Travel Tip: Avoid Northwest Airlines at End of Month

Northwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights — about 10% of its schedule — this past weekend because of a pilot shortage. This isn’t a new problem: It’s been happening consistently at the end of the month, like clockwork.

Business travel writer Joe Brancatelli warned about this in a recent column:

Northwest is trying to operate with about 25 percent fewer pilots and co-pilots than it employed in 2000. The inevitable result: massive crew shortages at the end of June when Northwest’s remaining pilots “timed out” and could no longer fly. (According to federal regulations, pilots cannot fly more than 100 hours a month.) Northwest canceled more than 1,200 flights during the last 10 days of June. The final 10 days of July and August won’t be much better.

Brancatelli’s prediction looks to be coming true. Before you book that ticket on Northwest, check the calendar. Consider an alternative airline, if it exists. If you’ve already bought tickets, for travel at the end of a month, try to show up early and standby for an earlier flight. And keep those fingers crossed.

Steer Clear: Airports & Airlines to Avoid [Portfolio]
Northwest cancels flights for lack of pilots [MarketWatch]
(Photo: Mulad)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Blueskylaw says:

    Whoever thought that flying could be linked to a mathematical formula?

  2. SaveMeJeebus says:

    That’s lovely. I travel for school the last week of August with NWA.

  3. ChChChacos says:

    I flew Northwest this past weekend from Charlotte,NC to Detroit,MI and then on to Providence,RI. What a mess! I couldn’t believe the pure confusion all of the passengers around me were facing. No Northwest personel were located at the ticket counters at the gates until 5 minutes prior to boarding. It left us on the edge of our seats as we wondered whether or not our flight was the one to be cancelled. I wonder how Northwest can afford to cancel so many flights. Ticket vouchers, food vouchers and even hotel vouchers in the hundreds of dollar range were being passed around. Why not hire some pilots, rather than use the money to ditch us at an airport far from home until you can find us another flight..sometimes days later. I even have tickets for the Thanksgiving week through NW because they were the cheapest by far.. maybe that was a poor decision on my behalf.

  4. bdgbill says:

    Avoid Northwest Airlines ALWAYS.

    NWA has lost my luggage every time I have flown with them (4 times).

    The final straw was when a particularly bitchy gate agent made me crack my suitcases open to redistribute 1 POUND of material from one suitcase to another.

    NWA is at the top of my Airline shit list surpassed only by US Airways.

  5. sleze69 says:

    @SaveMeJeebus: Sounds like a good time to change your flight to another carrier…

  6. TWinter says:

    Too bad really. I used to like NWA, but they seem to have fallen apart of late.

  7. will0957 says:

    sigh… i’ve going on vacation, leaving on august 29th via NWA. hoping for the best :/

  8. MFfan310 says:

    Uh-oh… I’m going to Seattle in August with “the red tail”. Still, I’ve been reading about Northwest’s problems all the time now.

    And here’s part of how NWA is trying to solve the situation on some Midwest to West Coast flights: I know an NWA pilot that flies Airbus A330s for them. Instead of flying flights like Detroit to Amsterdam and London/Gatwick where you would expect them to fly A330s, he’s had to fly those big 298-seat A330-300s on domestic flights like Minneapolis/St. Paul to Seattle. NWA normally flies 182-seat Boeing 757-200s or 224-seat Boeing 757-300s on that route, but NWA is short of 757 pilots and the flights are being cancelled and overbooked like crazy. Likewise, from Minneapolis to LAX, they’re using 379-seat Boeing 747-400s, which are typically used on Pacific routes like Detroit to Tokyo.

    The pilot complaints are real, too: He’s also talked to some of NWA’s DC-9 captains. Because DC-9s are real old airplanes (think: 30-35 years old), there’s no air conditioning in the cockpit like there is in the cabin. Hence, the DC-9 pilots are calling in sick to recover from 95+ degree cockpit temperatures. The DC-9s, of which NWA has more than 120 of them, are the backbone of NWA’s Midwest to East Coast routes, so all those DC-9 captains calling in sick are having a ripple effect throughout NWA’s hub-and-spoke operations at Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit, and Memphis. Their Indianapolis focus city doesn’t have many of the same problems: IND is mainly Airbus A320s, which are modern planes with air conditioning in the cockpit, along with NWA Airlink Canadair Regional Jets operated by Pinnacle Airlines. Pinnacle is a subcontracted feeder carrier for NWA who paints their planes in NWA Airlink colors… they’re also having pilot troubles right now, but not nearly as bad as those at NWA.

