A transplanted Southern Californian living in North Dakota Idaho, with some insights on life with deaf dogs, a gluten free spouse, and the occasional mischievous garden gnome. Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I Hate Northwest Airlines

I hate Northwest Airlines. With a passion, with a vengeance, with an almost incomprehensible ire that rises from my very soul. Normally I consider myself above such petty venting, but I feel compelled to share my story with others so that we may all speak with our pocketbooks and rid the world of the scourge of this terrible airline.

My girlfriend is from a small town in North Dakota, and the only feasible way to get there is to fly from sunny San Diego to Minneapolis, then take a connecting flight to Grand Forks, North Dakota. Mind you it's still an hour and a half drive from Grand Forks to her town, and though her parents come to pick us up at the airport, it still makes for a long day of travel. Realistically though, it's the only place to fly into. We could fly into Winnppeg, Canada, which is about the same distance away, but suddenly that's an international flight, more expensive, and troublesome for my girlfriend to bring her dog along in the plane. Fargo is a three hour drive from her small town, which is doable, but a bit unrealistic.
We flew from San Diego early on the day after Christmas and were checking our bags at the Northwest counter in San Diego(we had e-ticketed the flight) when the gate attendant casually asked what was in one of our bags. We had four total bags between two people, each of us had a piece of luggage and a snowboard bag. We were planning on doing some snowboarding at the Frostfire Resort in Wallhalla, ND since it got us out of the house and out into the great frozen wilderness of North Dakota.

We'd almost finished checking the luggage when the gate attendant casually asked "what's in the bags?"

We replied honestly that they had snowboards. Little did I know that this was a big mistake

"Well that's going to be an extra charge" she said, and after looking it up said, "it's an additional $80 per bag".

My girlfriend and looked at each other dumbfounded. She'd flown this same route four years in a row with her snowboard, always on Northwest Airlines, around the holidays and had never been charged and additional fee for a snowboard bag. I'd flown before with my snowboard or golf clubs dozens of times and had never been charged an additional fee on any airline, ever. We each gently explained this to the gate attendant, but when it was obvious she didn't understand this, I began making an angry face and told her "no, we're not paying that".

I asked for her supervisor, but since it was 5:00am, she was the only person on duty at the time, and there was no one else to help, and certainly no one else with any authority. We were left with no choice, having been dropped off at the airport, there was no way to leave the bags and not take them on the trip. After several more minutes of arguing and her calling "someone" on the phone who mysteriously confirmed the additional charge. I angrily and begrudgingly gave her my credit card and asked for the number of customer service so I could complain and hopefully get a refund.

Once we arrived in North Dakota we made three calls to Northwest encompassing a total of almost four hours with still no resolution. We learned that indeed the charge had been incorrect, and we should not have been assessed the additional fee. Vindication was fairly easy, refund of the money though, was a bit more difficult. It was only upon leaving from the airport in Grand Forks that a helpful (and competent – it is very rare to find competence in the ranks of Northwest employees) person finally started the refund process and gave me a follow up number for the refund department to call.

When I called the refund department today (a month after it was allegedly "processed"), they had no record of my refund claim. I was instructed to fax my refund claim information to their office in Minnesota where it would only take "a day or so" to process it. If it can happen that quickly, then why doesn't it? Northwest seems to thrive on poor customer relations, bad policies, inadequately trained staff, and poor customer service.

To top it all off, both the trip there and return trip, including each leg (flight to Minneapolis and connection to Grand Forks on the way there, and to Minneapolis and connection to San Diego) of the trip was delayed at least an hour and half, for every conceivable reason, but surprisingly enough, not weather. On the flight to Grand Forks we sat at the gate for over two and a half hours because they couldn't find the crew to load the baggage. Yup, bags were sitting right there beside t plane, but they couldn't find someone to load them. Inconceivable incompetence across the board.

I will never, ever fly Northwest again, and will advise friends, family, and anyone who will listen to do the same. If the proposed merger with Delta goes through, I will boycott them as well. As for future trips to North Dakota, I'll be flying into Minneapolis (on a different airline) and driving the 6 hours to get to my destination. It's cheaper and ultimately faster.

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