I’m officially pissed at Northwest Airlines

Northwest Airlines is officially stupid and refuses to fly me straight back to MSP from Montréal (where I’ve become sick) and instead insists on making a sick person fly through DC to get to Minnesota. And they’re charging me $200 for the privilege. Ugh.

Nothing like faceless bureaucracies to really help a guy out when he’s ill.



Take Northwest Airlines (or Delta or whatever the hell they are at the moment) as a shining non-example.

Last Tuesday I flew to Montréal for GECCO (one of the really big conferences in my research area). I was supposed to fly to DC yesterday for an NSF review panel today and tomorrow. I would then fly back to MSP on Wednesday.

Unfortunately I became quite ill yesterday morning, starting with diarrhea, and then adding vomiting just in case I hadn’t gotten everything out of my system. As a result I took what I thought was the fairly wise decision of not flying to DC for the panel. The one relevant study I found indicated that after surveying 1,000s of people, they only found one would actually wanted to sit for several hours in a small tin can thousands of feet in the air next to someone who was busily ejecting all their gastro-intestinal contents. And that one lucky customer thought they were Napoleon.

So, you might think that I was doing the airline industry a favor by not bravely struggling to the airport, puking at the ticket counter, and racing to the toilet the moment I boarded their flight.

They apparently see it differently.

The folks at the NSF have kindly told me to skip the whole panel thing and go home and recuperate. Most of the panel’s work is being done today, so there’s not much point showing up tomorrow, etc., etc. My insides are behaving today, but I’m still quite weak and run down, so I’m planning to stay here the rest of the day and head home tomorrow.

I called Northwest Airlines to see what we could work out. Twice. Same stupid answer both times.

They insist on flying me back to MSP via DC “because that’s how my original ticket was set up”. I’m sick. I just want to get the hell home. They have a direct flight to MSP from Montréal. Put me on it. Please?


“Can I put you on hold to see what we can work out with ticketing?”


<Polite language that translates to “You’re screwed.”>

And they wanted $200 in penalties for the privilege of six hours of travel instead of two. Oh, and the chance to see the inside of DC National again for a bit. Thanks. Really. Thanks.

200 frickin dollars to put a sick person on the slow boat to Minnesota. This is the finest customer service money can buy, apparently.

I did this twice, with identical results.

I was so pissed the first time that I announced that I was going to buy a one way ticket from some other airline (any other airline) and hung up. I’m generally extremely polite with these people, because they’re powerless drones passing along bad news they have no control over. I suspect on their scale of asshole-ness, I was still really polite, but I did feel a little bit bad about it after I hung up.

A phone call was placed to the center of all wisdom and common sense (aka WeatherGirl), and we discussed the situation. It would in fact cost me over $500 to fly back on another airline, and that had a stop in Philidelphia; the best non-stop was over $800.


Crow was therefore eaten, and I called Northwest back and said I’d take the $200 “deal” (hence the second call).

Ugh again. And to DC I go.

Because of the DC leg, there’s no plausible routing that gets me to MSP for the last (3 hour) shuttle ride back to Morris. The current plan is for my remarkably generous family to drive out to pick me up (7 or 8 hours of their life I don’t get to bill to anyone). Otherwise I’ll start shopping around contacts in the Cities and see if someone will let a sick puppy sleep on a couch tomorrow night and take the shuttle Wednesday.

I’m sure there are a thousand reasons by their bureaucracy “needs” me to go through DC, but none of them make a damn bit of sense. I’ve heard this sort of “logic” before, and it’s the same stuff lazy software developers use to justify why something “can’t be done”, which what they really mean is “We can’t be bothered”.

I suspect the big issue may be that the middle leg (Montréal to DC) is on United, and United is gonna want a pound of flesh from Northwest regardless. So instead of working with me, or trying to work with United, Northwest insists on making United fly me to DC so the corporate accounting plays out in the end.


At least I have a good health care plan. Watching this amazing Bill Moyers interview with Wendell Potter makes one despair for the capitalism that is running rampant across the globe, and all the misfortunates being trodden under foot in the process. In that perspective I’m damn privileged.

I think I’m going to eat some more of the fruit from this morning’s breakfast and take a nap. I’ve got a long day tomorrow and need my rest.

