Friday, April 22, 2005


I Hate Northwest Airlines....

Northworst Airlines: My Tale of Woe

Ok, granted, I’m lucky enough to travel for my job and see interesting places and rack up some frequent flier miles. I’m also lucky that I can book a ticket to go to LA for a long weekend. But after my experiences with Northwest Airlines this week, I now have no doubt as to why they are in such a financial mess. Short answer, they really don’t give a darn about their customers. He’s my tale of woe:

I’ve had a busy couple of months at the office. Middgie, EIE’s professional skeptic, calls me to tell me she has next week off and I figure it’s a good time to fly out to LA. So, I use my frequent flier miles on America West to book a ticket from DC to LA, departing on Thursday, 4/28 and returning on Monday, 5/2. No problem, all handled on-line and it took about five minutes.

But alas! I forgot I have to fly to Detroit on Monday for an early morning speech on Tuesday, May 3 and my ticket (already booked on Northwest) departs before I’m scheduled to return from LA. So I call America West to try to change my return flight. The agent is polite and lays out all my options. I could use more miles to fly back on Sunday in first class (I don’t have enough miles) or 1) I could skip my scheduled return flight, take a credit for that, and book a new flight back on Sunday..for about $299. I say great and that I’ll consider it, but look for another flight that may be cheaper.

So, I go online and find that Northwest has a red eye on Sunday (arriving Monday morning in Detroit) for $198. Cool, I book that flight and figure that I can still use my return ticket from Detroit to DC for Tuesday, May 2. Unfortunately, the only seat available is the dreaded middle row seat. However, the website seat map shows that nearly all the seats from the exit row to the bulkhead (13 or so rows-about 30 seats) are empty but reserved for “Elite Status” members. Hmm….

I had a similar situation with Northwest last week on a flight to Atlanta, I called an agent and asked if I could be seated in a forward row (still coach mind you) with the understanding that if a higher priority passenger needed the seat, they could bump me back to the middle seat. She politely obliged. I decide to try this tactic with the agent last night for my red eye from LA to Detroit..after all, I’ve already booked (and paid for) nearly 30,000 miles of travel this year on their airline and will become an elite flier later this year. I offer the same conditions, if a flier with higher priority needs the seat, they can bump me back to the middle. But the agent is an a## and not only tells me he can’t do it, but that the other agent who helped me would be disciplined for moving my seat on the Atlanta flight. In addition he was putting in a request to the system to move me back into the middle row on my Atlanta flight. Grr….Worse, he even tells me that they’d rather have those seats empty than to provide them to non-elite fliers. In case they get a lot of handicap or elite fliers. (Yeah, 30 wheel chair bound folks are gonna take next Sundays red-eye).

Well the red-eye flight is still the best deal by far, so I book it (online, not through the moron agent) accept a middle seat and hope for the best. Now, I only have to call Northwest this morning to tell them that I won’t need my DC to Detroit flight on Monday, but that I’d like to retain the return trip. The new agent tells me that this isn’t possible as the ticket is a roundtrip. He’d be happy to change it for $300 for a one-way ticket. Double GRRR. (although this agent was polite). So, I cancel the entire ticket and book on one-way flight from Detroit to DC on Independence Air ($49!).

I can’t imagine that my experience with Northwest is unique. Road warriors probably need to change their flights all the time (and unlike my office, they probably pay unrestricted fares that are 100s of dollars more). But seriously, would a little flexibility kill them? I mean I understand keep prime seats open for the really expensive ticket holders, but I even conditioned my request on availability and said they could always down grade me if they needed to. Alas, they don’t care…they are Northworst Airlines. But perhaps this is why America West, Southwest and Jetblue are profitable. They have more flexible ticket policies and flatter fare structures. They also are all profitable, whereas Norwest Airlines is on track to loose $2 BILLION dollars this year. I no longer wonder why.

Northwest Airlines 1Q losses double

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