Following is a short report from a First Class flight I did last Autumn between Seattle and Detroit aboard an ancient Northwest DC-10-40.
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I arrived at Seattle’s airport to find no one in line at Northwest’s First Class check-in counter. Even the Economy Class queue looked quite manageable. Traveling on a Saturday morning does have its advantages. Check in was swift and efficient and I was pleased to see the addition of Priority tags appended to my baggage even if the baggage handlers only occasionally acknowledge them. I proceeded quickly through security and boarded the train out to the Northwest gates, located on SeaTac’s South Satellite.
With 45 minutes to spare before departure, I headed over to Northwest’s World Club. The lounge was spacious, bright and well stocked with newspapers, coffee, juices, breakfast breads and even a cappuccino machine. Another fine feature of this and other Northwest World Clubs I have visited is the large number of work stations available, providing well lighted desk space, telephone and internet connections.
Boarding was efficient as well – no long queues to be found either outside the gate or more annoyingly, inside the jetway. I must try to travel on Saturdays more often. The equipment for this flight was a DC-10, an aircraft introduced almost thirty years ago. I believe Northwest is the only major airline in America still operating this venerable equipment aside from charter carriers and Hawaiian Air. Even so, I have always enjoyed flying aboard the DC-10. It is a fairly quiet aircraft in the cabin and has what surely must be the largest windows of any commercial jetliner.
The First Class cabin on this aircraft was comprised of thirty-six seats, upholstered in an attractive dark blue patterned fabric. I very much prefer fabric to leather seats, which often seem stiff and squeaky rather than soft and supple. At first glance, these seats appeared quite small by First Class standards ~ about the size of DC-9 First Class seats. This is because the seatbacks are totally separated by the wide armrest dividing each seat pair leaving a space of about 8 inches between seatbacks. Once sat however, the seat cushions are as wide and soft as most any First Class seat and the overall impression was one of reasonable comfort. Though the large number of seats did not lend an air of spaciousness to the First Class cabin, it appeared otherwise clean and inviting. There were no in-seat phones however, and Northwest no longer provides movies or music on domestic flights within the contiguous United States.
A flight attendant appeared, took my jacket and offered a pre-departure beverage. I asked for an orange juice and settled in for the almost four hour flight into Detroit.
Upon reaching cruising altitude, little time was wasted in getting the breakfast service under way. I have always looked forward to the inflight meal service, if only for the diversion that a good meal offers to a long trip. Despite this being a nearly four hour flight, no menu was presented. Coffee and juices were offered followed by the breakfast cart. Today’s choices were cereal, French toast or an omelet. I chose the omelet. A tray was presented with an unopened container of fat-free yogurt, a bowl of fresh fruit and my entrée with the tin foil still affixed to the top of the dish. Silverware was of course plasticware rolled up in a linen napkin. Individual salt and pepper shakers were not in evidence, having been replaced by individual packets which proved insufficient for both the omelet and potatoes. The omelet itself, though small, was tasty. Unfortunately, my serving of O’Brien potatoes were more onion and peppers than potatoes. A single slice of Canadian bacon was halved and tossed in on the side. Almost as an afterthought, we were offered either a muffin or a bagel. I chose the bagel which was served cold. Later in the flight, my three attempts to get a glass of water via the flight attendant call button went unheeded.
I have logged well over two million miles in the air aboard over one hundred airlines and have eaten hundreds of First Class meals in that time. I, more than most, appreciate the difficulties in preparing and serving top-flight food aloft so I certainly don't hold the airlines to the same standards I would for a restaurant on the ground. Nevertheless, based upon my experiences aloft, the meal and presentation aboard this flight would have been appropriate had the flight time been two hours or less. On a flight of nearly four hours however, I would have expected a nicer meal with a better presentation. Even on a domestic flight in America. In years past, Northwest accomplished this with an enhanced service for longer flights called Regal Imperial Service. Certainly there was ample time to serve this meal course by course. Based upon this and several other flights on Northwest in the past year, it is obvious that little emphasis is placed upon either meal quality or presentation. The complete disappearance of the flight attendants over the latter half of the flight was hardly professional.
This best part of this Northwest flight was on the ground. Pre-flight check-in and lounge facilities were excellent and my luggage was delivered in a timely manner upon arrival in Detroit. Overall, Northwest delivers a fairly reliable product. Most all of my recent flights on them including this one have been on time. While many of their aircraft are older (though they appear clean and well maintained) and the inflight service is negligible, this airline is certainly acceptable for domestic travel within North America. I would not, however, pay top dollar for their international Business Class product.