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Northwest exits bankruptcy promising blue skies for flyers

Doug Steenland, president and CEO of Northwest Airlines, banged the gavel to open Thursday’s trading on the New York Stock Exchange. He was on hand to mark Northwest’s emergence from bankruptcy and the start of trading of its new “NWA” common stock. (Its previous stock was canceled, leaving shareholders with nothing.)

Invest in Northwest?

I’m with Warren Buffet—arguably the world’s most renowned investor—who warned against betting on airline stocks as follows: “If there had been a capitalist down there at Kitty Hawk, he should have shot down Orville and saved us a lot of money.” (Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway holding company lost a bundle investing in US Air.)

But this isn’t an investing column. The question is whether the reorganized Northwest is right for travelers purchasing its tickets, not for investors purchasing its stock.

And the answer is a qualified maybe.

According to an email sent to members of Northwest’s WorldPerks frequent flyer program on Thursday, travelers have the following to look forward to: some new aircraft to serve short-haul and trans-Atlantic routes; newly launched flights to Düsseldorf, Brussels, and Amsterdam; new menu items in first class; wireless access to Northwest’s website; and a new Northwest lounge at Tokyo’s Narita Airport.

Great news, I suppose, for first-class travelers to Europe and Asia.

Otherwise, the best that can be said for Northwest’s emergence from Chapter 11 is that its newfound financial stability should ease any residual liquidation-related fears, such as losing one’s frequent flyer miles, or being left in the lurch by employee walkouts or a companywide service shutdown.

That’s not much. But it’s more than Northwest’s previous shareholders got.

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