A Go-Around in Minneapolis (Trip Report)

Delta, Northwest, Trip Reports

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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18 comments on “A Go-Around in Minneapolis (Trip Report)

  1. You can thank Delta for all those schedule changes. Before merger NW ever-so-rarely tweaked its schedule. Now – DL is always playing with the NW schedule. I’ve had numerous schedule changes and it’s annoying. Apparently it’s a long-time DL thing according to some fliers on FT and airliners.net.

  2. If you ever need a workout, just go from the F gates to the C gates in Minneapolis.

    That’s not too terrible. There is the tram along the ABC gates and moving walkways. The E & F gates are the original ones but not terrible deep. At least you can walk almost everywhere at MSP behind security so if you are craving a certain food or looking for a better magazine selection you aren’t held hostage to what’s in the direct vacinity.

    Seem to recall a seemingly endless walk to the gate a PMI.

  3. As a NW Elite, I can say that the first class service has gotten better under the Delta regime as well.

  4. It will be interesting to see if the DL service sticks down the road. That will be a lot of peanuts and biscoff cookies to give out to a combined DL/NW fleet. The new ‘largest’ airline may decide it will stop the free service or just do away with it, at least on short/non-long-haul domestic service. They might be trying to win over NW customers by doing nice/free things now in hopes they don’t jump ship to other carriers.

    And don’t pout it’s not becoming on you. Didn’t Shirley used to tell Laverne not to do that or her face would stay that way…….lol

  5. Eh, I think the pout is rather cute..

    As strange as it sounds I’d like to have a go around on a plane, just to experience it. Although, I’ve had an aborted takeoff. (Its great fun getting the engines reved up, then going full bore for thrust reversers and brakes to slow down..)

  6. Usually I’m excited to get switched off the DC-9. A nice enough plane, but man I always end up in the back.

  7. Since Delta took over, peanuts are back on NWA flights. I have conflicting thoughts about this — supporting a local (GA)/domestic industry vs. keeping airline flights as risk-free as possible for people, especially young children, with peanut allergies, like my son. Avoiding the actual peanut is the easy part — it’s avoiding the peanut residue left behind by all the fliers who previously sat in his seat. Thankfully he is older now — doesn’t suck his thumb anymore and knows to avoid touching his eyes, mouth or nose after touching anything that may have peanut residue on it, like tray tables and seatbelt buckles (even a trace amount of peanut protein can potentially cause a life-threatening reaction). An anaphylactic reaction could cause a flight to make an unscheduled landing, delaying everyone, let alone risking the life of the person with the allergy. Food for thought…

  8. Love the trip reports! Thank you so much for continuing to publish them.

    I, too, found myself chuckling at your pouty face. Very very nice.

    Any idea on the timeline to get the old NWA planes into new Delta colors. I was surprised that none of your flights had the new Delta colors. I thought they were speedily rebranding all the NWA planes.

  9. Artie – I know they’ve been painting, but there were only a handful in the new colors in Minneapolis. I thought I remembered them saying it was supposed to be completed by the end of 2010.

  10. I’ve flown about 16 NWA now Delta flights in the past 2 months from and to minneapolis. Only 1 of them was in delta colors (going to JFK)…though the interiors of these planes are all still rotten. Does anyone know when delta will improve those? I havent noticed much of a difference in flight attendant attitudes. I know gate agents are still the most unhappy people on the planet (im very young – 20 -, but am an elite member. whenever i get upgrades, i go to the counter and they bark at me “what do you want”). At San Francisco airport, the ticket counter people were extremely unhelpful as well claiming that the delta/northwest systems werent combined and they couldnt print me out a NWA boarding pass at a delta counter. I then went to the hawaiian airlines computers which blazened NWA, Delta and Hawaiian Airlines on the screen and the man yelled at me i couldnt use those as well, that i needed to go to the “red” counter. If i weren’t an elite member, Id definitely switch to a different airline right about now…

  11. MB – I haven’t heard anything about interior upgrades yet, but I’d imagine it will happen in due time. My guess is the DC-9s won’t see anything change, but the Airbuses and 757s should eventually see an upgrade. Your frustrations are similar to stories that come up nearly every time an airline merges. Systems need to be merged and workforces combined. Eventually those problems should go away, but it’s always an uncomfortable transition. That’s one reason why mergers suck.

  12. Hi Cranky, I guess this is a good place to post my promised Allegiant trip report (continuing the thread from 2009-02-20). Here it goes.

