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 The Brancatelli File: Breaking News on Northwest Airlines

joe A note to readers: The strike at Northwest Airlines requires me to post news as it develops. Naturally, the most recent news items are at the top, so this column does read like a Pinter play: backward. Please note: All delay data is from the flight tracker on the NWA.com Web site. All flights arriving within 15 minutes of schedule are considered on-time. -- Joe Brancatelli

September 14, 7 p.m.
Northwest Declares Chapter 11 and--Surprise!--Everything is "Normal"
So Northwest Airlines Corporation, Northwest Airlines' parent company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after the market closed today. You'll be happy to know that the airline said that operations were "normal." Of course, I can't tell whether that's the pre-mechanics strike normal, the first days of the strike normal or the mediocre, mid-strike normal. And as this daily update ends, please raise your hands if you think the strike had nothing to do with the bankruptcy filing. Remember, everything is normal.

September 14, 9 a.m.
All You Permanently Hired Replacement Workers Raise Your Hands
Northwest Airlines said yesterday that it had begun hiring its replacement mechanics on a permanent basis. Of course, Northwest also said the airline was running normally during the strike. So you'll forgive me if I need a show of hands. Can anyone show me a temporary worker who has now been hired?

September 13, 5 p.m.
Missed Payments and Bankruptcy Predictions
The New York Times, which has been the leading national media voice supporting Northwest's "everything is normal" mantra, reported this morning that the airline is now preparing to file for bankruptcy as early as tomorrow. Northwest admits that there will be a board meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss its financial options. Meanwhile, one of its commuter carriers, Mesaba, outed Northwest today by reporting that NWA had missed a $19 million payment this week. Northwest executives did Mesaba one better by admitting that it not only missed the Mesaba payment, but also chose not to pay another $24 million in bills. And $65 million in pension obligations are due on Thursday. Don't you find it interesting that all this news comes today, when Northwest claimed it would begin hiring replacement mechanics on a permanent basis. The airline says that hiring is proceeding apace, but has give no details. In fact, yesterday Northwest begged AMFA leaders to let the rank-and-file vote on the airline's last concessionary contact offer. AMFA refused and none of the rank-and-filers have objected.

September 13, 1 p.m.
The Word Game on the Home Page
Northwest Airlines has been offering dull verbiage and suspect charts on its Web site every day since the mechanics strike began on August 20. The home-page link at NWA.com originally called it a "Labor Update." Last week, the airline switched the wording to "Operations Update." Today, however, the link is called the "Company Update." I don't know what it means, I'm just making note of the word game…

September 12, 11:00 p.m.
Minneapolis to the Heartland: 57% On-Time Today
Maybe it's my New York bias, but I've done much too little tracking of flights to the kind of heartland cities that Northwest specializes in serving. You know, places like Bozeman, Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Rapids. As of this writing, Northwest has operated 14 flights from Minneapolis to those four cities. Only eight ran on-time, an extremely poor 57 percent rating. Worse, all three flights to Bismarck ran late today. Northwest did do better from Minnesota to Fargo: Five of six flights ran on-time.

September 12, 10:00 p.m.
Focus on Las Vegas: Northwest Rolls Snake Eyes
Northwest rolled snake eyes to Las Vegas from Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis--and not just because it operated 11 flights today. Only five of those 11 flights landed on-time, a rather dreary 45 percent on-time rating. Needless to say, that's a very hard five.

September 12, 9:30 p.m.
Phocus on Phoenix: 44% On-Time Today
Phoenix continues to be troublesome for Northwest Airlines on Day 24 of the strike. Of the nine flights from Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis that have departed so far today, five have landed late or are scheduled to arrive late. That's a depressing 44 percent on-time rating.

September 11, 10 p.m.
Focus on Dallas-Fort Worth: 50% On-Time Today--and a New Excuse
Northwest operated 10 flights to Dallas/Fort Worth from its three hubs--Detroit/Metro, Minneapolis and Memphis--today. Just five arrived on-time and all five of the delayed flights were at least 45 minutes late. And on Day 23 of the strike, we have a new delay explanation making its appearance. Flight 697 from DTW to DFW was "delayed due to weight calculations" for an hour and 37 minutes. When was the last time an airline running "normally"--Northwest's strike mantra--made customers endure a 97-minute weight-calculation delay on a DC-9 aircraft?

September 11, 9 p.m.
Northwest to Asia: 55% On-Time Today
Northwest operated 11 flights from U.S. destinations to Tokyo and Osaka today. Six of them departed on-time, a rating of just 55 percent.

September 11, 6 p.m.
Northwest's Move: Will It Hire the Replacement Workers?
Three days of negotiations between Northwest Airlines and its striking mechanics union ended with no agreement today. No new talks are scheduled. So now it's Northwest's move: Will the company hire the replacement workers on a permanent basis? It previously promised to do that beginning Tuesday, September 13.

September 10, 11 p.m.
Memphis to Minneapolis: 50% On-Time Today
The emergency landing of Flight 447 today (see below) obviously got me curious about how Northwest's other Memphis-Minneapolis flights did today. There were six flights: three, including Flight 447, arrived late, a 50 percent on-time rating.

