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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Post # 65 - My Northwest Airlines Experience - 3/3/2009

Dear Northwest Airlines,

I work in the button industry. My company supplies the numbers and letters--the buttons atop your calculator, cash register, and keyboard--things that you use every day. Coincidentally, we have a separate branch that produces actual buttons that you wear on clothes. I transferred out of that division long ago because I saw no future in clothing buttons--I thought they would eventually fade from our existence.

I'm sure most of your customer feedback is negative in tone and content. In these times, an “atta-boy” is rare. The button industry can be stressful, and my downtime is important to me. Back in late November and early December, my family and I shared a great Disney vacation. Just as the leadoff hitter and closer (think Rickey Henderson and Rollie Fingers) are keys to any great baseball team, your flights to and from Orlando were vital to our trip. I just wanted to take the time to thank you, and highlight the positive.

Let's start with the electronic check-in process. The timesaving process of sliding a credit card to pull up all of our info, made everyone behind us that much more chipper, I'm sure. The young lady at the luggage check-in (Jessica? Tanya? Whichever one has the daughter who started pre-med at Dartmouth last fall) was a cheerful "face" for your organization. She wished us a great trip, and told a silly story about a time when she took her children to Disney. She also showed great patience at our out-loud musing that "rather than shift cargo from Bag A to Bag B to make both bags less than 50 pounds, maybe the rule should be "total weight of all of our bags divided by total number of people should just work out to 50 pounds per person." Regardless, it was fun guessing which items would shift the weight from Bag A to below 50 pounds.

Next, I enjoyed boarding the plane. Northwest used to enforce the "people in the back board first" policy. That seemed silly because honestly, who really knows where their seats are? Besides, the barcode could never be employed to determine which wise guys were premature in their boarding. So now it's sort of "controlled chaos." It's almost a game of "how do I position myself to get on the plane first?" My wife and I played a cute game called "Which of Us Can Manipulate the Line More Effectively and Board First." She won. As you know, kindness can be interpreted as weakness when boarding. I was stuck behind a priest and a rabbi. I felt like I was part of a joke "A Priest and a Rabbi are boarding a plane..."

On the plane, I noticed that there was plenty of leg room for my children, ages 7 and 5. Not as much for me, but it served as a poignant reminder--I should be thankful for my La-Z-Boy chair at home--I take things for granted. The retractable drink tray served nicely as a temporary desk, where my kids could draw pictures and color whimsical characters in their coloring books. I noticed that there was no movie, which I appreciated--my golly, we don't ALWAYS need to be entertained! The up and down window shades helped me to enforce the fact that "naptime is not fun time".

When it came time for a beverage, I was unsure. Normally, I go with the Cranberry Cocktail, but I was in the mood for something salty. The attendant (Randall? Phillip? Whoever it was--he missed a 300 by one lousy pin!) recommended Bloody Mary mix. Doggone it--he was right! By charging a little extra for booze, you prevented Pierce McLowerlip in front of me from getting belligerent and his best gal, Raspy McNicotine from working up the courage to leave him. By the way, I appreciated the beverage cart gently nudging my napping elbow when it dangled too far into the isle way. A lot of people might say "you should pad that thing--that really hurt." Not me--I was at fault. And doggone it--my out-of-place elbow could have tripped an elderly woman or wise-cracking "LOL-ing" teenager. It served me right.

People always used to complain about airplane food. Eliminate meals--problem solved. Eliminate the little bags of pretzels--problem REALLY solved (they made me more thirsty anyway). Some people say "serve a $5 sandwich and charge a $6 per ticket to avoid "smelly" outside passenger foods--seafood, Thai food, garlic pasta, asparagus, etc. that, in tight, confined spaces, can lower morale. I say "Hooray Diversity." Bring it on! Also, the trail mix, priced at just $5 a pack, was a delicious snack that we could all enjoy on a shoestring budget. It taught the little ones a lesson--there is no such thing as a free meal. Between the two of them, they managed to scrounge up enough cash though. Plus, this way, we arrived in Orlando a little hungry--ready to enjoy some local cuisine. Good thinking, Northwest!

The restroom was great. My five-year-old son had some bad shrimp cocktail at a birthday party, and we needed to make a quick visit. The red "Occupied" latch made it clear to all, exactly what the status of the restroom was. The rest of the cabin was immediately notified of the green "vacant" status when we unlatched the door. Although there should be a "give it a few minutes" status option (maybe yellow = proceed with caution). Either way--very clever and efficient.

