- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Business travelers got their first taste of a strike at Northwest Airlines yesterday as the nation’s fourth-largest carrier flew its busiest schedule since its mechanics walked off the job.

Operations were largely normal, although industry observers said the airline saw more delays and cancellations than usual on a typical weekday.

Northwest has refused to release statistics on delays or cancellations since the strike began Saturday. At midday yesterday, a check of the airline’s video screens at its Detroit hub showed delays for 23 out of 120 departures — about normal. At its Memphis, Tenn., hub later in the day, the screens showed seven of more than 120 flights canceled, none delayed.

Meanwhile, an independent travel expert found widespread delays in the strike’s first two days.

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

Company spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch derided Mr. 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,” Mr. Ebenhoch said.

Northwest has said that a 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.

“We have brought those numbers down substantially during the course of the weekend, 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.

Mr. Carlson, of Lakeville, Minn., was supposed to be on a 9:30 a.m. flight yesterday 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, so I didn’t worry about it beforehand,” he said.

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

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.

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