Friday, December 22, 2006

[northwest airlines] have they improved … or not

Just been re-reading Bill Bryson’s Big Country [Black Swan, 1997], where he writes of the shoddy service on Northwest Airlines, symptomatic of the airline industry as a whole.

This was in 1997 when his family were given seats in different parts of the aircraft, on a 6 hour flight, including a 2 and a 4 year old. When they asked for the problem to be solved, they were told: “Not our responsibility. Check your boarding passes next time.”

If Bryson can be believed on this, it’s a staggering indictment of the attitudes of airlines to the paying customer. Everyone knows the term “cattle class” already. So I thought I’d see if Northwest has improved and here are some customer reports from 2006:

Plane was old, seats were very old. Flight attendant was, for a change, nice and smiling. Return was pathetic, plane was very late, but there was no information about the delay. Many frustrated passengers (with connections) were told to call the 1-800 number instead of talking to the attendant at the gate.

Crew must have been having a competition as to who could show the least amount of facial expression. The plane was late departing due to late arriving crew. The FA was clearly disconnected from her job and just going through the motions. She was so out of it she was still collecting garbage as the plane touched down. Will fly NW only if convenient.

Passengers on these same flights should eat their meals in the airport, as choices are limited to junk food once airborne; and their bag drop method, where agents shout out passengers names to come forward to have their bags tagged, is inelegant to say the least.

Seats were the old World Business Class types. No amenity kits or socks, for a flight that was more than 6 hours long! Food service was ok - but crew were inattentive and disappeared most of the time into the galleys.

Domestic service on 757 and 320 aircraft was fine and seating comfortable. Non alcoholic drinks were free. The only food option was a $5 snack box. Revolting. I don't know why they don't sell sandwiches on the longer domestic flights.

Returning to Bryson, when he questioned why an overhead baggage locker on an overland domestic service was filled with an inflatable life-raft, he was told, after the initial snappy “This plane meets FAA safety regulations” to sit down.

Northwest Airlines – clearly profit is no motive to them. Only passenger comfort and satisfaction. Read this for a further testimonial to this great company.


CityUnslicker said...

The problem is worse now because the US government has effectivly nationalised the major carriers.

By subsidising them to the tune of $15 billion a year, they have developed into the fine tradition of all public service transport systems; despising the customers.

They don't need them anymore you see. In 2004 Continental, a rival, posted a bigger loss than its turnover. Yet still it staggers on with Federal support.

It is a sad endictment on America, alnd of the free market, to fund this charade.

Colin Campbell said...

When I first flew to the US in 1984, it was on People Express. I think it was about $200. I spent much of the summer flying around the US for about $30 a flight. Service was basic, but comfortable. Soon afterwards, the other airlines squeezed them on price and they went kaput. Having spent many years flying around the US, I never really understood how it was not a profitable business, since planes were almost always full.

CityUnslicker said...

bizarrely over-competition and low barriers to entry mean that Airlines are difficult to make money out of. In fact, if you add up all the profits and losses of all the world's airlines since they started in the 1930's you would find a massive loss overall.