Farewell Northwest Airlines

By | January 1, 2010

In time for the New Year, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the single operating certificate for the new Delta Air Lines. What this means is that Northwest Airlines as an entity ceases to exist. With this change, the only lingering reminders of Northwest is its separate reservations system, which will be integrated in the first part of this new year, and Philadelphia, the only station still branded as Northwest.

One of the biggest concerns for the legacy of Northwest as it merges into Delta are its 68 DC-9 aircraft, with an average age of 35 years.

Let’s take a look back at the history of Northwest Airlines. Here are some fun highlights and some classic ads. Some people just know how to fly.

  • The airline began as Northwest Airways in 1926, carrying air mail from Minneapolis to Chicago, with two rented planes.
  • In July of 1927, their first ticketed passenger, St. Paul businessman Byron Webster, paid $40 for his one-way ticket from Minneapolis to Chicago via La Crosse, Madison, and Milwaukee. The flight took 12.5 hours. By the end of the year, they’d flown 106 passengers.
  • In 1939, the airline puts its first DC-3 into service, and hires its first flight attendant to work on it.
  • In 1945, the airline begins service to New York, which gives it a presence on both coasts of the United States.
  • In 1947, their first pacific service begins. They had already been providing international service to Canada since 1928. Northwest Orient began service to Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Manila.
  • The red tail was painted on all planes in 1948, originally as a visual aid in harsh weather conditions.
  • In 1949, they become the first airline to offer beverage service within the United States, when they take delivery of their first Boeing B-377 Stratocruiser.
  • In 1956, Northwest leases Shemya Island in the Aleutian chain from the U.S. government for use as a fuel stop on the North Pacific route, thus becoming the first airline to operate its own airport.
  • In 1960, with their first jet aircraft, the Douglas DC8 aircraft, they launch the “fastest U.S. jet service to Asia.” By 1963, they were an all fan-jet operator. And their first Boeing 707-320 entered service that same year, followed by their first 727 the next year.
  • In 1970, the airline offered the first Boeing 747 trans-pacific service from the four major gateways of Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Honolulu.
  • On November 24, 1971, Northwest Airlines Flight 305 en route from Portland International Airport to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, was hijacked by the man later to become known as D. B. Cooper. After receiving a $200,000 ransom payment and 4 parachutes in Seattle, he ordered the crew to fly to Mexico, and jumped from the aft airstairs of the Boeing 727-051 while it was in flight over Washington.
  • In 1972, the DC-10 joined their fleet.
  • In 1973, they implement their first computerized ticketing and reservations system
  • In 1979, Northwest entere the trans-Atlantic passenger market, launching service to Copenhagen and Stockholm from the Twin Cities, Detroit and New York.
  • In 1984, Northwest and Mesaba Airlines announce a regional airline marketing partnership…the first Northwest Airlink flights.

  • In 1986, Northwest acquires Republic Airlines, which at the time, employs 15,100 people serving a national network with a fleet of 168 DC9’s, 727’s, 757’s and Convair 580’s.
  • They were the first major U.S. airline to ban smoking on all North American flights, in 1988. It took another ten years before they(and KLM) were smoke-free worldwide.

  • That same year, Northwest begins a test of Airvision, the first airborne video system to offer passengers six channels of video programming via personal screens.
  • In 1989, they receive their first A320.
  • In 1990,  the airline guaranteed on-time arrivals at 18 southern airports, backed by free round-trip tickets if flights are late.
  • In 1991, Northwest and KLM launch their first joint-service, between Minneapolis and Amsterdam, the agreement will expand to a massive partnership, including the joint-operation of all US-Europe flights.
  • In 1992, they overhaul their domestic and international route system. Most non-hub domestic routes (including “mini-hub” schedules at Washington and Milwaukee) are abandoned to shift resources into hub flying, and the Seoul hub is downsized, and Australia flying is terminated to allow greater focus on Japan.
  • In 1996, nwa.com is launched. The next year, the airline launches online booking.
  • In 1997, the airline celebrates 50 years of service to Asia.
  • In 1998, the airline ceases operations for several weeks due to a pilots strike.
  • At the end of 2000, Northwest became the first major carrier to offer internet check-in on all of its domestic flights.
  • In 2002, Northwest introduced the first service to allow passengers to change their tickets online, and deployed its first self-service check-in kiosks.
  • In 2003 and 2004, Northwest experimented with focus cities at Milwaukee and Indianapolis.
  • In 2005, the airline filed for bankruptcy for the first time.

And, even after its merger was announced in 2008, Northwest continued to hit the headlines. On October 29th, 2009, Northwest Airlines flight 188 overflew its destination by 150 miles. And finally, only a week ago, on December 25th, a man tried to detonate explosive material on Northwest flight 253 as it landed in Detroit, sparking a massive questioning of the country’s aviation security policies.

It’s been a long ride.

Author: Guru

Guru is the Editor of Flight Wisdom and a long time aviation enthusiast.