The recall comes as Northwest and the flight attendants await a court ruling on the union's right to strike over pay and benefit cuts the airline imposed on them.
Northwest insists the recall is intended to deal with a "modest" increase in flying and to replace flight attendants who have quit.
University of Minnesota labor relations expert John Budd says the recall seems driven by business needs, and effort to blunt a possible strike.
But Budd says the recall could make it even harder for Northwest to sell flight attendants on the need for the givebacks the airline wants.
"This sends signal to flight attendants that business is starting to turn around, which makes it even more difficult for the flight attendants to believe significant concessions are warranted," said Budd. Flight attendants complain their take-home pay is being cut by up to 40 percent. Northwest says the cuts are more moderate than that.