A Go-Around in Minneapolis (Trip Report)

Despite the title, this wasn’t actually a trip to Minnesota. It just so happened that the most interesting part of the trip happened while we were connecting there. Our destination on this trip was Indianapolis to visit with the in-laws and enjoy a little Indiana summer. This was our first time on Northwest under the Delta regime, and you know it? It was better. The crews were great, and some of the Delta product additions made for an excellent experience all around. Read on for details.

Between the time that we booked this flight and the time we took it, there were no fewer than five schedule changes. What a pain in the butt. When we booked in January for $219.20 a ticket (yeehaw!), we had a morning nonstop eastbound Packed House at LAX Terminal 2and a midafternoon nonstop westbound. First they canceled the afternoon westbound and put us on a connection. Then they changed the eastbound to a redeye so we went on a connection on that as well. Then we realized that the remaining morning westbound had been moved to an early evening trip so we switched to that. Add in a couple flight number and time changes and my head was spinning. But let’s get on with it.

We got to the airport about an hour before the flight, realizing that this would be our last time flying Northwest out of LAX Terminal 2. A Northwest employee confirmed that the airline moves to Delta’s Terminal 5 on June 29. The terminal was absolutely packed (at left), as they put a Detroit and Minneapolis flight side by side.

June 4, 2009
Northwest #496 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 810a Arr Minneapolis/St Paul (MSP) 142p
LAX: Gate 28, Runway 24L, Dept 29m Late
MSP: Gate F6, Runway 30L, Arr 21m Late
Aircraft: N589NW, Boeing 757-351, Silver NWA Colors, 99% Full
Seat: 22A
Flight Time: ~3h

The flight was a little late coming in from Honolulu so we were told we would be 10 minutes late on departure. Um, not quite. They started boarding early enough to get us out 10 minutes late but apparently the TSA planned otherwise. They were said to be doing some gate searches and that soon turned into a huge backup.

By the time we got to board (we were in the last group called) there were no more searches happening but the boarding line snaked out of the jet bridge. It took more than 40 minutes to board, and we didn’t get out of there until about a half an hour late.

This was my first time on a 757-300 and man, is that one long airplane. I’m pretty sure the last 10 rows were actually boarded from Burbank. Somehow, I Windowless Row 22 on Northwest 757-300failed to consult SeatExpert or SeatGuru when I booked and found myself in row 22 which was missing a window (at right). What a bummer.

It was shortly after takeoff that I got my first sign that Delta was making changes to the Northwest product (or lack thereof). They told us we had a movie onboard. Whoa.

Most Northwest aircraft that fly domestically have no inflight entertainment system installed. But the 757-300s have overhead screens for the Hawaii flights. They used to leave them dark when they flew over the Continental US but Delta has thankfully reversed that policy.

But that wasn’t the only change. The next one? The flight attendant came by and offered me peanuts or biscoff cookies . . . for free. This is not Northwest any longer.

The crews were great and they came by frequently with water refills and Delta’s fresh buy-on-board throughout the flight. I had a chance to talk to a couple flight attendants in the middle of the flight and they said that not much had changed yet, though they did love the new uniforms. They were really just waiting for the upcoming union election. Northwest flight attendants will be strongly pro union thanks to years of (earned) mistrust of their management. Delta, on the other hand, has a long history of its flight attendants going without a union. One of the groups will be in for a shock when the outcome is decided.

After the movie (decent family movie, Race to Witch Mountain), I just stared out the window at the beautiful scattered clouds over the plains below. It was a very smooth and peaceful ride, and soon it was time to descend. Once we got below 10,000 feet, the peacefulness was gone. It was sunny in Minneapolis with just a couple poofy clouds (that’s a technical term), but it was pretty gusty. We looped around and came in for landing, or so we thought.

Just as we passed over the airport fence, one wing dropped as a gust shook the plane. Within seconds, the throttles were up, the gear was retracted, and the flaps were stowed for our go-around. Now, if I’m not traveling in a storm, I like go-arounds. There’s nothing like feeling the power of those 757 engines as we rocket up before getting a low tour of the city. Besides, if the pilots have any doubt, I strongly prefer to go around and be safe.

Others, however, looked a little concerned. Within a few seconds, the flight attendant came on and told us that everything was fine, the captain just wanted to be “prudent” and go around. Then a couple minutes later, the captain came on and apologized and I think that calmed the uneasy passengers. Air traffic control actually had us circle around and land on a different runway this time so maybe we got caught in a shifting wind on our first attempt.

