Air Transport World

Memphis belle.

Now out of Northwest Airlines' doghouse, Express Airlines I flies a new product and prepares for arrival of RJs down south

Phil Trenary remembers his first day as president and CEO of Express Airlines I vividly: April 1, 1997--April Fools' Day. Regardless of the implication, Trenary was determined to transform the now wholly owned subsidiary of Northwest Airlines from a weak link into a reliable, on-time Northwest Airlink.

Days before Trenary former president of Dallas-based Regional Lone Star Airlines, got an inkling of the monumental task awaiting him at Express. He had one-on-one interviews s with Northwest s then-Executive VP-Marketing and International Michael Levine; Chris Clouser, senior VP-human resources. communications and administration, and Tim Griffin, executive VP-marketing and distribution. Trenary remembered all three saving, almost verbatim: "We're not happy with the Express product and want it improved immediately. If you can do this, we'd like to have you aboard. If not, there's the door."

The three Northwest executives had reason to be concerned. More than half of the customer complaints at the Memphis airport involved Express, an airline with a reputation for canceling or delaying flights frequently. Dispatch reliability was lousy, in the low 90% range. Express planes were dirty. Reports of lost or misplaced baggage were common, with the Regional misconnecting as many as 60 of 1,000 bags daily at Memphis. And overall costs were much too high, according to Northwest.

Fortunately for Northwest, Trenary, known for his interpersonal skills and operational expertise, accepted the position and began implementing incremental changes. He knew from experience that new managers who introduced sweeping changes to a troubled airline upon their arrival often' made the problem' worse And because most of the complaints involved service, Trenary hired his former director of customer service for Lone Star, Robert W. …

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