- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

Delta Air Lines subsidiary Comair yesterday took steps to end a five-day pilots strike by agreeing to allow federal officials to mediate the labor dispute.
So far, the strike is having little impact on Washington-area travelers. But it is making travel complicated for passengers flying into small, rural towns.
"From the D.C. area the only flight you can take on Comair is going to Cincinnati, so it has affected relatively few travelers," said Justin McNaull, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Comair, the nation's second-largest regional airline, flies through Washington-Dulles International Airport, where is has seven daily departures and arrivals from Cincinnati.
Officials said the majority of affected passengers are being accommodated by Delta Air Lines.
Delta, meanwhile, is facing a similar labor dispute with its pilots. Delta pilots yesterday rejected an offer for arbitration from the National Mediation Board. Rejecting the offer begins a 30-day "cooling-off" period after which Delta's 9,800 unionized pilots could strike.
President Bush has indicated that he is prepared to intervene in airline labor disputes. On March 9 he issued an executive order delaying a possible walkout by mechanics at Northwest Airlines for 60 days.
So far, Mr. Bush has not intervened in the Comair strike, involving 1,400 pilots. They walked off their jobs early Monday over a dispute regarding pay, retirement benefits and work rules.
The airline randomly canceled flights until Wednesday, when it canceled its entire schedule through 9 a.m. on April 5.
"Delta connection carriers or Delta Express flights have been able to accommodate the majority of Comair passengers affected by the strike," said Russ Williams, a Delta spokesman.
The Comair strike is affecting airline passengers flying into big cities like Cincinnati to catch connecting flights. Travel agents said they are having trouble helping Comair customers find seats on other airlines.
"What is happening is not going to affect [passengers] if they are going to major airports," said Betsy Baker, a travel agent with AAA's Travel Fulfillment Center in Chantilly. "But I have a few passengers who are going to Appleton, Wisconsin, and they have to go from National Airport to Cincinnati and from there to Appleton. So we've had to change the whole thing … now they are going from National to Cincinnati, and from Cincinnati to Milwaukee, because that is covered by Delta and not Comair."
Most of Ms. Baker's clients are business travelers, and she says she hasn't had any other strike-related problems.
Comair carries 8 million passengers a year, serving 95 cities in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas. It serves a few towns near Virginia airports, including Charlottesville, Roanoke, Richmond, and Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Williamsburg.
Regional carriers serve 669 of the nation's 686 airports. The smaller airlines have become increasingly popular. Their passenger load grew by 7.4 percent a year between 1995 and 2000, as compared with 4 percent growth for the major carriers.


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