Lengthy waits at the airport. Minutes slowly ticking away in a stuffy plane. Racing to a new gate or rebooking on the phone with the hope of getting home soon or getting to that meeting on time.
FEWER FLIGHTS Northwest Airlines plans to operate fewer flights starting today. At Detroit Metro Airport, that will mean 27 fewer Northwest, Mesaba and Pinnacle flights departing the airport every day. It's the first in what could be a few schedule reductions that Northwest plans to make as it reorganizes through its Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Overall, the airline is cutting 182 daily flights, bringing its total number of flights a day to 2,580.
Northwest hasn't cut out any destinations.
Reductions at Detroit Metro will come from cutting one flight a day to 25 destinations including Grand Rapids; Birmingham, Ala.; Little Rock, Ark.; Charlottesville, Va., and two flights a day to Cleveland.
These frustrations have become more common for passengers of Northwest Airlines Inc., which earned some of the worst on-time numbers in the industry in August and September when its mechanics went on strike.
"Northwest doesn't have the greatest on-time track record. However, there was a difference before and after the strike," said Anthony Scaglione, 30, of Commerce Township, who flies Northwest twice a week. Half of his flights after Northwest's union mechanics went on strike Aug. 20 have been delayed more than a reasonable 15 minutes. Two weeks ago, Scaglione said, "was the first time, in a long time, we actually left the gate on time."
Since the strike, frequent travelers have detected some subtle changes, too. Some have noticed stressed-out staffers. Others say planes are fuller than usual now that Northwest has trimmed its schedule, and it's tougher to get a frequent-flier bump-up to first class.
But Scaglione has noticed the delays he used to plan his schedule around aren't as frequent as they were a few weeks ago and the ones that remain are getting shorter. Indeed, it appears Northwest's on-time statistics are improving from the dismal numbers the airline posted in August and September.
For the first few weeks of October, Northwest recorded on-time rates that rival and even surpass other major carriers -- a sign that the frustrations travelers had put up with in recent months might not become a more regular part of flying Michigan's largest airline, which serves more than 60% of passengers at Detroit Metro Airport.
A rocky start
Cindy Talley has one reason for booking her next trip on Northwest Airlines. The 34-year-old geologist from Garden City wants to use up her frequent-flier miles.
She didn't feel that a few months ago. It took one awful flying experience on Northwest to make Talley skeptical.
"I'm just more leery about it," said Talley. "I'm more aware of what could go wrong."
Talley turned leery a day after Northwest's 4,400 union mechanics walked off the job. On Aug. 21, she was getting ready for her flight from Chicago's Midway International Airport to Detroit Metro.
The departure boards said her flight was on time. But when it came time to leave, there was no plane at the gate. Talley called Northwest's 800 number and learned that her flight was going to be two hours late. A half-hour later, the boards said Talley's flight to Detroit as canceled, and a gate agent said there would be no flights to Detroit until the next day.
Talley had just started a new job and didn't want to ask for a day off with little notice. So it was a good thing she had reserved a car just in case.
"I knew that, in my situation, I wasn't going to be able to mess around," Talley said. "I needed to get home."
Travelers and airline experts expected delays and cancellations on Northwest after the strike. During the first day of what has stretched into a 73-day labor dispute, fewer than half of Northwest's flights arrived on time.
In August, Northwest was able to get 67% of its flights to their destinations on time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which assembles numbers from the airlines.
Just 67.2 percent of Northwest flights arrived on time in August, down from 81.2 percent in the same month in 2004.
Northwest Airlines Inc. plans to drop two destinations from its schedule at Detroit Metro Airport next month as part of a plan to eliminate 30 flights a day.