    Friday 29 May 2009, Allegiant 390. Leave Los Angeles (LAX), gate 67b, scheduled 14:25 (on-time); arrive NW Arkansas (XNA), gate 10b, scheduled 19:25, actual 19:37. Aircraft N875GA (MD-83), 67% full, seats 36A,C,D,E (F was empty). We arrived at LAX with plenty of time and found an empty check-in line, we literally walked right up to the counter. Check-in was pretty traditional, a nice touch was that our baggage claim check was printed on the boarding pass (rather than the standard sticker); perhaps it was due to the fact that we prepaid for the bag. They actually put out bag on the belt behind the check-in counter rather than make us lug it to TSA as most carriers do. We didn’t choose seats in advance, and as promised they did put us together in one row (in what turned out to be the worst seats on the plane).

    To compensate for the null check-in line, there was a pretty long wait to go through security. Afterwards we had time for a quick lunch at the gate. Boarding was a breeze, they didn’t bother with any order because the plane wasn’t nearly full.

    Row 36 turned out to be the very last row of the plane. The only advantage is that seats 36A,C (and also 35A,C) have a huge pitch because they’re behind a galley, but this advantage is immaterial when two of the travelers are under 5 (by the way, the seat maps at http://www.seatguru.com/ are completely wrong). I was bummed mostly because the engines obstructed the view; my wife suffered more from the noise and vibrations. The seats offer no recline, but that’s true of all the seats on the aircraft. The overhead bins in the area are taken up by emergency equipment — we didn’t care because we had minimal carry-ons. Being next to the lavatory is actually an advantage when traveling with small kids, though it’s also somewhat unpleasant — before we even departed, a little girl came with an older woman (could have been grandma), who let the girl go potty with the door open, and then left while announcing loudly in disgust that she didn’t know how to flush the toilet. Ugh.

    We pushed back roughly on time and then taxied forever; because of the engine in my face I wasn’t able to see where we were going. The flight went smoothly and I was even able to nap for about 1:30 hours, though I was partly woken up when they conducted a raffle — apparently passengers put $5 in a hat and one lucky person walks off with the whole lot (perhaps the airline takes a cut too). Landing was smooth. Deplaning was cool because they used the aft airstair (so we were the first to get off). We then walked on the tarmac to enter a long, dimly lit windowless tunnel with bare concrete floors. NW Arkansas has 3 gates with jet bridges (A1-A3), but as far as I can tell they are only used by American; all the other airlines use the B gates off the tunnel. As we walked through the tunnel on our way out we saw a long line of people standing in the tunnel waiting to board the return flight, and we hoped we wouldn’t have to do this on our return.

    We took our time getting out, waited a little longer to pick our checked bag from the single baggage carousel, and as we were waiting outside on the grass for our rental car we saw and heard our plane roar as it took off on its way back to L.A.

  13. Monday 1 June 2009, Allegiant 391. Leave NW Arkansas (XNA), gate 10b, scheduled 20:05, actual 21:27; arrive Los Angeled (LAX), gate 67b, scheduled 21:25, actual landing 22:30, deplane 23:30. Aircraft N875GA (MD-83), 100% full, seats 20E,F, 21E,F. We arrived at the airport early, had a picnic dinner on the grass by the rental car place, and got to watch an American MD-80 take off (probably AA1111 to DFW). We got to the check-in counter at 18:30 with about 35 people (perhaps 12-15 groups) ahead of us. They were processing the line very slowly — there were only 2 agents, and often they had to stop and consult with each other. Part of the reason they were so slow was that they had to take money and explain the bag fees. We reached the head of the line around 19:00.

    Since we had prepaid for our bag we were processed very quickly. Again they wanted to put us in one row in the back, but based on our previous experience we asked to sit up front, so they found us 2 adjacent rows with 2 free seats each, around the middle of the plane just in front of the wing. The seat allocation process was very low-tech, just one sheet of paper with the plane diagram shared between the 2 agents, on which they marked an X whenever they gave someone a seat. Our boarding passes were pre-printed without seats, and the agent just added the seats with a pen. The tag for the prepaid bag was already stapled to one of our boarding passes, and the agent tore off half of it and attached it to the bag with a rubber band. When we were done checking in there were about 60 people in line behind us.

    Ours was the last flight of the day by a large margin, and since people were trickling out of check-in so slowly there was no line for security. Our flight left from the B gates downstairs, but I waited by the A gates on the 2nd floor to see our plane arrive. No plane. The arrivals board announced that the incoming flight had arrived. Then the departure board announced we were boarding, which started a bit of a commotion downstairs. Still no plane, not even a gate agent. Rumors started circulating that the incoming flight was late (what, really?). Finally around 20:00 a gate agent appeared, and announced that our flight would be 50 minutes late (turned out to be a bit optimistic). A few minutes later the departure board showed that our flight had departed.