    Last, but not least: He also said that NWA’s compensation for bumped passengers is pretty darn good. Typically, you’ll get your choice of either a free round-trip domestic ticket with a ton of restrictions or a $300-$400 travel voucher good anytime on any NWA flight (I’d pick the latter). You also get a $10 food voucher good at selected airport restaurants (which vary by airport). Take that, United!

  9. heronswift says:

    I am moving away from Minneapolis/St. Paul next month, and while there are some things about the Twin Cities I’ll sorely miss, I am *ecstatic* to no longer be part of Northwest’s captive market. I’ve had some good experiences with them in past years, but they seem to be heading straight down the sewer lately.

  10. Wormfather says:

    And that settles it, Consumerist has the most unlucky readers on the internet.

    I think I’m going to stop reading just for my health.

  11. Jeff says:

    I think choosing “the worst airline” is like trying to choose the worst cellular provider; it can’t be done. Everyone has their bias, and everyone has had their horrible experiences.

    In the end, it’s a crap shoot.

  12. iMike says:

    I got pinched on this for today’s trip. Rebooked on Southwest. F NW.

  13. millcitymodern says:

    My husband logged on to check in for his 9:00pm flight yesterday morning (from Mpls to Chicago) to find they had cancelled his flight and rebooked him on a flight the following day…without so much as an email or notification. He managed to get on a 4:00pm flight yesterday, but that had us rushing to get him there on time.
    I know from personal experience that NWA sends many many superfluous reminder emails when you book flights on-line, so the fact that they just took the liberty to rebook him on another flight and not so much as send a form email asking him to log in and check his status was really annoying. I can only imagine how enraged the other flyers on his (overbooked) 9:00pm flight were if they showed up at the airport without checking flight status early in the day.

  14. BK88 says:

    Just wait till November and December, when they start reaching the 1000
    hour per year limit. You can fly your pilots a 100 hours a month, but
    for only 10 months. After 1000 hours of flight time, bam, your done for
    two months. That’s when the NWA will be hell for everyone.

  15. WindowSeat says:

    I’ve got a puddle jumper scheduled with NWA from Detroit to Erie at about 9:00PM on Nov.1, hopefully I’ll just miss the dreaded end-o-month thing otherwise I’ll be bunking down in the hotel inside DTW.

  16. timmus says:

    “Because DC-9s are real old airplanes … there’s no air conditioning in the cockpit like there is in the cabin.”

    Wow, I didn’t know that. I doubt I’ll ever be on a DC-9 again, but if I am, I won’t be complaining if we’re stuck on the ramp in the summertime.

  17. skittlbrau says:

    Northworst Airlines sucks, no doubt about it. It’s too bad I have family living in some of their captive markets :(

  18. Jesse in Japan says:

    I was supposed to be on one of those canceled flights last week. My friend and I had arrived at Minneapolis/St. Paul after a 10 hour flight from Tokyo/Narita and we were supposed to take a connecting flight at 3:40 to Kansas City. The guy at the gate said that all of their other flights into Kansas City were full, but they could send us to Milwaukee and then on to Kansas City.

    I went to the main ticket counter (which meant passing through security again) to complain and they ended up putting us on a 7:00 direct flight and giving us 20 dollars worth of meal vouchers, but weren’t the least bit apologetic. They acted as though the whole incident had been the most normal thing in the world.

    I made damned sure to use every penny of those vouchers.

  19. AlphaWolf says:

    I have had my return flight in September changed about 5 times now. Sometimes NWA would call, and sometimes I got an email from my online travel site. The last change had me on 4 flights and 10+ hours, which was double my normal flight time. I called them and they were able to get me out of that hell flight but who knows what will happen at the airport.

  20. bobby.lashlee says:

    Concerning Airline workers, they have had to concede wages due to recent massive losses of money by the airlines. So if one wants to ensure plenty of pilots, then you should A. tell the company to acquiesce to the demands of the pilots. B. get angry at the pilots or others who are on strike. C. pressure the company to hire more pilots. or D. tell the airline you will travel with a carrior who endeavors to not annoy its employees.