Normalcy at Detroit Metro is Matter of Perspective

ROMULUS, Mich. -- There were no long lines or other obvious signs of problems at Detroit Metropolitan Airport as Northwest Airlines worked through the first business day since its mechanics, cleaners and custodians went on strike.

But whether or not operations were truly running smoothly Monday depended on whom you asked.

"Operations have been normal," Northwest spokeswoman Jennifer Bagdade said.

Members of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, who walked off the job early Saturday, had a different view.

"If you listen to (Northwest), everything is great," said Bob Rose, president of AMFA Local 5, which represents more than 900 Northwest employees at Detroit Metro. "The facts that we're getting out of the Northwest computer system tell a different story."

Rose said 236 flights were delayed in Detroit on Saturday, the first day of the strike, and 109 of those delays were caused by maintenance issues. Rose said there were "well over 100 delays" Sunday, but he didn't have precise figures.

Bagdade said Northwest does not provide delay or cancellation statistics by city. The airline operates an average of about 600 daily roundtrips at Detroit each day.

At one point Monday, 23 out of 120 departures listed on Northwest status screens at the airport showed delays and two others showed cancellations.

Although flights appeared to be getting off the ground, Karl Stressel, a Northwest mechanic for 21 years, said replacement workers were deferring maintenance issues that do not affect air-worthiness. He said there are typically about 150 to 200 such "minimum equipment" issues pending on an average day, but Northwest had 700 to 800 on Monday.

Bagdade blamed the high number of maintenance issues on a job slowdown by mechanics Friday. She said managers and other workers have been working on the backlog and have brought the number down "substantially" over the weekend, but she could not provide numbers.

Passengers arriving in Detroit on Monday seemed to be taking any snags in stride.

"This is the worst delay all day," said Roshanda Williams of Chicago as she waited for her luggage to arrive at baggage claim. "I didn't really notice a difference from any other day."

Jay Moore said his flight from Minneapolis took off about 30 minutes late, but "that happens whether there is a strike or not."

Stressel said he expects some Northwest planes will be taken out of service in the coming days because the replacement mechanics don't have experience working on the airline's fleet.

"Highly qualified as a mechanic means staying current," Stressel said. "The biggest advantage is constantly being in contact with the airplanes."

About 40 union members marched outside the departure level of Northwest's terminal Monday while others handed leaflets to passengers walking through the lobby doors. Airport spokesman Michael Conway said AMFA also started picketing at another location Monday, near a construction entrance where they likely hoped to find sympathy from other union workers.