Northwest Airlines

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Northwest Airlines Logo

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Rendering of a Northwest Airlines Boeing 787

Northwest Airlines Template:Airline codes Template:Nasdaq is an airline headquartered in Eagan, Minnesota, with three major hubs in the United States: Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, and Memphis International Airport. Northwest also operates flights from a hub in Asia from Narita International Airport near Tokyo, as well as flights to India from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Northwest is currently the world's fourth largest airline in terms of RPK (revenue-passenger-kilometers). In addition to operating one of the largest domestic route networks in the U.S., Northwest carries more passengers across the Pacific (5.1 million in 2004) than any other U.S. carrier, and carries more air cargo than any other passenger airline.

Northwest Airlines' regional flights are operated under the name Northwest Airlink. In September 2004, Northwest joined the SkyTeam Alliance along with its long-time partners, KLM and Continental Airlines. (Northwest was formerly part of the Wings Alliance). Its frequent flyer program is called WorldPerks.



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The Curtiss Oriole, one of two biplanes Northwest used initially to haul U.S. mail.

Northwest Airlines was founded in 1926 by Col. Lewis Brittin, under the name Northwest Airways. Like other early airlines, Northwest's focus was not in hauling passengers, but in flying mail for the U.S. Postal Service. The fledgling airline established a mail route between Minneapolis and Chicago, using open cockpit biplanes such as the Curtiss Oriole.

Northwest did not begin flying passengers until 1927. In 1928, the airline started its first international route with service to Winnipeg, Canada. The airline's operations were expanded to smaller cities in the region by the end of the decade. In 1933, Northwest was designated to fly the Northern Transcontinental Route from New York City to Seattle, Washington: it adopted the name Northwest Airlines the following year. Northwest stock began to be publicly traded in 1941.

During World War II, Northwest flew military equipment and personnel from the continental United States to Alaska. This experience led the government to designate Northwest as the United States' main North Pacific carrier following the war. In 1947, Northwest became the first U.S. airline to fly to Japan, using Boeing 377 Stratocruisers from Seattle (direct) and Chicago (via Anchorage). From Tokyo, Northwest flights continued to Shanghai, Manila, and Hong Kong. (Taipei replaced Shanghai after the revolution of 1949.) With its new routes, the airline rebranded itself as Northwest Orient Airlines. In 1951, Northwest helped establish Japan Airlines by leasing its aircraft and crew to the new company. Northwest remains the largest non-Japanese carrier at Tokyo's Narita Airport, with flights to 15 cities in Asia including Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Singapore.

After airline deregulation, Northwest began direct flights to other Asian cities, and gradually strengthened its presence in the southern United States. It also began flying to Britain, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. In 1985, Northwest purchased Republic Airlines and adopted its three-hub network centered around Minneapolis, Detroit, and Memphis. Northwest returned to its original name with the merger.

Northwest was purchased in a 1989 leveraged buyout by an investment group headed by Al Checchi and Gary Wilson, KLM, and many others. In 1993, Northwest entered its cooperative agreement with KLM, which was the largest airline partnership ever conceived at the time. Northwest gradually pulled out of its minor European destinations and focused its attention on the domestic and Asian markets once more.

In the early 2000s, Northwest Airlines acquired a reputation of refusing to adopt industry-wide rate increases that had been accepted by other United States airlines. This changed in March 2005, when Northwest adupted rate hikes in response to rising oil prices.

Aviation incidents

There have been few major incidents involving Northwest aircraft. On March 12, 1948 Northwest Airlines flight 4422 crashed into Mount Sanford Alaska. The flight was a DC-4 military charter enroute back to the US from Shanghai that had just refueled at Anchorage. Many witnesses in the nearby town of Gulkana saw the crash but the wreckage was lost for over 50 years. Snowstorms quickly buried its exact location in a mountain glacier. Over the years various individuals lured by rumors of a secret gold cargo shipment searched the mountain and came home empty handed. Northwest pilot Marc Millican and Delta pilot Kevin McGregor had been searching the mountain together and on their own since 1995. In 1997 they located a few pieces of wreckage but were unable to confirm it was from Northwest 4422. Only in 1999 after obtaining permission from the park service and victims relatives were they able to remove wreckage that confirmed it was indeed from this flight. No secret treasure was ever found. At the time of the crash it was determined the pilots were 23 miles off course and may not have seen the mountain at night. NTSB investigation in 1999 shows both propellers were spinning at high velocity when they struck the mountain supporting this theory.

The disappearance of Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 on June 23, 1950, over Lake Michigan has never been solved. On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed on takeoff from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. All aboard the Douglas DC-9 were killed except for one young girl.

Three Northwest aircraft were targeted in the failed Operation Bojinka terrorist plot of 1995. Also related to terrorism, just before the September 11, 2001 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui (who was later labeled as a possible "20th hijacker" by the news media) was arrested after attempting to use a flight simulator operated by Northwest.

