Northwest Airlines museum gets parting gift from union retirees

Mary Sansom presents Bruce Kitt with a check for the airline retirees club’s remaining funds, made out to the Northwest Airlines History Center.

Local airline retirees placed their social club into retirement last month, but not before donating the organization’s remaining funds to a museum preserving of the history of Minneapolis-St. Paul’s longtime union carrier, Northwest Airlines.

Founded in 1976, the Machinists Airline Local 1833 Retired Members Social Club met for the final time April 15 in Bloomington. As the last order of business before gaveling into permanent adjournment, Club President Mary Sansom presented Bruce Kitt, executive director of the Northwest Airlines History Center, with a check made out to the Twin Cities museum.

“Recognizing the history that we’ve all shared and have all been a part of, literally, this is bittersweet,” Kitt told some 30 club members gathered for the final meeting. “But on behalf of the museum, I do thank each and every one of you because each and every one of you are represented in this museum – your history, your names, your faces and your accomplishments.”

The social club, affiliated with Machinists Local Lodge 1833, made the difficult decision to fold as a result of dwindling participation, Sansom said.

The local represents airline workers based at MSP, once a hub of operations for heavily unionized Northwest. But Northwest folded into non-union Delta Air Lines as part of a merger announced in 2008, and Local Lodge 1833’s membership cratered.

“Our ability and resources to enlist new members for the retiree club was gone,” Sansom said. “With our current members growing older, unable to move around as easily as they used to or moving out of state to a warmer climate or passing away, the membership has steadily been going down.

“The remaining members decided it was time to ‘retire’ the social club.”

Local Lodge 1833’s membership peaked at over 10,000 airline workers and retirees in 1988, two years after Northwest merged with Republic Airlines. Most members were Northwest employees, as the airline was headquartered in Eagan.

Local Lodge 1833 represented mechanics, stock clerks, cleaners, flight-kitchen workers, equipment-service and plant-protection workers, and the merger with Republic brought bus drivers, reservation and ticket agents and clerical and office workers into the fold. (Northwest mechanics voted to leave the Machinists union in 2000.)

After their final order of business – transferring their accounts to the museum – retirees took the opportunity to share memories of working at “the Red Tail,” as Northwest was familiarly known in the airline industry.

But it doesn’t have to be the last opportunity for reflection, Kitt said, noting that the Northwest Airlines History Center museum is open to visitors four days a week at the Crowne Plaza Aire MSP Hotel in Bloomington.

“I like to say it’s the only place you can still get a Red Tail fix that Delta can’t touch,” Kitt said.

About the history center 

The Northwest Airlines History Center is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history of all 12 airlines that are part of Northwest’s corporate legacy. Learn more at

The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday on the third floor of the Crone Plaza Aire MSP hotel, 3 Appletree Square, Bloomington. Admission is free.

The history center also maintains a vast archive of Northwest Airlines history at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie. Access is by appointment only.

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