Northwest Finally Figures it Out

Labor Relations, Northwest

It took them a long time, but Northwest finally figured it out. Blaming your employees for your problems does NOT garner customer support.

As you’ve probably heard (especially if you live in the upper Midwest), Northwest has been having tremendous cancellation problems at the end of the past two months due to crew shortages. When this problem first occurred at the end of June, the airline put out a statement saying “as a result of several factors including air traffic control restrictions, severe summertime weather and a higher than normal level of pilot absenteeism, Northwest’s mainline scheduled operations have been negatively impacted.”

Of course, blaming pilot sickouts for your problems is not going to go unchecked. ALPA immediately shot back saying it wasn’t true, and for the millionth time in the last couple years, the Northwest pilots were angry at management.

Now let’s come back to this week. Doug Steenland, head of the airline, has been on the summer apology tour. He says the airline is sorry, and he’s changing his tune in regards to the pilot situation. According to an interview published in the Detroit Free Press, the airline is recalling laid-off pilots, hiring new ones, cutting flight schedules, and modifying union work rules to allow for more schedule flexibility.

07_08_03 nwhateDoes this sound like the moves of an airline that is running a poor operation solely due to pilot sickouts and weather problems? No way. But more importantly, do customers (which I have horribly stereotyped in my picture as a bunch of Vikings) care? Again, no way.

See, for some crazy reason, it doesn’t matter to most of the world why their flight was canceled. All they know is that their flight is NOT getting them where they need to go and they’re going to miss their cousin’s wedding, their nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, or their dog’s graduation from training school (clearly, I’ve lived in LA too long).

As a customer, when I hear Northwest blaming its pilots, I DON’T CARE. Just friggin’ get me where I need to go. Remember the summer of 2000 where United’s pilots actually did cause the airline to meltdown? Do regular customers care? NO. If you can’t get the plane where I need to go on time, I walk away from the airline regardless of cause. It took United a long time to regain some of those customers they lost while others never returned, and nothing would have changed were it management’s fault instead that time.

So now Northwest is finally saying, “Gee, instead of blaming people, maybe we should accept responsibility and fix the problem.” Congratulations on figuring out the most basic of things. The public will not feel bad for you regardless of the cause. If you blame pilots correctly, the public still won’t care. If you incorrectly blame the pilots, all you’ll do is anger your work group. Then again, I suppose morale at the airline couldn’t get much lower, so they probably didn’t have much to lose on that front.

The point is, as if I haven’t been clear enough, just fix the problem. Don’t bore me with why it’s broken. JUST FIX IT. Hopefully this round of apologies is a signal that they’re actually going to do it.

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5 comments on “Northwest Finally Figures it Out

  1. I don’t completely agree. I do care what the reason is and whether or not the airline is to blame or its unions.

  2. Yeah, with most of the traveling public selecting an airline solely based on whatever low fare sidestep.com coughs up, I don’t see why they try to do this kind of damage control anyway. Just have low fares on routes that people want, and try to keep your service slightly above disaster level, and you’ll survive.

  3. I know I won’t be using NW for a long, long time. They cancelled an early a.m. flight out of DEN to MSP and I had to totally rearrange my schedule, upsetting valuable customers and my valuable time. It’s all UAL – I’m done with NW.

  4. Northwest is a joke. They have many irritating features. Perhaps, the worst is trying to book a flight or make changes to a flight and being routed through the “India Call Center”. Good luck trying to understand anything they are saying to you. No, its not the same as a call center staffed by higher paid Americans. Its lower quality service. God forbid you that you need to speak to a living human being about the frequent flier program either. If by some miracle you finally get through to someone, you won’t be able to understand anything they say either.

  5. The management of Northwest isn’t fit to run an airline — or for that matter any consumer-focused company. I used to sympathize with Northwest employees until some baggage handler maliciously damaged my luggage (presumably because it was unusually heavy).

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