NWA flight cancellations tick up again

Flight info
A passenger checks baggage and flight information at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
MPR Photo/Charlie Knutson

On a typical day, an airline may cancel 2 percent of its flights. But over the weekend, Northwest says it cancelled about 4 percent of its flights, a total of about 110 over two days.

Monday, the airline cancelled about 3 percent. Tuesday, Northwest says cancellations are back to normal, with about 2 percent of scheduled flights not getting off the ground.

Northwest blamed about one-third of the weekend cancellations on what it said was an unpredictable spike in the need to take planes out of service for maintenance. The airline also cited bad weather, air traffic control snarl-ups and crew issues.

As long as [travelers] are addicted to that frequent flier program, Northwest can throw 1,000 miles at them and they'll shut up.

Northwest announced in late June that it would recall all laid-off pilots. But pilot union spokesman Monty Montgomery says the airline still doesn't have enough pilots to fly its summer schedule. Montgomery says Northwest waited too long to issue the recall.

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"To bring back pilots from furlough, and train them and get them back to where they are ready to fly passengers on the line, takes a month to six weeks minimum, and we started too late," says Montgomery.

Northwest won't say how many passengers were affected by the late June and July cancellations. Some estimates put the number at more than 125,000.

Travel expert Terry Trippler doesn't expect most of those customers will take their business elsewhere. Not when Northwest is the dominant carrier in the home airports for most of those travelers.

"People are hooked on their non-stop flights. You can't blame them," says Trippler. "And people are addicted to that frequent flier program. As long as they are addicted to that frequent flier program, Northwest can throw 1,000 miles at them and they'll shut up."

An airline spokesman would not offer a forecast for flight cancellations for the rest of the month. But Monty Montgomery of the pilots' union says cancellations could be above normal for the final week of July.

"I don't expect us to see as large a cancellation as we had at the end of last month. We're hopeful this summer schedule will not have major problems. But we do have concerns," says Montgomery.

Northwest has announced a number of measures it's taking to ease the pressures that can force cancellations. For some flight crews, the company's August scheduling is backing off even further from the maximum number of hours a pilot can fly. And the company says it will hire new pilots once all laid-off pilots have been recalled.