NWA Srike Aftermath: More Fliers Sit Back and Relax

At Detroit Metro Airport, NWA will operate 27 fewer Northwest, Mesaba and Pinnacle flights every day.

FlightStats, a firm that measures delays and cancellations, says 69% of Northwest's flights arrived on time in August. In both surveys, only AirTran Airways and Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a feeder carrier for Delta Air Lines, fared worse than Northwest.

"In August you had to give Northwest the benefit of the doubt," said Terry Trippler, Minneapolis-based airline expert with Cheapseats.com. The company's crop of replacement mechanics was getting used to a new work environment and Northwest said it had to park nearly 60 aircraft, or three times as many planes as usual, for maintenance problems just before the strike began.

Improving numbers

After the hassle in Chicago, Talley worried about her next Northwest trip. This time she and her husband were headed to Portland, Ore., Sept. 9. "We were hoping for the best. We were really preparing ourselves for an ordeal."

The flight to Portland didn't have any problems. On the way back Sept. 16, a maintenance issue kept Talley and her husband, Louis, waiting in Minneapolis for a connecting flight for nearly two hours longer than their 40-minute layover. But even that was a relief.

"Compared to what it was in August, that little delay in Minneapolis was not awful," she said.

For Scaglione, a management consultant, the delays became so bad, he started scheduling meetings later in the day when he took early morning flights out of Detroit.

But he isn't taking measures that drastic anymore.

"There have been a higher number of delays, but also I think there's a decrease in number and length of delays as we get further and further away from the strike," he said.

Northwest's numbers tell a similar story. FlightStats says Northwest was able to get 76% of its passengers to their destinations on time in September. While an improvement, the figure keeps Northwest near the bottom of the nation's airlines for on-time arrivals. Only Colgan Air, a commuter carrier, had a worse -- 72% -- rating.

Northwest says FlightStats data aren't as complete as numbers from the Department of Transportation. The department's numbers for September are to come out Wednesday.

But FlightStats figures show steady improvement for Northwest's on-time performance.

FlightStats reports that Northwest's on-time rating improved steadily in October. The best so far has been the third week when Northwest landed 85% of its flights on time, compared to 86% for Delta and 83% for United.

Flight delays can be random and common at any airline, which is why some travelers said they don't fault Northwest and don't mind putting up with them.

"Delays are part of the travel deal," said Brian Speck, 45, of Grand Rapids as he waited for a delayed flight to Harrisburg, Pa., out of Detroit Metro Airport on a recent afternoon.

For Scaglione and Charles Jacobson, 44, from Clearwater, Fla., flying first class was often part of the travel deal. With their frequent-flier status, both were able to upgrade to first class.

Northwest has reduced its flights twice in the last three months and expects to do more trimming early next year. In August, the airline switched to a smaller fall schedule earlier than usual to ease operations during the strike.

Today, Northwest is to cut its schedule again. Overall, the airline is cutting nearly 7% of its flights across the board, including 27 in Detroit.

The reductions should help Northwest deal with high fuel prices and follow through on its plan to shrink the airline as it reorganizes through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

"Earlier in the year I was getting first class a lot. Now it's looking harder and harder," Jacobson said. "The flights do seem more crowded, packed to the gills," Jacobson said.

Detroit Free Press

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