Fitch Downgrades NWA Debt; Union Says Airline Hired Replacements

Fitch Ratings downgraded Northwest Airlines Corp. debt on Wednesday, saying the nation's fourth-largest airline is taking too long to cut worker pay while fuel costs remain high.

On Tuesday, United Airlines won concessions from the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association and a preliminary agreement from ground workers in the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Those two unions represent the same groups of workers at Northwest.

Northwest made another cost-cutting move on Wednesday - it stopped carrying magazines on its planes and in its passenger club lounges. Spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said it would have cost $565,000 to keep providing the magazines in the coming year. World Traveler, Northwest's monthly in-house magazine, will still be available. And last week, Northwest said it would drop free pretzels on all domestic flights beginning June 9.

Northwest is also considering a $2-per-bag fee for skycap baggage-check service. About 15 percent of Northwest passengers use the service, which handles about 4 million bags a year.

United Airlines has had success with its recent fee for skycap baggage checks in Seattle, so Northwest is running a trial fee in that city this month to see how passengers react.

American Airlines, which ditched all but in-house magazines in the fall of 2001, also has been experimenting in Seattle with charging $2 per bag for curbside bag checks.

Northwest shares fell 18 cents, or 3 percent, to close at $5.91 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, where the company's shares have traded in a 52-week range of $4.20 to $11.83.

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