Thursday, October 30, 2008

U.S. Justice Department Approves Delta Takeover of Northwest Airlines

Well, it happened.  We were pretty sure it would.  It happened much faster and more quietly than I would have imagined, though.  The word was that it would happen before Thanksgiving.  It happened before Halloween.  No person or group (including Congress) stepped up to protest.  The law suit against Delta quietly went away.
So now Delta becomes THE BIGGEST AIRLINE IN THE WORLD, with 400 destinations in 67 countries.  And the red tail disappears.  Not today.  Not tomorrow.  But before too long the red tails on NWA aircraft will be painted over.  NWA personnel already have new uniforms which will be donned around the first of the year.
Thank heavens we have the NWA History Centre in Bloomington, (link on this web site) which is a separate entity from the airline and didn't get sold along with the other assets. Now would be a good time to look through your attics and basements and see if any NWA memorabilia have taken refuge there.  Next step would be a call to the Centre (952) 698-4478 to arrange for donation of said items to the archives. Help preserve the memories of an 82-year-old airline with a magnificent history.
That's about all that is left for us to do.

Friday, October 24, 2008

1957 Air Fares

At a talk I gave yesterday at the Minnetonka Community Center, one participant asked about air fares in the 1950s.  Most particularly, the difference in fare between first class and coach.

Remember now, there were no "class" divisions on aircraft back then. There were only two classes, first class and coach, and the whole airplane was one class or the other.  There was no "business class" or "economy class," either.
I neglected to bring my March, 1957 Northwest Airlines timetable and rate chart with me yesterday, and promised to publish some fares today on my blog for those interested.
1957 Minneapolis-St. Paul to New York, round trip First Class Fare: $117.10
1957 Minneapolis-St. Paul to New York, round trip Coach Fare: $95.40
Yesterday I guessed the difference between first class and coach to New York fifty years ago might be around $25.00. Turns out it was $21.70.  Not too shabby for an old girl, right?  But I must confess, I was thinking in terms of one-way, not round-trip.
The following were International fares to Tokyo, Japan from MSP:
1957 First Class, round trip: $1,356.70. Tourist Class (overseas coach) round trip: $1,022.20
It's very hard to compare the fares of fifty years ago to today's fares for many reasons - not the least of which is the fact that most U.S. airlines were subsidized by the government back then, before deregulation took hold in the 1980's.  Also, the plethora of "classes" available now makes any kind of comparison dicey. But here's an unscientific attempt. The following fares were quoted today on
2008 round trip First Class fare to New York from MSP:  $1,151.00
2008 round trip Coach fare to New York from MSP:  $301.00
And International round-trip fares to Tokyo, Japan from Minneapolis-St. Paul:
2008 First Class:  $2,169.34   Coach:  $1,545.34
All of the 2008 fares include taxes and fees but exclude luggage fees.
I will leave analysis up to you, dear reader.  I know all sorts of things enter in here - like present value of the dollar, etc. And how does one quantify the difference in dollars between government subsidy and free market? Even experts like Alan Greenspan seem to get it wrong from time to time, so I'm not touching this one.  It does seem, however, that airlines in the 1950s were kinder and gentler on the pocketbook as well as the experience. 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Another Walk Around Lake Harriet Is Called For

As I confessed a couple of weeks ago, whenever I have weighty issues on my mind the simple act of walking around Lake Harriet seems to bring things into perspective.  Or at the very least bring calm.  I'm heading over there right now.

