Prepare for turbulence

The takeoff and descent of Northwest Airlines

It's easy to forget that Northwest Airlines (acquired by Delta in 2010) was once the kind of Minnesota startup this magazine would cover. Its earliest flights, starting in 1926, carried mail (and occasionally a brave passenger) to Chicago. How it evolved from that to the envy of the industry to "Northworst" is chronicled by Jack El-Hai in "Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines" (forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press).

The book recalls that the airline's profits multiplied by a factor of 35 between 1960 and 1969, soaring from $1.6 million to $51.5 million. By the end of that decade, Northwest ranked seventh in revenues but first in total profits, an achievement "akin to a smaller chain of coffeehouses outgunning Starbucks in annual earnings," writes El-Hai.

The book shares some fun trivia. For instance, some Northwest employees played bit parts in the movie Airport, which was filmed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport during the winter of 1969. The $10 million film, the first of a decade-long series, earned more than $100 million at the box office the following year.

El-Hai lives in Minneapolis and has taught courses on nonfiction writing at the University of Minnesota, in addition to writing several other books and contributing hundreds of articles to a number of major publications.