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 The Brancatelli File

joe NORTHWEST SPEAKS.
YOU DECIDE.


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

September 16, 1997 -- As virtually the only working journalist in America paid to voice his opinion about the state of business travel, I am nevertheless acutely aware of my other responsibility to you: to deliver useful information and pertinent data that allow you to form your own opinions about life on the road.

Sometimes, however, the information I believe I am honor-bound to present is so fundamentally at odds with what I am convinced is the truth that I cannot reconcile the two. This is one such instance.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a column that the Minneapolis Star Tribune and other observers called a "scathing" indictment of Northwest Airlines.

On Friday evening, I spent an hour on the phone with two senior Northwest executives and a Northwest public-relations official. It may surprise you to learn that they did not question the accuracy of my report or even attempt to dissuade me from forfeiting my WorldPerks Gold credentials and stop flying Northwest.

But here is where my duty to present you with information and my responsibility to tell you what I believe is the truth go careening off in different directions.

So let me first present, as accurately as I can, bullet points of information provided to me by Northwest executive vice presidents Mike Levine and Ray Vecci.

Vecci said there "was no firm date" when Northwest management would declare the airline "fixed," but explained that improvements, repairs, and upgrades are ongoing. Levine said Northwest had "only gotten better in the last three or four weeks." More importantly, he said, "I would argue that the worst is past."

Now let me tell you what I believe to be the truth: I don't think these guys get it.

Let me offer a few bullet points of my own.

Not once in our hour-long conversation did Levine or Vecci volunteer an apology for the service Northwest has provided. They admitted to the problems, took responsibility for the foul-ups, but never made the simple gesture of saying they were sorry.

In fact, when I asked why they hadn't discussed Northwest's service problems with their best customers or even bothered to explain all the measures they say they are taking to improve the airline, Levine said it was a public relations "strategy decision." As of Friday night, Northwest had no plans to inform their most frequent flyers about anything we've discussed here.

And then there is last week's almost incomprehensible 5 percent increase on walk-up fares, a targeted price hike aimed directly at must-fly business travelers. Want to know who raised fares first?

Northwest Airlines.

In the show-me-the-money world of business travel, I think we've just reached the bottom line.

This column originally appeared at thetrip.com.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.