Once on the ground, we had about an hour to get to our connection (thanks to an extended connection time added during one of our schedule changes) but it was clear across the airport. If you ever need a workout, just go from the F gates to the C gates in Minneapolis.

MSP has all the Delta branding up these days and it looks really good. We got to our gate, caught our breath, and then boarded our next flight to Indianapolis.

June 4, 2009
Northwest #1653 Lv Minneapolis/St Paul (MSP) 300p Arr Indianapolis (IND) 544p
MSP: Gate C10, Runway 30R, Dept 1m Early
IND: Gate A13, Runway 5R, Arr 14m Early
Aircraft: N302NB, Airbus A319-114, Silver NWA Colors, 95% Full
Seat: 14A
Flight Time: 1h12m

This was supposed to be a DC-9 originally, and I was bummed when they swapped us to a plain old A319 during one of the schedule changes. But of course, it would get us there just as well.

We took our seats behind the wing and taxied out on time. We may have had to walk a long way to get to the gate, but the runway was right next to the terminal so we were airborne quickly.

We bounced our way out of MSP and once again things smoothed out at altitude. It was a pretty standard 1 hour flight. One drink service and that was that. Peanuts and biscoff were handed out again, and other than that, the only thing remarkable was the excellent view of a very sunny Chicago off the left side.

Just as we passed Chicago, we started our descent into Indianapolis. We landed to the northeast and within a couple minutes, we were at the gate. For those who have spent hours upon hours taxiing back to the old terminal, you’ll know how nice it is with the new one.

Though I toured the new Indianapolis terminal before it opened, this was my first time actually flying into the airport. Over on the A side where Delta/Northwest lives, it was pretty empty. It looks like there are plenty of gates going unused right now.

But hey, it’s still a nice place. We headed out to the curb where my father-in-law picked us up. We drove for about 10 minutes before we arrived at the exit for the old terminal. Yep, the drive takes a little longer for most of the metro area.

After a fun-filled weekend of movies, food, and a visit to Conner Prairie, it was time to come home. The weather had been fantastic while we were there, but when it came time to leave, it clouded up and got more humid. Sounds like the perfect time to come home.

We arrived at the airport about an hour early. We had left a little extra time in advance since it now takes longer to get to the new terminal, but we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

When we walked in, I noticed that there were a lot of empty ticket counters. Plenty of room to grow in the future. We walked toward security and we were both surprised to see a lot of people eating and relaxing in the rotunda shopping area outside security. I figured people wouldn’t want to hang out outside security, but, at least yesterday, I was wrong.

Going through security here is a pleasure because they’ve really built the area big enough to handle TSA regulations. We were through in no time and we went to the gate to wait for the flight.

June 7, 2009
Northwest #1607 Lv Indianapolis (IND) 500p Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 620p
IND: Gate A6, Runway 23L, Dept 6m Early
LAX: Gate 24, Runway 24R, Arr 4m Late
Aircraft: N326NB, Airbus A319-114, Silver NWA Colors, 100% Full
Seat: 10A
Flight Time: 4h11m

The flight was completely full (good news for those of us who hope to keep the nonstop flight around), but we boarded quickly. We pushed back early, and the pilots apparently decided to make up for it by taxiing slower than a snail to the runway. Fortunately, they decided to speed up when it was time to take off.

There were a series of storms on our way home, so there was plenty of zigzagging around the weather. Looking at our flight path, you’d think the pilots were drunk if you didn’t know that they were just working hard to stay away from the bumps. We actually had very little turbulence, though there was plenty of speeding up and slowing down as we encountered areas of predicted rough weather.

The flight attendants were up the whole time and they did frequent passes through the aisles. My wife wanted to get a glass of wine and the fruit and cheese plate. She noticed in the menu that when you order the two together, you get a $2 discount. The flight attendants didn’t know that. They were View from Northwest A319 Over the Rockiesreally thankful that my wife pointed it out so they ended up comping the wine for her. Great service (and totally unnecessary but welcome).

Once we got to the Rockies, we had a great view of the snow capped mountains down below (at left). The flight attendants did yet another service about an hour out of LA. This crew was really stellar. We passed the Grand Canyon and slowly descended into LA. There were some high clouds, but it was mostly clear when we touched down.

This is just the first of three weekend trips this month, so stay tuned for more trip reports.

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