Northwest Airlines DC-10 Trip Report

I waited many years before finally writing up this trip report, but I wanted to get it documented before I forget anything else. Hopefully someone will also find it interesting.

For a high school graduation present, my uncle offered to take me on a trip to Europe, allowing me to do much of the planning. It was my first time traveling abroad and I wanted to make the most of it. This was in 2006 right as Northwest Airlines had announced the would be retiring their DC-10 fleet by 2007, and as one of the few DC-10 operators, I knew this would probably be my only opportunity to travel on what used to be such a common plane.

Map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper gcmap.com

MSP is an operationally nice, although somewhat boring, airport. In 2006 however, it was a great place for aviation buffs. Countless Northwest DC-9s, handfuls of DC-10s, A330s, and even some Northwest Jetlink Avro-85s. At the time, all of these were pretty rare in the United States.

When we approached our gate, I was happy to see our DC-10-30 to AMS, N238NW. It was one of the DC-10s to carry the final paint scheme of NWA. This aircraft was one of the last DC-10s produced and was delivered to Thai Airways in 1987. Northwest acquired it 1998 and flew it through August 2006. Omni Air International flew military charters with it from 2006-2012, at which point it was finally retired.

Northwest was always a generally friendly, punctual airline. They felt like a small airline in a way, probably the “midwest nice” aspect to the staff. We boarded right on time and efficiently. The interior of the plane was a slightly dated, but overall in pretty good condition. I doubt many passengers knew this was one of the last scheduled commercial flights for this plane. Northwest definitely did a good job of keeping their older planes up, something that has seemed to carry on at Delta to this day.

Seating in coach was 2-5-2. It had to be a nightmare to be seated in the middle seat, but I enjoyed our two seats together on the side. Windows were large, although a bit scratched from age. The cabin felt really wide and spacious. The seats were well padded and provided quite a bit of legroom for coach. The only inflight entertainment was a projection on the front of the cabin and an inflight magazine in the seat pocket. Running lights along the ceiling looked straight out of the 1970’s and the cabin was overall a bit dim.

After the quick boarding process, the flight attendants came through to give the safety briefing. Some of the running lights along the ceiling had come loose and were hanging. Without missing a beat, the flight attendant popped the lights right back into place. You could tell it was something that happened often with these planes!

View of the ramp at MSP.

We had a short taxi time and did a slow, long roll down the runway before lifting off. It was a warm summer day and a full flight after all. We had some nice views of a very green Minnesota.

Not long after takeoff, flight attendants brought around the main meal for the flight. We had two options and I went with the chicken. It was okay, very similar to what you would expect in coach on US airlines. The side salad could have been a bit more imaginative.

Meal on departure.

The projection screen cycled through some tape-based entertainment including a couple of movies, a TV show, and some stretching techniques. We were quite a few rows back so it was difficult to see. I didn’t really watch and instead looked out the window, walked around, and caught some sleep. It’s hard to imagine now just how dark long haul cabins were without everyone having personal TVs or tablets to watch content on.

Flight attendants often would come through to make sure everyone had enough water, tea, or coffee. They never spent a moment hiding in the galley and managed to not be obnoxious either.

Right around when I saw the coast of Scotland, flight attendants brought around our arrival snack consisting of an egg and biscuit sandwich, yogurt, fruit, and coffee. I don’t recall being impressed with it, but at least the sandwich was warm.

Breakfast snack.

Shortly after eating, spoilers were deployed and we began our descent. It seemed like just moments later we were over the shoreline of The Netherlands.

Landing was quick, smooth, with a long roll. Our taxi time was brief but past other Northwest DC-10s, A330s, and countless KLM flights. It looked like a small hub for Northwest. Once we pulled up to the gate I had a good view of the famous outdoor spotting deck on the roof of the terminal.

As we were exiting the plane, I asked the flight attendant if it would be possible to see the cockpit. She didn’t even hesitate to go ask the captain, who was happy to bring me up front. The flight engineer stayed behind to show me a few things, take my picture, and talk a little bit about why he liked flying on the DC-10. He mentioned this was one of the last DC-10 flights he would be doing before transitioning to a flight engineer on the 747-200 (!) – and that he would probably retire not long after that. It was beyond gracious of him to give us the tour and chat.  You could tell he was just a genuinely nice guy.

DC-10-30 Cockpit
Flight Engineer panel on the DC-10-30.

After saying goodbye to crew, we headed to immigration for what would be my first time in Europe. That first long flight on the DC-10 and the graciousness of the crew will be what I remember most about Northwest Airlines. It was a formative trip for me and I’m glad to have those memories. Many thanks for my uncle for making it possible.

2 Comments

  1. Patrick J. Pavlica Jr.

    I enjoyed reading this! The DC-10 was a great airliner, and Northwest was one of the best carriers!

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      Parker Day

      Patrick – I couldn’t agree more. Northwest was a great airline to fly on and the DC-10 was a really iconic airliner. Thanks for your comment!

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