April 7, 2007

The Unfriendly Skies

We Minnesotans have a lot of experience with Northwest Airlines, as they own 70% of the gates at our international airport. We rely on them for almost all of our non-stop service, thanks to the hub-and-spoke system -- and for the most part, they provide reasonably good service. However, it seems that if a pilot lands more headlines than airplanes, it's usually an NWA pilot. We've seen pilots arrested for drunken operation of aircraft and a plane that landed at the wrong airport ... well, actually, a military base, to be exact. Now it appears we have the first case of potential air rage:

A Northwest Airlines flight was canceled because the pilot was yelling obscenities during a cell phone conversation while people were boarding, and cursed one passenger, a federal official said Saturday.

The pilot of the Las Vegas-to-Detroit flight was apparently in a heated cell phone conversation in the cockpit, then went into a lavatory, locked the door and continued the conversation, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said Saturday.

"Passengers who were boarding the aircraft could hear his end of it," Gregor said.

Las Vegas police were sent Friday to McCarran International Airport to investigate, Gregor said. Authorities were told that the pilot cursed one passenger who confronted him, Gregor said.

Someone had a bad day, and it sounds like it will get worse. This little temper tantrum forced Northwest to arrange alternate routing for 180 passengers from Las Vegas to Detroit. For those who could not be accommodated, NWA had to pay for hotels, meals, and possibly front row seats at the Folies Bergere. (The Admiral Emeritus told me about the latter. Really.) The airline also found alternate routing for the pilot in question, returning him to his Detroit base for further investigation into the incident. I don't think the conversation will focus on the in-flight magazine or the $5 snack box.

Pilots are just like everyone else -- they have bad days, and on very rare occasions, let their professionalism slip. However, flying is a stressful situation for passengers, especially these days, and the flight crew needs to reduce the stress, not amplify it. I don't blame the passengers for reporting this incident, and the pilot needs to go through some anger management counseling before flying again.

Almost all NWA pilots do a terrific job in customer relations. I especially found amusing the one who thanked us by noting that "We know you could choose any number of bankrupt airlines, and we're happy you chose this one." They do a tough job with humor and grace 99% of the time. Let's hope that this one pilot just had one bad day and can turn it around quickly.


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Comments (4)

Posted by OC Chuck [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 7, 2007 11:56 PM

A few years back I remember having my flight changed from NW to United because it was at the end of the month and the pilot for that flight had already flown his alloted hours and they cancelled the flight.

Last week I flew through your neighborhood, luckily without incident.

Posted by BPudgeman [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 8, 2007 5:36 AM

Here's another one. I believe the problem was caused by entering the wrong coordinates into a computer...

Northwest passenger jet lands at wrong airport

WASHINGTON -- A Northwest Airlines jet departed Detroit on September 5 bound for Frankfurt, Germany. But the DC-10 made an unscheduled, and inadvertent, stop in Belgium.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident, trying to learn why both flight and ground crews missed several opportunities to correct the jet's flight path. According to the Washington Post, flight attendants and the flight's 241 passengers watched the incorrect flight path on electronic maps in the the plane's cabin.

The newspaper quoted an anonymous source saying that the "three guys up front (the pilot, co-pilot and navigator)" were the only people on board who did not know where the plane was.

Posted by SDN [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 8, 2007 8:18 AM

I've made it a point to never fly Northwest if there is any way to avoid it. I've had 2 lost luggage incidents in my extensive (2 flights a week) travelling career; both were courtesy of Northwest. In Winter 1998, I was working a contract in Indianapolis. Taking off after a snowstorm, I see a Northwest jet on fire in the taxiway. The couple sitting next to me looked and said, "Oh, they did it to another one!" Turns out they were actually on an earlier flight which caught fire because they let de-icing fluid (high industrial alcohol content) get in the running jet engines. Had to go out the slides, etc.

Posted by Corky Boyd [TypeKey Profile Page] | April 8, 2007 9:37 AM

Well, Captain you have opened the door for all to dump on one of my least favorite airlines. I will make my contribution.

You may wonder why NWA, not renowned for the quality of their service, manages to hold 70% market share at MSP, DTW and MEM. At least in the case of Detroit, I may have the answer. About 3 or 4 years ago, when it looked like NWA might declare bankruptcy, the Wayne County Airport Authority disclosed a previously unknown agreement between the authority and Northwest Airlines. The agreement gave Northwest veto power over any increase in the number of gates available to competitors and veto power over which airlines could get gates. The memo was made public, it appeared, because the airport feared Northwest could cut Detroit service to the bone under bankruptcy and still limit their competition. They wanted out. When I expressed my dismay to the reporter that the agreement might constitute and anti-trust violation, I received no answer.

The airport had been part of the fiefdom of Ed McNamara, Wayne County Executive and contractors with cozy contracts were a regular source of campaign contributions for the McNamara machine, including Northwest.