A friend of mine forwarded an email to me today that I thought you might be interested in reading. The message was written by a Boeing 747 captain for Northwest Airlines after his flight from Narita, Japan to Anchorage, Alaska last month.
I’m sure that you are aware that a merger is in progress with Northwest and Delta. Delta has decided that they are not interested in continuing to operate the cargo division of Northwest which has been based in Anchorage for several years hauling freight using the cargo variant of the venerable Boeing 747-200.
Here is the captain’s message (I have deleted names and added some explanations in brackets):
As we got out of our black taxi [standard transportation from the hotel to the airport] the day after Christmas we knew that we were flying the last Northwest Cargo flight out of Narita. What we did not know but would soon find out from the Manager of Maintenance is that we were also flying the last scheduled 747-200 of any air carrier out of Narita. As we completed the paperwork in the crew lounge, F/O xxx, S/O xxx and I could not help but reflect upon the significance of this final departure. For decades this proud bird had defined Narita. It was not uncommon to see a flock of twenty 747-200 red tails nosed up to the terminal at one time. In fact it was uncommon to see anything but a 747-200 at any gate in Narita back then. It was the international aircraft of choice and for good reason. It was impressive…reliable, safe, fun to fly, comfortable, solid, efficient, massive and just a beautiful airplane. Everyone knew of the 747. The adjectives go on and on….It was the mother of all airplanes. But today it was headed for retirement to the warm desert sun like so many of the retirees who used to fly them. The difference though is that these birds can still do the job just as well as the they always have. It is just that the younger generations require less food…and that is all.
As the crew bus approached 6732 parked on the cargo ramp we could not help but scan the other newer airplanes on the ramp for signs of any other 200’s to confirm what the Manager had told us. That is when it really hit us that good ole 6732 and its sisters were sadly being muscled out by a more youthful generation and now oddly enough, seemed out of place in its own home. When we turned the corner and pulled up to the stairs, there was a larger than normal group of service folks lingering. We soon learned that we as pilots were not the only ones taken by the significance of this final departure. Cameras were flashing on the ramp, in the cargo compartment and in the cockpit as all of these handlers wanted to record a memory. We joined them in pictures and in sharing fond memories of the proud bird. There was a certain somberness to the procession of “spectators.” However, these were not ordinary spectators. These were the behind the scenes load planners, weight and balance people, the cargo loaders, the DG handlers, the mechanics, the dispatchers, the caterers, the fuelers and even the ramp security people….anyone who had had a part in the decade after decade of servicing the grand old lady. As the word had gotten out many more had come from all over the airport and perhaps even from home. As we all said our good-byes and thanked these fine people that had as much a connection to this airplane and its history as any of us, we prepared for departure. The impromptu crowd had grown quite large as we began our push back. As the plane retreated from the crowd on the push back the crowd waved continuously. There was no cheering, just a melancholy wave. You could feel the deep admiration.
We flashed the landing lights on and off repeatedly. One could sense the sadness and at the same time the pride of these behind the scenes folks who were as touched by the significance of this departure as anyone and had come to pay their last respects. Some had spent their entire career on the 747 as it had been flying here for over thirty years! There was no ceremony or parting speech, just the sadness of a bygone era which everyone dealt with privately. As we disconnected and started our taxi, the waves from the crowd never let up. It had been a magnificent era. But it had come to an end. As we climbed out of Narita it was the clearest night I have ever seen over Tokyo . The lights sparkled in a way which seemed to symbolically bid the -200 a fond adieu from the people it served so proudly for decades.
Now that the Department of Transportation has issued the single operating certificate to Delta, it will probably be less than a month before the Northwest name is completely gone. Flight numbers are being changed and reservations systems are being merged. Soon all flights by the combined airline will have Delta call signs. All that will remain is painting the remaining 15% of the NWA fleet in the Delta paint scheme. Northwest will then be completely removed from the public’s eye. The end of another legacy airline.>
I wonder who is next?