Northwest boss apologizes for airline's performance

Northwest CEO Doug Steenland
Northwest CEO Doug Steenland
MPR Photo/Annie Baxter

Northwest Airlines CEO Doug Steenland promises greater reliability in August. At the end of June and July, Northwest cancelled hundreds of flights.

"That level of cancellations was clearly unacceptable," he said. "We ran an unreliable airline, passengers gave us their trust by booking on us, and to a large number of passengers booking on us, we failed to deliver, so the first thing I would do would be to apologize."

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Steenland spelled out changes the airline is making to prevent more end of the month cancellations related to pilot staffing issues.

He says the carrier is shrinking capacity by about 4 percent in August, which will mean more pilots will be available to fly the planes.

Steenland also said the airline will address issues of pilot exhaustion. Pilots say they're working more demanding schedules, as stipulated by a contract negotiated in bankruptcy.

"Our pilots have clearly told us that some of the work rules that come out of our new agreement impose particular difficulties on them," he acknowledged. "And so we're trying to be responsive to that. And so by shrinking the airline, reducing its size in August, we're also reducing the number of hours the pilots have to fly in August."

The pilots union says the majority of pilots have been flying the contractual maximum of 90 hours a month. Steenland says in August, pilots of narrow-body planes, which had the highest rate of cancellation, will be not be asked to fly more than 86 hours in a month.

The union says when pilots fly the maximum hours, it's the equivalent of two full-time jobs.

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