling of pilots. Apparently, Northwest is currently requiring its pilots to fly at the monthly limits set by their contract and by federal safety regulations making for crews that may not be as sharp in the air as they need to be. Overall, as of last week, statistics show that between Friday and Monday Northwest had the largest number of canceled flights which day ranging from a low of a 7% cancellation rate to a unbelievable 14.2% while United over that same period was forced to cancel a maximum of .9% on any single day.

[tags]Northwest Airlines, airline cancellations, United airlines, Traveler’s delays, pilots, crew shortages, travel nightmares, FlightStats[/tags]

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  • ShadowMyth

    Southwest is what our family uses, and we have had very good luck. The prices are right, we have had no hassles, they work with you in a crunch, and they let you take on 3 bags of luggage before being charged extra. No matter what airlines you use though, always pay the extra for insurance…just in case you have some king of change occur. This way you will always be able to get a refund, or make changes in your flight plans.

  • reflections

    Dear ShadowMyth

    Thank you for your information. I have only become a somewhat regular traveler on airlines in the year or so and I had never heard of an extra insurance that you could buy. I will look into it.

    Please forgive my late response to your post. I have had surgery but now should be able to keep up with my postings.

    Have a nice day. Jackie

  • At

    Since I am from Minneapolis-St. Pau area which is Northwest Airlines
    home base we have renamed the airline Northworst way back in 1985. As you can see nothing has changed, employees are unhappy, many
    people I know gave concessions to keep their jobs and when the financial situation got a little better management did not part with a dime………….
    Geeeee I wonder why they have problems? I make it a point not to use
    this airline if whenever an alternate carrier to the same destination is available.

  • Hugoton Horatio

    I have basically given up flying. I’ll take the train and if the train don’t
    go there, I’ll drive it. We do have one of the nicer AMTRAK routes thru
    here as well as an International Airport, but I’ve picked folks up at
    the local airport and watched TSA’s antics and treatment of people.

    I want none of that. If I were to fly I would take Southwest since I have a
    family member who works for them and have personal knowledge of
    them from my family member.

  • Lori Dougherty

    I would like to add, neither NWA ir FAA has responded!

    January 1, 2008
    RE: Northwest Airlines
    Mr. Steenland
    Northwest Airlines Corporation
    2700 Lone Oak Parkway
    Eagan, MN 55121
    Dear Mr. Steenland,

