More NWA Flights Running Late

Flying Northwest Airlines? You may be in for a wait. Since a 30-day countdown to a possible strike began last month, the airline has consistently missed its goals for flying on time.

Northwest's internal records show that on some days since July 21, nearly half of Northwest's domestic flights arrived 15 minutes or more past their scheduled time, which is how the industry defines a late flight.

Take July 25, for instance. The airline says just 52.8 percent of its flights arrived on time. The next day, fewer than 55 percent made it on time.

Although the Eagan-based airline's on-time performance has improved since then, available reports show it has never hit its July daily goal of 79 percent, or its August daily goal of slightly better than 81 percent.

"There seems to be an increase in cancellations and delay activity," said Peter Fiske, a spokesman for the Professional Flight Attendants Association, which represents Northwest flight attendants. "I think that everybody is stretched to the limit. The system is stretched. There are unhappy employees and stressed-out customers."

Talks between Northwest Airlines and its mechanics union broke off this week in Washington, D.C. Northwest has pledged to use replacement workers to operate a full schedule of some 1,600 daily flights if its unionized mechanics are off the job after Aug. 19. Mechanics union leaders have questioned just how reliable that schedule will be.

In a statement, Northwest said thunderstorms, air-traffic delays and full planes have affected its summer operations, the same as with other airlines.

"However, we believe that our summer operational performance is very favorable when compared to other large network airlines," the statement said.

June on-time figures, the most recent industrywide data available, show 72.7 percent of Northwest flights arrived on time that month. That's better than United Airlines' 70.3 percent for June, but it trails American and Delta, both at 73.5 percent, and Continental, with 79 percent.

Layoffs are another factor for Northwest's recent summer flight hiccups, says Ted Ludwig, president of the airline's mechanics union, Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 33.

Hundreds of pink slips among mechanics this spring and summer have created a domino effect, as less-experienced workers got bumped out of their jobs by colleagues with more seniority.

In many cases, it might have been a job the senior mechanic wasn't used to, Ludwig said. A mechanic who had been working on planes in a hangar with everything shut off, for instance, may have had to adjust to doing maintenance on an aircraft on a busy tarmac, with engines running and the clock ticking.

Flight delays happen for a variety of reasons. Thunderstorms on the East Coast often cause a ripple effect, tying up traffic across the system. Mechanical-related problems sometimes cause delays. And many times, a plane that's late departing can arrive on time because airlines build extra time into a flight's schedule.

In the past, mechanics at Northwest and other major carriers in the middle of labor disputes have been accused of conducting work slowdowns.

Five years ago, a federal judge stepped in during a dispute between Northwest and its mechanics union over a spike in canceled and delayed flights. The delays were blamed on a work slowdown amid a protracted contract dispute. On some days, the airline nixed about 70 flights for mechanical reasons, seven times the normal level.

In any event, delays can cause travelers headaches.

Mike Krebsbach, director of accounting at Personnel Decisions International, a Minneapolis consulting firm, says when he flies to Hong Kong for business, he catches a number of connecting flights to get there. "You miss one and you're not getting there that day," he said.

Just this week, Doug Hartman, who works at Tennant Co., a Golden Valley-based manufacturer, was delayed on a Northwest flight to a supplier meeting in Los Angeles.

He checked from home and found that the plane was stuck in Orlando, Fla., with a mechanical-related problem. "My fear was that the flight would be canceled out from under me," Hartman said.

Northwest deployed a plane in Milwaukee to the Twin Cities, and Hartman's flight finally left 70 minutes late. Luckily, the flight made up a chunk of time in the air and he arrived just 35 minutes late, allowing him to make his meeting.