    Around 20:20 the gate agent announced that the plane would arrive in 10-15 minutes, and in order to leave as soon as possible he started boarding right then and there, starting with pre-boarding for people needing assistance and families with children. We knew what that meant — lining up in the tunnel — so we decided to give up our right to jump to the head of the line. Pre-boarding was followed by priority boarding (people actually paid extra for the privilege of standing in the tunnel for longer), then boarding by rows. The funny thing was that the gate agent announced at the beginning and then multiple times during the boarding process that the plane wasn’t even there, and that he was only lining up people for efficiency, yet the herd kept marching happily into the corral.

    Meanwhile I watched the sunset with the kids from the upper level, and at 20:37 we saw the plane taxi in. As the number of people by the gate was thinning we went downstairs, and when there were about a dozen people left there was an awkward moment where nobody wanted to proceed through. Someone explained to the gate agent that we didn’t really want to stand in the tunnel, but we were afraid he would close the gate and we wouldn’t be able to board. The agent smiled and said it was not a problem — he had to close the gate in order to work the incoming gate from the tunnel (about 10 metres away), but after all the incoming passengers passed through the tunnel he would open the gate again and let us board.

    We stayed happily inside the terminal, and eventually the incoming stream of passengers died out, we passed through the gate and into the tunnel and found that the boarding line was advancing though we still had to spend maybe 5 minutes inside the tunnel as the line was slowly crawling out. We boarded through the aft airstair and made in quickly to our seats (no need for overhead bin space when two people in the party can’t even reach the floor with their feet), and soon we were on our way.

    I would have had a great view sitting in front of the wing, but was stuck in the middle because the kids insisted on taking both window seats (and then they promptly fell asleep). The man to my left was a customer of size who was spilling over into my seat, and he was probably made uncomfortable when I lowered the armrest between us but he didn’t protest. I did manage to sleep for about 2 hours, and woke up as we were starting our descent into LAX. We landed on the south runway (about 1:05 hours late), and quickly taxied to the eastern side of terminal 6, just in time to see a United 747 push back from terminal 7. We parked at gate 68A (right next to the other Allegiant aircraft at 68B) and the captain announced that it would take a few minutes because a bigger aircraft had been there before us and they had to lower the jet bridge.

    It turned out the bridge had a mechanical problem and they were working on it. Then it was broken, period, and the captain announced that we had to be towed to another gate. While they were working on that the captain announced that there was a faster solution — we would all deplane through the aft airstair and enter the terminal from the tarmac. However, LAX was on a heightened security alert so this sort of deplaning was not allowed, and they were working on getting the proper authorizations. After a while the captain came on again and said that it was too late at night, the people who could authorize deplaning were no longer at the airport, at it would be faster to tow the plane than to wait for the authorization.

    After that we only had to wait for a Continental plane to get out, a United plane to get in, and finally we were pushed back and towed around the terminal to gate 67B; on the way we saw a United 747 preparing to depart — I certainly hope it wasn’t the same 747 we saw push back nearly an hour before. For the towing they insisted on everyone stowing their carry-ons, but didn’t check seat belts. Deplaning started at 23:30, exactly 1 hour after we landed. We made our way slowly to the baggage claim and found that the carousel wasn’t turning and our bag was on the floor beside it, apparently they emptied the baggage while the plane was parked at 68A. We boarded the Lot B shuttle at midnight, and were home before 1 AM.

  14. Ron – This may have been better suited for another Allegiant thread, but that’s ok. Thanks for reporting back. Sounds like it was fine except for the late return and potential communication issues around that. Still, it beats having to connect.

  15. The best place to tack this on (to get it properly tagged) would be one of your Allegiant trip reports, but I don’t know if there’s one coming up :-)

    The delay was bad, but still better than the 5-hour rainstorm delay at IAH in last summer’s trip to Arkansas.

    The experience would have been less pleasant if we hadn’t figured out the tunnel avoidance trick. It seems unrelated to the delay — it’s just standard operating procedure for Allegiant at XNA to pile the outgoing passengers in the tunnel before the plane arrives in order to have a single agent handle both the departure and arrival gates. I can understand this coming from a low-cost carrier, but charging passengers extra for priority boarding under these circumstances shows some real chutzpah.

  16. Ron – Fair enough. Maybe I’ll need to go to Monterey for the weekend or something. The tunnel thing does sound pretty awful, but if you aren’t delayed then it’s probably not so bad.

  17. Ron: Thanks for your trip report on Allegiant. I used to like the old days of flying when the gate agents had the little seating chart and you picked out what seat you wanted and they would pull the little seat number sticker off the chart and stick it to your ticket jacket.

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