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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rash of Troubles Give Northwest a Headache




MINNEAPOLIS -- For Northwest Airlines, life always seems to be a series of peaks and valleys with choppy air in between. Recently, the fourth largest U.S. airline seems to be hitting some turbulence.


The airline is being pummeled from several directions, giving stockholders a rocky ride as it spars with flight attendants over an alleged sickout, faces criticism for leaving passengers aboard a plane delayed by weather and deals with a programmer who left credit card numbers unprotected on its web site.


Add to that a 22-year veteran pilot who left a plane full of passengers before takeoff and caught a cab to an off-site restaurant because the special meal he wanted wasn't put aboard the plane.


The pilot was fired. Northwest isn't saying anything about the errant programmer, but coughed up 5,000 frequent flier miles for each customer whose credit card numbers were not secured.


The passengers stranded on the tarmac for 3 1/2 hours at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport before their flight was canceled got an apology letter and a free ticket after the fact.


But the public is left with the impression of an airline in turmoil, a company dealing with loose-cannon employees in an industry hit by soaring fuel prices and notoriously unstable fares.


Northwest stock, which traded as high as $35.25 last July, now trades around $22.


"This airline has got problems and you can quote me on that," said Charles Hockert, a Twin Cities accountant whose flight to Las Vegas was delayed for an hour in early December because flight attendants didn't show up on time. "They called it a miscommunication over scheduling."


However, Hockert said he sympathizes with Northwest's flight attendants, who have been seeking a new contract since September 1996.


The National Mediation Board has called the union to a status conference in Washington on Jan. 25 and Local 2000 President Billie Davenport said no developments in the contract dispute are expected until after the conference.


Northwest maintains that the series of incidents that has kept the airline in the news since November does not indicate the carrier is in trouble.


"Every company has a series of streaks of stuff that they wish wasn't in the news," spokesman Jon Austin said. The security breach on the web site resulted in calls from "a few people who've been ticked off and I think that's reasonable. But most were pleased that we notified them and even more pleased about the 5,000 World Perks miles that we included."


Austin said a company is in trouble when it stops responding and trying to remedy complaints.


"I think the thing not to do for a company is to get gun-shy about not doing the right thing," he said. "We will make other mistakes. When we do that we owe it to people to own up to them."