    The purpose of this letter is to notify you about our recent experience with Northwest Airlines flying round trip from Louisville, Kentucky to Montreal, Canada through Detroit, Michigan. Our departure date was December 19, 2007 with return dates of December 23/24th, 2007.
    My wife, four children, guests and I have flown the past few years to our chalet in Canada the week before Christmas. I was surprised my wife booked our seven reservations with Northwest after the past few years of issues we had previously experienced. However, She chose to again.
    We are very frequent travelers, owning 15 furniture stores, from Cleveland, Ohio to northern Jacksonville and Orlando Florida. We are Delta Silver Medallions, Southwest Rapid Rewards members and preferred flyers of Continental and United Airlines. We have owned our own private jet company for two years and it is still in operation out of Bardstown, Kentucky. We owned two jets and offered charter services and private travel. My wife is a former flight attendant of Eastern Airlines as well. Perhaps, that dates us a bit.
    I will stay factual and to the point in essence of time and simplicity.
    While our trip to Canada was efficient and non eventful, our return flight was not.
    Check-in was difficult and chaotic. With only two agents at the counter, seven of us were left to check-in via the computer system, passports and all. Dilip, agent working the counter, was prompt and proficient with our eleven pieces of luggage. The lady agent was left to help others passengers, unsure about processes, not accommodating and extremely interruptive.
    We arrived at the Montreal ticket counter at 1430 for a 1557 departure on flight NWA3408 to Detroit, connecting to flight NWA2936 to Louisville, Kentucky. Both planes were showing on schedule upon check-in, while the Minneapolis flight just cancelled. After clearing customs and re-checking our departure time, Detroit was now delayed until 1615.
    We proceeded to the gate and now find our flight delayed until 1745 due to mechanical issues out of Detroit. We are left to make a decision about our connecting flight (NWA2936) in Detroit showing a timely departure at 1920. We chose to stay the course hoping our connecting flight would be delayed and make it home on December 23, 2007. A nice tall gentlemen, at the gate in Montreal, put a reserve flight in, for all seven of us, for the following day…a connector through Cleveland (NWA3076) vs. a direct flight to Louisville and rooms for the night as back up.
    As 1745 came closer, Dilip was at the gate and notified us that, in fact, our connecting flight (NWA 2936) in Detroit had been delayed and would now depart at 2120, which would now allow us to make our original connection to NWA2936 to Louisville.
    Northwest flight 3408 arrived in Detroit at 2012 directly across the concourse from our connecting flight. We were delayed, at the gate, unloading due to insufficient and lack of personnel. We still made it to the next gate at 2032. As we cut across the concourse to the gate, we discovered that NWA2936 was posted to depart at 2040, but actually left the gate, without the seven of us early, at 2030. We were automatically rebooked on the Cleveland (CO2796) for a next day departure on the 24th by the computer.
    The gate agent was “not capable” of rebooking us for that evening so we requested a supervisor. Gate agent put us on the phone with supervisor Glen. Glen came to the gate expeditiously and accommodated my wife by switching us to another flight (NWA3775) into Cincinnati that night. Our plan was to rent two cars and drive to Louisville in an effort to be home for Christmas Eve.
    We, (all 7 of us), boarded NWA3775, and never left the gate due to a mechanical problem during pre-flight checks. Efforts and time went by without success. We then had issues unloading again. Gate personnel were not responsive or available.
    Another attempt was made to leave on another aircraft with the same crew at 2330. The plane was loaded and ready for de-ice at around 2415. The flight crew was getting close to timing out and could not obtain their load papers from operations. We are now out on the runway and the pilots were over their time limit with no response from NWA as to how to proceed.
    Pilots were very apologetic and the word “ridiculous” on behalf of NWA operations was used in their apology twice. It was necessary to return to the gate. Again, gate personnel were not available to block in or unload the plane for about another half hour.
    Glenn was very helpful in getting us accommodations, he had previously arranged, for an overnight stay and a better next day flight direct to Louisville at 1220 on December 24, 2007. We arrived at the hotel at 0215 in the morning. However, many other Cincinnati passengers were irate due to NWA’s position that the cancellation was due to weather vs. pilots saying they were “timed out” and didn’t have clearance to fly. Glenn and pilots had words while passengers were enraged. I will have to say Glenn is a cool headed manager. The next day we did see previous night’s passengers and learned NWA did accommodate them after a battle.
    This puts us to the morning of December 24, 2007. We are anxiously anticipating a departure at 1220 on NWA. My wife (Lori) and the two youngest children leave on a 1000 shuttle and arrive at the Detroit airport at 1012. The rest of us leave on 1020 shuttle and arrive at 1040. Lori calls to notify us that the flight to Louisville has already been delayed until 1330. Lori then discovers a flight to Cincinnati leaving at 1040 on Delta. The three get to the gate at 1032 and the plane is at the gate and the door closed. A Delta gate agent worked quickly to change their tickets, opened the door and put Lori and our two children on a co-share flight to Cincinnati. Lori rented a car and drove to Louisville and was home by 1330.
    Four of us are now left for the 1330 flight on NWA2829. The aircraft was at the gate waiting for a flight crew from Minneapolis. Coincidently, flight NWA2928 from Louisville to Detroit was also on a delay. Once again, the flight crew timed out.
    Our 1330 departure now changes, as does the gate. The new departure time was now 1528. The departure time then changes to 1636, 1651 and then to 1712. This now puts us two minutes past the final departure option for Louisville on December 24, 2007.
    Passengers are getting nervous, pilots are becoming frustrated and gate agents have no answers or solutions. At gate 30 we are sent to gate 20 to put our names on, confirmed available, standby seats for the last flight of the day as back up. As we are walking to that gate, a gate agent informs us to go to gate 21 due to yet another change.
    We go to gate 21 and the gate agent was unwilling to help. She had to leave (?) as many frustrated passengers were being ping ponged from one gate to the next. We then requested to speak with a supervisor before the gate agent left. She called a supervisor and informed us that the supervisor would be calling us back. The gate agent then leaves the podium and left us to answer phone similar to the day before, in speaking with Glen. A pilot at the gate then questions us as to the reason for us picking up the phone.
    Another NWA employee came to the gate with a horrible attitude and walked off. We asked for security to be called to the gate as frustration was evident amongst gate agents and passengers. There were at least ten passengers waiting the arrival of a supervisor. The supervisor came to the scene with an unbelievably offensive approach, due to her being misinformed. Her name was Sarah and she arrived making demands and statements without any facts. She said she would get security and all of the passengers would have to deal with them.
    As Sarah investigated the situation and interviewed many witnesses, at the gate, and learned about the complete lack of customer service she recanted her position to forbid me access to any planes. She then begins making demands as to who picked up phone at gate. Why would a gate agent call a supervisor and request a return call, to the gate, and walk away if a known security violation is evident? We were allowed to use a gate phone a day earlier with Glenn why would this be any different? Sarah then advises and processes the remaining four of us to fly to Cincinnati at 1517 due to the uncertainty of multiple delayed flights to Louisville…and no standby seats available now on NWA510 after the gate agent stated 6 available (?).
    We board the Cincinnati flight and arrive without issue. Once we arrive in Cincinnati we have to wait on the runway for up to a half hour due to two NWA planes with mechanicals at the gates and can’t be moved.
    Obviously, our 11 pieces of luggage did not arrive with us. We were called at 1215 on December 25, 2007 to be told our bags will be delivered sometime throughout the night/morning. We were informed that is was necessary to place a note on the door if we wanted the luggage to be left without signature. It was delivered in the middle of the night on the front porch of the wrong address without any signed paperwork (?) and no note.
    I believe it is necessary to have a full investigation of NWA’s operations in Detroit. Keep in mind; weather was never a factor in these breakdowns. With frequent mechanical issues and the oldest equipment in the industry, NWA’s aircraft need to be inspected and maintained to FAA standards to insure safety and reliable operation. Flight crews, grounds crews and gate agents are not available in the capacity to complete safe and reliable operations and schedules causing known delays and cancellations.
    Communication and Information systems are inadequate and employees are frustrated not being able to keep passengers properly informed. Information given to passengers is unreliable and lacks consistency from one agent to the next.
    Hotels, rental cars, added expenses and overnight delays seem to be a necessary routine to complete any travel arrangements when flying Northwest Airlines.
    Thank you,
    Dan Dougherty
    Thomasville/Bassett Furniture
    cc: Federal Aviation Administration

