Welcome back, Northwest (NWACQ.PK).

Twenty-one months after entering bankruptcy in September of 2005, the beleaguered carrier today joins Delta and UAL's (NASDAQ:UAUA) United as alumni of the bankruptcy courts.

And it's doing so on decent terms. Flight attendants agreed to a new contract that specifies company-friendly changes in work rules through 2011. In return, they get a $182 million equity stake in the reorganized company. Press reports say that could amount to as much as $15,000 per flight attendant.

But it's clear from the vote tally that the flight attendants didn't want the changes. Union members approved the deal 50.9% to 49.1% -- a difference of just 104 votes.

In the end, though, Northwest's promised equity claim, which would have expired had flight attendants failed to reach a deal before the airline exited bankruptcy, proved to be an enticing carrot.

Here's the ugly truth. Though management can't be blamed for wanting to lower costs -- the airline industry isa brutal business, after all -- executives pulled off this (ahem) "turnaround" largely on the backs of employees, who sacrificed $1.4 billion in pay and benefits. Think they'll remain loyal? How about improve their service record? Yeah, me neither.

Welcome back, Northwest.

Taxi towards related Foolishness:

Get the best cheap stocks for your portfolio by trying Motley Fool Inside Value risk-free for 30 days. Philip Durell's picks are up more than 7% on the S&P 500, and there's no obligation to subscribe.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers, ranked 4,160 out of more than 29,500 rated investors in Motley Fool CAPS, will take turbulence, but he prefers cruising altitude. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Tim's portfolio holdings can be found at his Fool profile. His thoughts on travel, Foolishness, and investing in general may be found in his blog. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy only travels with its trading guidelines.