In 1990, three crew members were intoxicated when they flew their Boeing 727 airliner from Fargo, North Dakota to MSP airport in the Twin Cities. Another incident occurred in January 2001 when a pilot flew a DC-10 from San Antonio, Texas to MSP. Upon landing, he had a 0.056% blood alcohol content level, above the Federal Aviation Administration limit. He was soon fired. British Airways, America West, Delta, and many other airlines have had to deal with this issue.

In 2004, pilots on a Northwest Airlines flight mistakenly landed at Ellsworth AFB instead of at the Rapid City airport. Passengers aboard were asked to close their window shades by the US Air Force.

In 2005 a Northwest DC-10 enroute from Mumbai (Bombay) to Amsterdam diverted to Mehrabad Airport in Tehran Iran. A warning light indicated there was a problem in the cargo hold. Precautionary diversions are not uncommon but this was the first US airliner to land in Iran since the revolution.


Northwest Airlines DC-10 in the old livery
Northwest Airlines DC-10 in the old livery

Northwest currently has one of the oldest fleets of all major air carriers, with an average airframe age of 18.3 years across the fleet. This is due to its large fleet of DC-9s dating from the 1970s and 80s. Excluding its DC-9 fleet, its average fleet age is 9.9 years [1] ( Though the airframes may be aging, the interiors of its DC-9 fleet aren't terribly old; Northwest refurbished them in the mid-1990s. Northwest's relative financial stability compared to other North American carriers has been attributed to its retention of its older planes [2] ( Even so, Northwest's DC-9s are being retired at a rate of about 10 a year as they reach their maximum flight ratings [3] ( Exactly how the airline will replace them in the long run is still an open question, but at present Northwest seems to be moving towards a solution using CRJs operated by its Northwest Airlink subsidiaries [4] (

Northwest introduced the Boeing 747-400 in 1989 and plans to be the first U.S.-based Boeing 787 operator in 2008.

All of Northwest's aircraft have a two-class configuration: coach and first class on domestic routes, coach and World Business Class on international routes. Northwest's A330s and 747-451s have the first flat reclining seats in business class on any American airline. The A330s also have televisions on the back of every coach seat.
Type Total Passengers
Boeing 747-451 16 403 (65/338) New York-Tokyo-Hong Kong, Detroit-Tokyo-Shanghai, Minneapolis-Tokyo-Manila, Detroit-Nagoya-Manila, Detroit-Osaka-Taipei, Honolulu-Tokyo
Boeing 747-251 6 353 (67/286) US-Japan
430 (30/400) Pacific islands
Los Angeles-Tokyo, Honolulu-Tokyo, Guam-Tokyo
Airbus A330-300 8 298 (34/264) Detroit-Frankfurt, Detroit-Paris, Detroit-Amsterdam, Boston-Amsterdam
Airbus A330-200 7 243 (32/211) Seattle-Tokyo-Seoul, Tokyo-Beijing, Portland-Tokyo-Singapore, San Francisco-Tokyo-Bangkok
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 22 273 (26/247) Minneapolis-Amsterdam-Mumbai, Detroit-London, Honolulu-Osaka, Seattle-Amsterdam, Minneapolis-Honolulu
Boeing 757-351 16 224 (24/200) San Francisco-Honolulu; domestic routes
Boeing 757-251 56 180 (22/158)
or 184 (22/162) US
182 (20/162) int'l
Saipan-Nagoya-Tokyo, Tokyo-Busan, Tokyo-Guangzhou; domestic routes
Airbus A320-200 78 148 (16/132) domestic routes
Airbus A319-100 70 124 (16/108) domestic routes
Douglas DC-9-50 35 125 (16/109) domestic routes
Douglas DC-9-40 12 110 (16/94) domestic routes
Douglas DC-9-30 112 100 (16/84) domestic routes
Boeing 787-851 18 orders,
50 options
221 (36/185) Entry into service: 2008 First Route to be New York - Tokyo

Northwest also operates twelve Boeing 747-251F freighters.


See article: Northwest Airlines destinations

Frequent flyer program

"WorldPerks" is Northwest Airlines' reward program for frequent fliers, offering travelers the ability to obtain free First Class upgrades on flights or numerous other types of rewards. Customer accumulate miles from actual flight segments they fly on or through Northwest's partners, such as car rental companies. These miles can then be redeemed for upgrades or free tickets.


External links


Members of the Skyteam Alliance
Aeromxico | Air France | Alitalia | Continental Airlines | CSA Czech Airlines | Delta Air Lines | KLM | Korean Air | Northwest Airlines
Future Members: Air Europa | Aeroflot | China Southern Airlines | COPA | Kenya Airways | TAROM
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fr:Northwest Airlines ja:ノースウエスト航空


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