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Whatchamacallit 4: Northwest Airlines Mug

Northwest Airlines Mug

Growing up in Denver, Northwest Airlines as not an airline I noticed with any regularity. As a kid, the airlines that mattered were United, Continental, and Frontier – all three hubbing at Stapleton International Airport – of those three, only one exists – strangely all three are that one. (I’m talking about the original Frontier, not the ULCC that exists today.)

Not that I actually flew anywhere – but my Dad would regularly take me to watch planes take off and land at Stapleton – we’d stop by 7-Eleven, pick up a Slurpee, then park the car along the fences, next to runway 8R/26L. Airplanes were magical for me.

After I moved to Indiana, my first real long-haul trip was on NorthwestKLM to Amsterdam – two separate airlines so tightly integrated that I could not (and still cannot) imagine saying the word “Northwest” without immediately saying “KLM” immediately afterwards.

It took me a flight or two with Northwest before I realized that its then logo (see the one labeled 1987 in the photo above) was probably the most clever logo I’d ever seen: It is an N, it is a W, and it is a compass pointing northwest – all in one.

Northwest, through my collecting of WorldPerks miles, expanded how I view the world: I used their miles to visit Armenia, twice. I used my miles to pay for trips that I could not have otherwise afforded – even bringing a couple friends to visit me in Europe after I moved here.

I bought the mug shortly after Northwest was purchased by Delta – I had the inkling that things were going to change. Things were OK for a while – but then Delta effectively fired me as a customer, making clear that they did not value my custom: any reward-based ticket incurred a large fee if it didn’t originate in North America. As somebody living in Germany, it made loyalty to Delta utterly pointless.

At that point I decided to focus on United Airlines – using Lufthansa and friends for my European hops. Honestly, it was, for me, the right decision: United is (well, was) the only airline providing nonstop service from Berlin to the States daily and year-round. Delta went, but now serves only in the summer. American discovered Berlin a year or two ago; I am not sure they will rediscover Berlin after the crisis is over.

My parting with Delta was a sad – I used remnants of my Delta SkyMiles to fly from Tokyo Narita to Saipan in business class. Delta managed to disappoint me because, at that point, business class no longer included access to the SkyClubs – which annoyed the hell out of me.

Thus, for me, the mug represents a period of life when I cared about Detroit International Airport and when I recognized my favorite flight attendants between Detroit and Frankfurt or Amsterdam (and the one flight attendant who if I saw on the flight, I knew things would be rough). It represents the times I chose to connect in Memphis in order to eat excellent BBQ in the terminal. It represents, in a way, the halcyon days of travel for me – although I still travel a lot, so maybe the best days still are still ahead.


During the Covid-19 crisis, I am going to try and make a point of writing a blog post about an object in my home.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

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