Which Aircraft Did Northwest Fly From Its Memphis Hub?

Memphis was a Northwest hub until 2010, when the Northwest name was officially consigned to the history books. This followed the completion of the merger with Delta. We look back to 2005 to see what aircraft Northwest used from its important and third-largest hub.

Northwest DC-10
In the examined year (2005), Northwest had only one widebody from Memphis: the DC-10. Photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt via Wikimedia.

The pulldown of Memphis as a hub was especially notable in terms of the number of destinations, frequencies, connectivity, and a growing focus on local rather than transit passengers. It was also reflected in a greater focus on larger aircraft rather than frequency-boosting smaller ones that have been so crucial to US hubs. The Tennessee airport officially lost hub status in 2013.

Yet, it was an important hub for Northwest. As you would expect, in 2005 it was the carrier’s third-largest airport behind Detroit and Minneapolis, although the bigger hubs both had well over double the number of seats. By 2010, following the completion of the merger, it was the fifth-largest airport in Delta’s network, according to data experts Cirium. And by 2014, it had fallen to 20th.

Northwest B757-200
The B757-200 wasn’t a significant aircraft at Memphis in 2005. This example (N538US) was delivered directly to Northwest in 1996, and it remains with Delta. When this article is written, it is en route from Seattle to Salt Lake City. Photo: Kentaro Iemoto via Flickr.

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Northwest’s Memphis hub

The following figure shows that Northwest Airlines had 6.4 million outbound seats from Memphis in 2005. These were across some 82,000 flights, meaning it had ~225 daily departures from the hub. There were three main banks of arrivals and departures.

Northwest’s route network was comprehensive, with 98 destinations (all but six were domestic). They had an average distance of just 526 miles, even less than with American from Charlotte. Detroit, Minneapolis, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Washington National had the most flights, schedules from Cirium indicate. Detroit and Minneapolis show how hub-to-hub flying was crucial then as it is now, including for widebodies.


How Memphis has changed
Between 2004 and 2006, Northwest had 80% of outbound seats at Memphis, ensuring it was very much a fortress hub. It should be noted that between 2013 and 2019, non-Delta seats grew by over 1.2 million (+122%). Image: Simple Flying using data from OAG Schedules Analyzer

A fleeting look back at the year 2005

In this year, Northwest and its regional partners Endeavor Air and Mesaba (operating as Northwest Airlink) used the following aircraft. If all variants are combined, the DC-9 had the most seats, although only marginally ahead of the 50-seat CRJ-200.

  • DC-9: approximately 1.9 million outbound seats (18,200 flights)
  • CRJ-200: 1.6 million (32,200)
  • A320: 1.1 million (7,500)
  • A319: 815,500 (6,600)
  • Avro RJ: 429,300 (6,200
  • Saab 340: 357,800 (10,500)
  • B757-200 102,300 (556)
  • DC-10-30: 99,600 (365)
  • B757-300: 224 (just one single flight to Detroit!)

Northwest’s average number of seats per flight was just 78. This was the result of six in ten flights being by regional jets (mainly the 50-seat gap-filler) and turboprops. The hub was very much about smaller aircraft, which included the 34-seat Saab 340.

Avro RJ 85
This is an Avro RJ-85 operated by Mesaba for Northwest Airlink. The type was used on 31 routes from Memphis in 2005; the 431-mile link with Oklahoma City saw them the most. Photo: Aeroprints via Wikimedia.

Mesaba Airlines operated the Saab 340 for Northwest Airlink. Mesaba, which ceased operating in 2012, had 79 of them in total. They were keenly used from Memphis and played an important role. They enabled smaller communities to be linked to a hub and served more frequently, enhancing connectivity and usability.

Northwest Airlink Saab 340
The Saab 340 had the third-highest number of flights from Memphis. N422XJ was delivered to Mesaba in 1997 and it now operates for Australia’s regional carrier, Rex, as VH-ZXU. Photo: Cory Watts via Flickr.

Where did it use the 34-seat Saab?

In 2005, some 17 destinations saw the Saab, with the top-10 shown below. Extremely little separated those in the top-five, with each served about three-daily coinciding with the three main banks. The 17 destinations had an average distance of 242 miles, with Dayton the longest at 460 miles (although it was mainly a CRJ-200 route).

  1. Alexandria (Louisiana): 1,092 outbound flights
  2. Tupelo (Mississippi): 1,091
  3. Paducah (Kentucky): 1,090
  4. Lafayette (Louisana): 1,083
  5. Monroe (Louisiana): 1,081
  6. Evansville (Indiana): 876
  7. Bristol/Johnson/Kingsport (Tennessee): 813
  8. Greenville (Mississippi): 720
  9. Muscle Shoals (Alabama): 717
  10. Hattiesburg-Laurel (Mississippi): 712
Saab 340
The 88 miles from Memphis to Tupelo was the shortest route. Photo: Cory Watts via Wikimedia.

The DC-10 at Memphis

Memphis saw only one widebody in 2005: the DC-10. It was used on Northwest’s sole long-haul route: to the SkyTeam hub of Amsterdam. Operating once-daily, it left Tenneessee at 19:25 (in the busiest bank of departures) and arrived back the following day at 17:05.

Did you fly from Memphis with Northwest? If so, what were your experiences? Let us know by commenting.