Northwest Airlines admits 400 flights could be canceled - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Northwest Airlines admits 400 flights could be canceled

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

Northwest said in a recorded message on Monday that it expects to complete 96 percent of its 9,900 flights this week. During the same week last year, the airline called off 125 flights.

While Northwest has refused to release statistics on actual delays or cancellations since the strike began Saturday morning, an independent travel expert found widespread holdups in the strike's first three days.

Joe Brancatelli, who publishes a business travel Web site, sampled 99 of Northwest's 1,470 weekday flights on Monday and found that 37.5 percent of the sampled flights were on time. About half the flights were on time over the weekend, he said.

Company spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch derided Brancatelli's numbers, but would not provide any operational details. "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.

Flight information screens at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Tuesday morning showed that most Northwest flights were on time and only a few were canceled or delayed.

During August 2004, 17.6 percent of Northwest flights were late and 1 percent were canceled, according to the Transportation Department.

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

One of the travelers caught in the slowdown was Edwin Rogers, of St. Paul, who flew back to Minneapolis Tuesday morning from a business trip to Philadelphia.

He said his return flight was fine, but his flight out on Friday - as the strike deadline neared - was canceled due to mechanical problems.

Rogers caught another flight through Washington, D.C., arrived in Philadelphia four hours late, and the airline lost his luggage. The airline found his luggage on Saturday, and gave him a $35 voucher for his next ticket. "It ain't a lot compared to all the drama I had to go through on Friday," Rogers said.

It appeared to Alison Moehnke of New York, however, that Northwest employees were working extra hard to mitigate strike-related inconveniences. She flew into Minneapolis on Tuesday and her flight was on time.

"I was expecting huge problems, but it seems like they were going out of their way to be nice," she said.

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  mployees.

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.

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.

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