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Non-Stop

A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines

2013
Author:

Jack El-Hai

Non-Stop

The colorful details and sweeping drama of eight decades of one of America’s legacy airlines and Minnesota’s great businesses

Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines captures the broad context and the intriguing details as it weaves together the accounts of individuals who gave the airline its unique character. The story it tells, touching on everything from airline food and advertising to smoking regulations and labor relations, encapsulates the profound changes to business, travel, and culture that marked the twentieth century.

Jack El-Hai faithfully propels us through the history of a company we all took for granted. From rickety planes delivering mail to one of the largest and most respected airlines in the world, El-Hai lays it out through the highs and lows. At the beginning, heroic pilots and primitive gear, all the way to D.B. Cooper and the Underwear Bomber, the intriguing leadership and crafty politicians, to the final day when the lights went out at Northwest Airlines—all here presented in masterful style.

Don Shelby

From its earliest flights in 1926, carrying mail and occasionally a solo passenger to Chicago, to its acquisition by Delta in 2010, Northwest Airlines soared to the heights of technological achievement and business innovation—and sunk to the depths of employee discord, passenger dissatisfaction, and financial bankruptcy. Its story, rich in singular successes and failures, also has the sweep of the history of American business in the twentieth century. Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines captures both the broad context and the intriguing details as it weaves together the accounts of individuals who gave the airline its unique character: from founder Lewis Brittin and pioneering female executive “Rosie” Stein to the CEOs who saw the company through its glory days and its final tumultuous decade.

What was it like to pilot a crippled airliner, to be in the vanguard of the new profession of stewardess, to ride in the cabin of a luxurious Stratocruiser for the first time? These are the experiences that come alive as Jack El-Hai follows Northwest from its humble beginnings to its triumph as the envy of the airline industry and then ultimately to its decline into what aggrieved passengers and employees called “Northworst.”

Non-Stop hits the airline’s high points (such as its contributions during World War II and the Korean War) and the low—D. B. Cooper’s parachute getaway from a Northwest airliner in 1971 and a terrorist’s disruption of the airline’s last year. Touching on everything from airline food and advertising to smoking regulations and labor relations, the story of Northwest Airlines encapsulates the profound changes to business, travel, and culture that marked the twentieth century.

Non-Stop

Jack El-Hai’s books include Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished Places (Minnesota, 2000) and The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness. He has written about business and history for the Atlantic, Scientific American Mind, History Channel Magazine, American Heritage, and Utne Reader.

Non-Stop

Jack El-Hai faithfully propels us through the history of a company we all took for granted. From rickety planes delivering mail to one of the largest and most respected airlines in the world, El-Hai lays it out through the highs and lows. At the beginning, heroic pilots and primitive gear, all the way to D.B. Cooper and the Underwear Bomber, the intriguing leadership and crafty politicians, to the final day when the lights went out at Northwest Airlines—all here presented in masterful style.

Don Shelby

[El-Hai’s] book is a concise record of aviation’s race to zoom further, faster, and ever more fashionably through the 20th century.

Wall Street Journal

El-Hai’s narrative captures the pivotal business and political moves that allowed Northwest to grow, while also spotlighting the characters and trends of the airline’s history.

Star Tribune

Non-Stop is not just a history of a particular airline, it is an examination of the whole airline industry. It’s a must for aviation buffs everywhere.

Chicago Tribune

Jack El-Hai’s new book, Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines, is a bright chronicle of one of the nation’s legacy airlines. Full of mid-century cool, this book soars along on a powerful slipstream of nostalgia.

Newsweek

Non-Stop does an outstanding job of balancing the factual history of Northwest’s growth with the human aspects of the airline. [It] is a well-researched, fun-to-read book that both ex-NWAers and people without ties to the airline will want to add to their libraries.

Airways

It’s chock full of great photographs from the good old days when intrepid pilots like “Speed” Holman flew Ford Trimotors with the mail, with cargo, and with well-heeled passengers who didn’t mind donning oxygen masks when they flew above the line.

Hudson Star-Observer

This book provides a useful retrospective on a unique air carrier that flew for over 80 years and left its mark on its Minnesota headquarters.

Bill Hough, Aviation Hobby

Non-Stop

Contents

Preface

1. The Romance of Aviation, the Perils of a Business
Brittin’s Brains
Airmail Follies
Pioneering Passengers
Lindbergh Brings His Lucky Name

2. No Runways, No Problem
The Mystique of Pilots
Brittin’s “Right-Hand Man”
The Tragedy of Speed
The Marco Polo of Aviation
Balancing a Tray on a Turbulent Flight

3. Pulled into the Modern Age
Security before Terrorism
Island of Quonset Huts
Escape from Shanghai
Clothing That Wears like Iron

4. Lithe Man with a Bright Smile
A New Theater of War
The Pudgy Plane That Could
The Tale of a Sword
Stormy Weather

5. Adventures in Scale and Efficiency
Hot Meals and Cold Martinis
The Red Tail
Take Me to Cuba

6. Planes Longer Than the Flight at Kitty Hawk
The Air Pirate
A Rattler of a CEO
Airlifting Propeller Shafts and Silkworms

7. One Whammy after Another
Chance Favors the Prepared Mind
The Wondrous Flight of Herman the Goose
“I Will Always Remember That You Were the First”
The End of Lives
Soaring Eagle

8. The Decade That Lasted a Lifetime
Like It or Not, the Face of Northwest
Deaths in the Family
Breaking to a Halt

9. Broke and Vanishing Fast
Mechanical Derring-do
The Underwear Bomber
Lights Out


The History of Northwest Airlines
Acknowledgments and Sources
Illustration Credits
Index