Forum Editorial: Northwest flies itself into a hole
Fargo-Moorhead's relationship with Northwest Airlines goes back for generations - almost to the beginnings of commercial air service. So, when a corporate friend of the Red River Valley region finds itself in deep trouble - much of it self-made -...
Fargo-Moorhead's relationship with Northwest Airlines goes back for generations - almost to the beginnings of commercial air service. So, when a corporate friend of the Red River Valley region finds itself in deep trouble - much of it self-made - longtime NWA customers begin to rethink their loyalty.
The airline is emerging from bankruptcy. That's the good news. The bad news for travelers is NWA's record of service, especially the hundreds of flight cancellations late last month that left thousands of booked passengers scrambling for alternatives. Because the entire air travel system is overburdened, alternatives were hard to come by. Irritation quickly evolved to anger, which became hard-edged pledges to avoid Northwest in the future.
Nothing can be worse for an airline than losing customers. Of course, some customers in some markets are captive of NWA because there are no other good air travel choices. But where other air carriers provide good service and connections to major hubs, a savvy traveler might think twice about booking with Northwest.
As any frequent flyer knows, air travel is not as pleasant as it used to be. Even in the best of circumstances, it seems the airlines are among the only businesses that can get away with routine lousy treatment of customers. The level of competition has plunged to choosing the airline that has the least-poor service. In that environment, Northwest's problems are magnified.
The airline blames the pilots and their union by subtly suggesting they are engaged in a work slowdown by failing to show up to fly. The pilots give as good as they get, charging the airline with having too few pilots and working those few too many hours. The airline counters that it is hiring several hundred additional pilots, a process that was stalled during bankruptcy proceedings.
The argument does little to appease customers who feel abused by the airline. Northwest flies one of the oldest fleets in the nation, and it shows. The cabins are noisy and dirtier than they should be. Carpets and seat fabrics are worn, torn and stained. The airline once known as one of the best can no longer make that claim.
While it is true that the entire air travel system is overburdened and thus less friendly to customers, Northwest's problems seem deeper. Ham-handed management and unrealistic union demands have created a lethargic company that has been unable to respond well to the pressures the industry faces. The results are delays, canceled flights, surly employees at ticket counters and unhappy customers.
If there's another way to fly, travelers will take it, and Northwest officials and unions have no one to blame but themselves.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.