  • Shannon

    Check Better Business Bureau on complaints against this business and owner. Karma? Dan, Lori…check yourselfs guys. A little self induldging? 7 mil in the bank and you are flying commercial….

  • Betty

    Agreed with Shannon statements.. Dan is self indulgent ass. Don’t do business with his company.

  • Smart Shopper

    I believe Dan and Lori have written the most smug, self-absorbed complaint letter in the history of the internet.

    Do yourself a favor and never buy a thing from these scheisters.

  • Fellow dealer

    Dan got just what he deserved! After many years of treating his employees and customers like scum he actually got better treatment than he should have.Wake up Dan you are not God,and people are fed up with you.The best people in your industry do not want anything to do with you which is why you can’t keep good people.

  • Fellow employee

    Dan- You finally got comuppance for the treatment I got as a past employee of yours. I was treated so shabbily it goes to show what is truly wrong with big business in this country. GREED!! You smarmy little Son of a Bitch you got exactly what you deserved! Just NOT nearly enough of it!

  • the dude

    dan –

    your letter is too long.

    you seemed more interested in giving anonymous people your professional resume than actually complaining about nwa.

    you are probably new to money. most people with money and class do not have to tell others how much money they have or what they own to make a point. their point – in and of itself – is a solid enough point to stand on its own.

    lol … 2 private jet companies – why are you flying commercial goofball!

    who posted this letter on the internet?

  • Sue Smith

    Oh, Good God, Dan!

    Karma sucks, doesn’t it! You arrogant man! Do you honestly think you can go through life treating people like you do and not have it come back to you????!!!!!!!

    Yeah, you have a lot of “stuff” in your life. Are ya, happy Dan???? I bet not!

  • vicky

    Dan Dougherty will be an angry better old man, if he lives long enough. I predict someone, likely one of his own family members or an unhappy employee, that finally gets enough of his crap will dohim in.
    As far as shopping at his stores, I wouldn’t, furniture is way over priced and a zero in the customer service area. Check out the BBB and see the many unresolved complaints.