This year is not yet 6 weeks old, and yet we have milestones to report. Perhaps this is a sign that we are in for an eventful year.
We have reached the point where the merger of Northwest into Delta is substantially complete, at least in terms of public perceptions and industry practices. The last Northwest signs have come down, the website is gone and the NW designator code and flight numbers have all been converted to Delta.
In an industry that has bid adieu to more than half of its one-time Big Five (Pan Am, TWA and Eastern), it would seem to be an act of excessive sentimentality to pause for long over the slow phase-out of "Northworst."
But a pause is in order.
Northwest is truly a legacy carrier. Along with the corporate ancestors of American and United, it was one of a handful of air mail carriers that took wing in the 1920s. And long before Delta crossed the Atlantic, Northwest Orient Airlines was a key player across the broad Pacific, holding its own against the much larger Pan Am.
If corporations can be said to acquire personalities, we'd have to say Northwest was dour. Its relationship with travel agents usually fell short of warm and fuzzy, and it had more than its share of labor unrest over the years -- probably never scoring very high in those lists of "fun places to work."
If there ever was a no-nonsense airline, this was it. But what it lacked in sizzle it made up for in solid strategy, from its pioneering "Great Circle" route to Asia to its groundbreaking joint venture with KLM.
And both Northwest and Delta deserve credit for patiently managing a merger process that should serve as an industry model of how to do it smoothly.
So, we'll say it: Adieu, Northwest.
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JetBlue reaches a milestone of its own this week when it marks the 10th anniversary of its inaugural flight on Feb. 11. From the beginning it positioned itself as an airline that would do things differently, offering 100% ticketless travel at low fares but with a little flair and a sense of style. It initiated an inviting, Web-based booking process for travelers and outfitted every aircraft with free, live satellite TV. It was a new kind of airline. And its distribution plan left little room for travel agents.
That was 10 years ago. In recent days, this next-generation airline transitioned to the SabreSonic reservations system, threw the switch on standard industry e-ticketing and became a full and active participant in ARC, finally embracing the legacy distribution tools that it initially did without. JetBlue remains a success story among the post-deregulation new entrants. Surviving 10 years in this business is a considerable achievement.
Could adaptability be one key to its success?
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If one person can be singled out as bringing technology to travel distribution, that person is Max Hopper, who died recently at the age of 75.
Hopper came to American Airlines in the early 1970s and became the airline's de facto chief information officer before such a title existed. He led the team that developed the Sabre system into the decision engine and global distribution tool that it became and made it practical to put that power on travel agency desktops.
And for a visionary, which is what he was, he had a firm grip on what mattered.
He was once asked about his legacy, and his first words were not about his professional life. "I'd like to be remembered as someone who liked other people and other people liked me." All the more reason to honor his memory.