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9 thoughts on “I’m officially pissed at Northwest Airlines”

  1. Did you let the NSF travel agents book your trip? Usually they pay some sort of ridiculously high government rate that entitles you to fly on any flight, any time. (Every panel I’ve been on has ended early, and in each case I’ve taken a cab to Reagan/National and walked onto the first flight back to MSP, twice in front of standby passengers…)

    If you do end up needing a place to crash Tuesday night there’s a futon in our office.

  2. Wouldn’t you know it, but I happened to be in a trial where they were buying non-refundable tickets. Weird, eh?

    Thanks a ton for the kind offer. I think my family is going to come and save me, but I’ll give you a call if things change.

    Oh, and remind me to not go to GECCO 2019. In 1999 I ruptured a disk in my lower back, and in 2009 this happens. Best if I just stay away 10 years from now :-).

  3. I remember that from GECCO99! You asked me to call your wife as they carted you off to the ambulance.

    So… definitely not on GECCO 2019.

  4. Hey Nic,
    Just talked to WeatherGirl and told her that I could come and get you at the airport and drive you to Sauk Rapids where you’d be welcome to spend the night. It’s not all the way to Morris, but it gets you half way there and reduces the insane driving time for the rest of the family to get you. It’s also gives us a chance to show you the house, introduce you to Julian and spend some time with the McPhee & Gilbert clan (always a good thing). Let me know:)

  5. Nick: Definitely a no go for 2019 :-).

    Alex: Many thanks for the very kind offer; saving WeatherGirl on much of her driving will be really wonderful. She’ll be in touch to sort things out!

  6. Ditto the couch offer. I should tell you the story of when my friend got married, and the bride’s maid’s dress belonging to his sister was put onto the wrong flight. Long story short (and several missed attempts to get the dress back) the airline told her that if she wanted to ensure that it arrived, she should have bought it its own seat.

  7. I’ve heard a couple of people pretty upset with the NWA/Delta merger as the customer service of NWA was one of the things that was tossed out. Much like the Dayton’s/Macy’s merger, customer service takes the hit first.

    If you ever need a ride from the Cities somewhere, feel free to give Fortress FunkedeVoort a call as well or consider it a place with an extra bunk!

  8. Thanks again to everyone for the generous offers of couches, etc. It’s nice to know that I have plenty of places in the Cities where I could crash if necessary. :-)

  9. I recently had the most awful experience I have ever had with an airline. This situation is so ridiculous I would almost find it humorous if it hadn’t happened been me they screwed. Take my advice and never fly with Northwest Airlines!

    I booked a multiple destination flight from Columbus to San Antonio, San Antonio to Dallas, and then Dallas back to Columbus through Orbitz. Northwest Airlines issued my ticket. Three days before my flight from San Antonio to Dallas, I decided instead to drive to Dallas early and just catch my flight back to Columbus. I called Orbitz to see if I could get some money back for driving instead of flying one leg of the trip and was told I had to cancel that flight. So I agreed and after the flight was cancelled, I was then told that my flight from Dallas to Columbus had been cancelled as well.

    Evidently Northwest loves to collect extra fees for changing tickets. If you purchase a ticket that goes to multiple destinations, you not only can’t cancel any portion of the trip, you have to literally show up for every leg of trip or your entire trip is cancelled! Not only was I not allowed to cancel my flight from San Antonio to Dallas, they told me that if I didn’t show up for my flight in San Antonio, my flight to Columbus would be cancelled as well. How much would it cost me to drive one leg of the trip instead of flying….a minimum of $200, possibly more!

    I can’t believe the desperation of Northwest Airlines to try and make an extra buck by hiding fees in their Terms of Agreement! When I called their customer service, they were extremely rude and obnoxious. I was shocked! I would never have believed I would receive this kind of treatment from any business much less a big airline. Now I’m out hundreds of dollars by missing my flight from San Antonio and have to pay a minimum of $200 if I want to re-book my flight from Dallas to Columbus.

    People should be aware that Northwest might be cheap to fly, but they are hiding as many fees as they can in the small print of those online agreements you agree to when you click accept. I will never fly Northwest Airlines again and I hope many people will read this and avert disaster. Just pay a little extra and fly Southwest which is an honest company.

    The only consolation I have had throughout this awful experience is the knowledge that companies like Northwest, who are dishonest and corrupt, will always go out of business when they resort to this kind of dishonest behavior.

    In disgust,
    Jonathan Munson

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