Northwest figures leave room for hundreds of possible delays

Monday, August 22nd 2005, 10:48 am
By: News On 6

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Nearly 400 Northwest Airlines flights could be canceled during the first week of a mechanics' strike, about triple the number canceled during the same period last year but still only a fraction of the carrier's schedule.

In a hotline message Monday, Northwest said it expects to complete 96 percent of its flights during the first seven days of the strike. The possible cancellations are based on about 9,900 flights Northwest scheduled for this week. During the same week last year, the airline canceled 125 flights.

Northwest has refused to release statistics on delays or cancellations since the strike began Saturday morning.

An independent travel expert found widespread delays in the strike's first three days.

Joe Brancatelli, who publishes a business travel Web site, sampled 99 of Northwest's 1,381 Sunday flights and found that 53.5 percent of them left on time, according to Northwest's Web site, he said Monday. Using that method, he found that only 46.5 percent of the sampled Northwest flights were on time Saturday. The airline has about 1,470 weekday flights.

On Monday, 37.5 percent of the sampled flights were on time, Brancatelli said.

Company spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch derided Brancatelli's numbers, but refused to say how many flights had been delayed or canceled. During August 2004, 17.6 percent of Northwest flights were late and 1 percent were canceled, according to the Transportation Department.

``The survey was unscientific and completely random, and included markets that could have been affected by weather or air traffic which impact the operations of all airlines, not just Northwest,'' Ebenhoch said.

Eagan-based Northwest has also said that a slowdown by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association just before the strike began Friday caused a spike in the number of planes out of service or with minor mechanical write-ups.

``We have brought those numbers down substantially..., and continue to make progress in reducing both numbers,'' he said. ``Our operating performance since AMFA called their strike has been similar to other weekends and Mondays during the month of August.''

It didn't seem that way to Phil Carlson.

Carlson, of Lakeville, Minn., was supposed to be on a 9:30 a.m. flight Monday to Denver for a business trip. But that was canceled, so he was trying to figure out what he would do for five hours before his afternoon flight.

``I really thought they'd get them out on time,'' he said, ``so I didn't worry about it beforehand.''

About 4,400 Northwest unionized mechanics, cleaners and custodians walked off the job.

No new talks are scheduled between Northwest and the union, which is refusing to take pay cuts and layoffs that would have reduced their ranks by nearly half. The mechanics averaged about $70,000 a year in pay, and cleaners and custodians made around $40,000. The company wants to cut their wages by about 25 percent.

AMFA represents nearly 3,500 mechanics, about 790 cleaners and 75 custodians.

Northwest has said it needs $1.1 billion in labor savings. Only pilots have agreed to reductions, accepting a 15 percent pay cut worth $300 million when combined with cuts for salaried employees. It is negotiating with ground workers and flight attendants, and it has said it can reopen talks with pilots once it gets concessions from the other groups.

Besides Detroit and Minneapolis, Northwest has hubs in Memphis, Tenn., Tokyo and Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees airlines maintenance and repair, has nearly doubled the number of inspectors watching Northwest from 46 to 80, agency spokesman Greg Martin said.

Martin said it may take the replacement mechanics longer to do the work during the transition period.

The union for the FAA inspectors said there were only 21 maintenance inspectors assigned to Northwest, including 10 who were pulled away from watching other airlines. The rest are inspectors who cover other things, such as dispatching or cabin safety, said Linda Goodrich, vice president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists union.