This week's list:
*Will the Tampa Bay Rays, armed with their coterie of ex-Twins, win tonight and clinch the American League Pennant in Boston?
*Will John McCain show up on the David Letterman show tonite?
*Will Saturday Night Live Thursday Night recreate last night's debate with Joe the (wannabe) Plumber as the moderator?
*How will the Queen Elizabeth 2 fare in her next life as a luxury hotel in Dubai?
You notice there is nothing on the list about the state of the economy, airline mergers, wars, global warming or survival.  I have decided to ignore these issues in favor of lighter fare. After all, if the politicians can ignore them, why can't I?
I will dutifully report back on most of my selected issues within a day or two.  The future of the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE 2) in Dubai is quite another matter, however, and we won't really know for awhile.  I expect the only way to find out would be to visit Dubai next year and stay at least one night in (or is it on) the QE 2.  A prospect that would, I fear, wipe out any balance still sloshing around in the bottom of my retirement fund.
Twenty-two years ago I did stay on the QE 2, sailing from New York to Southampton.  An American Express/Cunard/British Overseas Airways promotion that offered a return flight on the supersonic Concorde for $500 when you booked one way on the QE 2 got my attention.  You know me and airplanes - - it was the ride on the Concorde I was after and I was not disappointed.  More on that in a later post.
The five days on the QE2 were a magnificent experience; sailing past the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty on our way out to sea, and finally sharing champagne with the parents of a ship's steward on deck while waiting to disembark in Southampton. It was quite a wait.  Passengers disembarked by "class," with AA First Class being first.  I seem to remember we were "k" (small letter) class.  But the son of our deck-mates kept bringing bottles of champagne.  We didn't mind the wait at all.
I can almost picture the QE 2 at her final resting place in Dubai, the oil-rich Gulf sheikdom.  She will be installed as a permanently moored hotel and entertainment complex and museum at the Palm Jemeirah, billed as the world's largest man-made island and beach resort.  You know, the one whose aerial views of the palm tree shaped development proliferated in cyberspace. What I can't picture, however, is the QE 2 without her seven-story-tall funnel which will be removed as part of the makeover 
A symbol of the golden age of ocean travel joins a symbol of the golden age of piston-engined air travel (the Boeing B-377 Stratocruiser,) as beloved icons of a kinder, gentler, way more gracious era in passenger travel. 
I wonder if the Minnesota Air National Guard Museum would consider transforming their Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter (the military forerunner of the B-377 Stratocruiser) into an airport hotel? Failing that, maybe we could fly it to Dubai?
Only kidding, General.   Sir.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Sat In A Stratocruiser Seat Today!

Yes, it is true!  When I arrived at the NWA History Centre this afternoon Mary Fryer said, "Wait 'til you see what we got today!   "What, what?" I responded as she dragged me into the back room and pointed at the airplane seats resting against the wall. "Someone brought us these Stratocruiser seats," she exclaimed.

Well sure enough!  I was able to confirm that these were, indeed, Stratocruiser seats when I sank into the familiar soft upholstery and remembered how I used to curl up in one and take a nap.  Certainly not while on duty, however!

Now this pair of Stratocruiser seats have seen better days, to be sure. ( So have I, for that matter.)   In fact it looks like they have provided comfortable seating in somebody's ice house or hunting shack for the past 50 years.  There is at least 50 years worth of grime and one of the seats needs repair.  I, for one, will happily volunteer to help clean and restore them.  Hopefully with some guidance from someone who knows how this should be done.  I have great faith that Bruce Kitt, NWA History Centre archivist can track down an expert.  I'd love nothing more than to provide some elbow grease.  Or if thats not allowed, just watch.

Real Stratocruiser seats.  I'm excited.

Check out the NWA History Centre web site at

Sunday, October 5, 2008

This was the week that was . . .

I suspect that many of you who remember the Stratocruiser also remember the weekly TV show of the '60s that lends its name to my blog today. Or maybe it was the '70s?  For some reason the decades are blurring - especially those thirty-plus years thence.  

Now don't knock my syntax.  If you're going to let Sarah get away with it, by golly,  let me get away with it for gosh sakes.

Referencing my last blog's big questions, most of them were resolved quickly:

*Northwest and Delta shareholders both approved the merger.

*The Twins DID sweep Chicago last week.  It was impressive!

*Unfortunately we lost the "do or die" playoff in Chicago and we are presently seeking solace by fervently hoping the Rays sweep the White Sox today. 

*John McCain DID show up for the debate last Friday but he wasn't nearly as happy as his running mate appeared to be this week in HER debate.  Will McCain look at Obama in the next presidential debate this coming Tuesday?  Or maybe just peek once in awhile?

*And not so quickly; the US financial system WAS bailed out by congress - but it took another week to do it. Wall St. chastened? Oh dear.  That leaves another open question.

Lady Skywriter had a good week since the last post.  The inspiration bestowed by Lake Harriet did result in productivity. Fujiyama Trays and Oshibori Towels survived its first round with editor Joan Lee pretty much intact.  Thanks to all the things that editors do, it is much improved but intact nonetheless.  Cover designer Bill Moeger has signed on.  It will be great fun to see what he comes up with.  And graphic designer Suzi McDonnough is, as we speak, producing the Power Point presentation I will use for my first talk.

Speaking of the talk - it is Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 1:00 P.M. at the Minnetonka Community Center, 14600 Minnetonka Boulevard.  (Just 5 minutes west of I-494 on Minnetonka Boulevard.)  Refreshments are a surprise but I'll give you a hint: They relate in some way to the title of my up-coming book.  The center will charge a fee of $2.00 per person.

It's only an hour, and it should be good for a laugh or two - either on me or with me.  You be the judge.

Hope to see you there!