I noticed the buttons on your armrest, for reclining, changing in-flight music channels, etc. are very, very nice, both in ergonomics and tactile feel. Our focus group studies show that the round concave shape actually makes people feel empowered, and better about themselves. And this is coming from someone in the button business. But I'm sure you knew all of that when you had those installed. Conversely, convex buttons provide people with feelings of sensuality. We had to shut down a study with convex buttons and monkeys because they were getting too frisky. No need for that on a plane! Additionally, the strategic placement of this button, on the inside of the armrest, placed it right by my leg. This resulted in a very gradual descent into reclined position for a napping me, and the person behind me. Randall (or Phillip) had to tell me to place my seat upright when it was time to land.

Some folks like the smooth landing. To me, a little runway "bump" serves as a nice beckoning. I was napping when we were approaching, and the pilot, in his own way said "hello people, we're here!"

I have memories from when I was a kid, of a nice flight attendant giving me my "wings" on the way out. What a way of telling the world "this was my first flight." I noticed that you don't provide the wings anymore. And I thank you--I poked my young finger when I tried pinning my wings onto my bright yellow turtleneck. And don't think for a minute that my kids wouldn't have done the same thing.

All in all, I had a great time on your flights, and I wanted to thank you for the beginning and ending to a great trip. I hope to fly again soon.



Re: CR-Compliments (KMM20392625V26798L0KM)
Sent: Thu 3/05/09 8:49 PM

Dear Jerry,

RE: Case Number 7144297

Thank you for contacting Northwest Airlines. We appreciate you taking the time to share your detailed comments with us regarding the service and amenities provided to you and your family on your trip to Orlando.

We appreciate your kind comments regarding the service received from ourticket counter agent when checking in for your flight. While I apologize for any difficulty you and your family had with our company's over weight luggage policy, it pleases me to hear that our agent was friendly and polite while assisting you with this issue.

Additionally, we appreciate your comments about the change in our boarding policy. We regret any inconvenience you and your family experienced as a result. Rest assured that I will be sharing your concerns with the proper management staff for review.

I am also sorry for the discomfort you experienced due to limited space during the flight. We realize that sufficient leg room is an important consideration when customers choose an air carrier. Northwest is continually reviewing passenger comfort and making adjustments from timeto time based on customer feedback and economic justification. Please know, your comments will be shared with the leadership team responsible for Engineering Standards as we continue to make adjustments to our interior configurations.

We are pleased to know that our flight attendant on board this flight was courteous and helpful when serving you. I do apologize for the incident with the beverage cart and for any discomfort you experienced as a result. Thank you for sharing your remarks.

Furthermore, I am deeply sorry there was no meal service or movie scheduled on Flight NW0426. Passenger comments like yours are critical in evaluating our food service and our future course of action is based on feedback like you have provided. We also regret your disappointment with the discontinuance of complimentary tidbits on our flights. We are attempting to rationalize our product offering within the context of thecurrent fare environment. This is not an easy decision for us to make.

Finally, I would like to apologize that your children did not receive their wings upon completion of their first flight. While I am unable to offer you and explanation to why they were not offered, please except mysincere apology in this matter. I also have taken the liberty of sending a pair of wings for each of the travelers listed on your travel record. Be assured, for safety reasons we no longer use pins with our wings.

I hope I have been able to address any concerns you have about our service. I want to thank you, again, for sharing your comments with us.

We appreciate your interest in Northwest.

Customer Care
Northwest/KLM/Delta Air Lines


  1. I believe that your letter was actually read as per the response you received. Of course, there is still the same template for each paragraph: thank you, address specific issue, assure you your concerns will be sent to the proper department. But in a way, that predicability is reassuring, wouldn't you agree?

  2. sAm,

    Reassuring like seeing my luggage come safely down the ramp at baggage claim. I actually liked, and was impressed with Northwest's response. Very thorough. They also sent me a bagful of "Wings" for the kids. So often now, it's either the form letter, or the form letter with a tiny bit of personalization. Thanks!

  3. I laughed so hard at the restroom "Yellow" sign. I really do think it needs one! I had to leave the room twice I couldn't stop laughing!