R.I.P. Northwest Airlines

Nearly two years after Delta and Northwest Airlines announced their merger the Northwest Airlines (also known as NWA) brand has totally disappeared. From the first of February 2010, there are no more Northwest airport locations, check-in desks, no NW flight numbers, not even a website.

Delta and Northwest announced their plans for merger in the middle of April, 2008, that also included the declaration that the Delta brand will be kept. We all knew this was coming, but it’s still hard to believe that such a well-known, traditional airline brand is now completely history.

Established in 1926 as Northwest Airways, it started flying mail for the US Post Office. One year later it was also transporting passengers and went international with its first route to Winnipeg, Canada in 1928.

In 1931, Northwest sponsored Charles and Anne Lindbergh on a pioneering flight to Japan, scouting what would become known as the Northwest Airlines Great Circle route, and proving that flying via Alaska could save as much as 2,000 miles (3,000 km) on a New York City-Tokyo route. In 1933, Northwest was designated to fly the Northern Transcontinental Route from New York City to Seattle, Washington, adopting the name of Northwest Airlines one year later. In 1947 it became the first airline to operate a commercial passenger flight from the USA (Minneapolis) to Japan (Tokyo) onboard a Douglas DC-4, flying through Edmonton (Canada), Anchorage (Alaska) and Shemya in the Aleutian Islands. The flight actually continued from Tokyo to Shanghai (China) and to Manila (Philippines). Soon followed by flights to Seoul (Korea) and Taipei, Taiwan in 1950. At this time the airline was re-branded as “Northwest Orient Airlines“.

In 1951, Northwest was involved in the foundation of Japan Airlines (JAL) by leasing airplanes and crew to the newly formed Japanese flag carrier. From 1952 Northwest was granted a right to operate flights out of Tokyo to other Asian destinations (12 at some point in time), and soon it became the largest non-Japanese carrier at Tokyo. It remains very active on these routes out of Japan even until today. Northwest started using the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet in 1970.

After merging with Republic Airlines in 1986 and dropping the word “Orient” from its name, in 1993 Northwest launched one of the biggest airline partnerships ever, with Dutch KLM. When KLM merged with Air France, it meant that both KLM and Northwest joined the SkyTeam alliance.

In 2005, Northwest was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection – becoming the 4th of the top 6 US carriers to kick off a reorganization process that year being protected. Northwest emerged from bankruptcy protection 20 months later, in May, 2007. Then, it took less than a year to announce the merger with Delta Airlines in April 2008 to form the World’s Largest Airline, to be named Delta Air Lines.

During 2009 the Northwest brand started to fade away with airport counters merging with Delta, as well as many aircraft getting repainted in the Delta scheme – which also meant new Airbus types carrying the Delta logo for the first time ever (for example the Airbus A330 as seen below). October 2009 saw the operational center being moved to Atlanta, GA from its long-time main hub in Minneapolis/St.Paul, MN. Other hubs developed over the years in Detroit, Memphis, Amsterdam and Tokyo-Narita are now fully taken over by Delta.

After operating as a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines for more than a year with 303 aircraft, Northwest Airlines as a company ceased to exist officially on December 31, 2009. One month later, on January 31, 2010, Delta completed the merge of the reservation systems, redirected http://www.nwa.com over to http://www.delta.com and discontinued using the Northwest name for flights. The official last Northwest flight was NW2470 from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. The actual last Northwest departure was actually a chartered Airbus A319 flying as NW 9946, a flight between Washington-Dulles and Minneapolis, departed at 12:54 AM EST on January 31st. Maybe reflecting on the nearly quarter of a century partnership with KLM, the last flight to land was NW 248, a flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, landing at 5:33 AM EST.

Its headquarters building in Eagan, Minnesota that once housed approximately 1000 employees is currently up for sale. Some airplanes are still flying in nwa livery – but only until they get their new paint-job as part of periodical maintenance…

R.I.P. Northwest Airlines

Flew for 83 years and 3 months (1926-2009)

by balint01


4 Responses to “R.I.P. Northwest Airlines”

  1. 1 William Witman February 7, 2010 at 4:43 am

    I haven’t seen a Northwest airliner for a while.

    On a side note, I don’t see why one of these airliners doesn’t paint their fleet of planes bright (hot, fluorescent, etc.) pink. I think it would be one of the greatest marketing ploys of all time. Could you imagine flying over a city of several million and anyone who happens to look up instantly recognizes your brand?? 🙂

  2. 2 brucedrum February 7, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Thank you for the nice piece. I actually did something similiar on my blog. NW will be missed by one.

    Bruce Drum
    Airliners Gallery

  3. 3 Patrick February 8, 2010 at 10:54 am

    @William… it’s been done!

  4. 4 Bob Van Hemert June 27, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    As an ex-Northwest Airlines employee (retired) I worked for them for thirty years. Started at O’Hare in November, 1973. It was so different back then. It was a money maker for years and under Donald W. Nyrop, the Company grew and carefully expanded. In Tokyo, we occupied a big presence. All flights were 747’s.
    It wasn’t until the merger with Republic Airlines, that a break down began. So many inexperienced managers (mostly from North Central) began dismantling Northwest. Sky Magary was a nightmare. He later left for United Airlines. Joe Leonard was another exec. who was bad news. The company was later bought by two investors who knew nothing about running an airline. They had to hire consultants and pay them millions for the advice.
    However, as time went on, conditions and overall operations began to improve. There were a lot of missed opportunities . Now, it’s all over. Perhaps Delta can use Northwest to their advantage. It’s a sign of the times. Best of Luck!

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