September 10, 10 p.m.
An Emergency Landing for Flight 447
A Northwest Airlines DC-9 traveling from Memphis to Minneapolis this morning was forced to make an emergency landing in St. Louis. The pilot reported that an engine was out--and then the flight crew was required to lower a balky landing gear by hand. Wire service reports say that 62 passengers were aboard Flight 447. There were no injuries.

September 9, 11:30 p.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: 66.5% On-Time Today
Northwest Airlines has apparently found its groove: a less-than-acceptable 66.5 percent on-time rating. That's the number it racked up for a second consecutive day on our 99-flight survey. There were no cancellations among the 99 flights on Day 21 of the strike. (This 99-flight survey checks Northwest Airlines-operated mainline jet flights ending in the number 1 and operating wholly within the United States and Canada. Tonight we reached Flight 1491 to get to 99 flights.)

September 9, 11:00 p.m.
Prisoners of Northwest: 43% On-Time Between Detroit and Minneapolis
As I've said several times, the people most dependant on Northwest are those frequent flyers who need to travel between the airline's major hubs of Minneapolis and Detroit/Metro. Today, at least, they were very badly served. The airline ran 28 flights between its hubs and just 12 arrived on schedule, a miserable 43 percent on-time rating. All of the delays and cancellations were related to mechanical problems.

September 8, 11:30 p.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: 66.5% On-Time Today
I'm just the contrary type. I couldn't figure out why Northwest would want to resume negotiations with its striking mechanics if things were going so great with their tiny, lower-priced group of replacement workers. So on Day 20 of the strike I went back to the good old 99 Northwest Flights on a Chart system. What did I find? Northwest managed just a 66.5% on-time rating with two cancellations today. That's not good, folks… (This 99-flight survey checks Northwest Airlines-operated mainline jet flights ending in the number 1 and operating wholly within the United States and Canada. Tonight we reached Flight 1491 to get to 99 flights.)

September 8, 10 p.m.
Northwest to California: 41% On-Time Today
I heard California Dreamin' on the radio today, so, in honor of the Mamas and the Papas, I decided to look at Northwest flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco. I wish I hadn't. Of 22 flights Northwest operated to LAX and SFO from its Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis hubs, only nine arrived on time or are scheduled to do so. That's a miserable 41 percent on-time rating. Remind me not to grab any Beach Boys albums tomorrow.

September 8, 5 p.m.
The Paper Chase: The FAA Can't Find Any, So Things Must Be Fine…
Senator Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Democrat, says that Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Marion Blakey assures him that Northwest Airlines is operating safely. This, of course, was a follow-up on Dayton's inquiries after an FAA inspector was reassigned after claiming that negative paperwork about Northwest was never filed, thus derailing a mandatory FAA audit. (See below). As an Associated Press dispatch explains: "In a telephone conversation Wednesday morning, Dayton said, Blakey told him nothing she's received from FAA inspectors would indicate there is a safety concern at Northwest Airlines. Blakey's spokesman, Greg Martin, confirmed that." Yes, but, if the paperwork fingering Northwest problems was never filed, which is the crux of the reassigned inspector's assertion, then Blakey wouldn't have received anything about safety problems, would she? Nevertheless, the AP report says that Dayton will "rely on [Blakey's] assurances."

September 7, 10 p.m.
Focus on Toronto: 57% On-Time Today
Northwest ran seven nonstops to Toronto today from its Detroit/Metro and Minneapolis hubs. Three ran late, for an on-time rating of 57 percent. Worst delay: Flight 802 from Detroit, which arrived an hour and two minutes late.

September 7, 9 p.m.
A Bad Day From Asia for Northwest Passengers
Northwest had a rotten day on flights within and from Asia today, with an on-time rating of about 50 percent. Flights from its Tokyo/Narita hub to Los Angeles and Seattle each arrived more than an hour late. A half-dozen other flights had shorter arrival delays. And Flight 20 from Manila to Tokyo was cancelled due to crew duty-time limits. Only Northwest knows whether the Manila-originating passengers--many of whom were trying to connect to the states over Tokyo--got to Narita today.

September 7, 6 p.m.
Spin Cycle: Northwest 'Blinks,' Then Demands More…
It probably means little in the totality of things, but the record should show that Northwest "blinked" first. On Tuesday night, it asked the National Mediation Board (NMB) to resume talks. The mechanics union has agreed and talks begin tomorrow in Minneapolis. But Northwest claims that it now will want more concessions than it was demanding before the strike began on August 20. It also claims that it is prepared to hire its replacement workers on a permanent basis beginning September 13. So the obvious question is begged: If Northwest thinks these replacement workers are so good, why not hire them immediately? It has every legal right to do so. And if the replacement workers are good, Northwest actually gets the best of both worlds. Why? Because if it hires the replacements, Northwest is legally required to rehire any striking mechanic who requests the job. But Northwest would only have to pay the rates it wants to pay and can impose the work rules it wants to use. So why wouldn't Northwest hire the replacements sooner? The obvious answer: They either aren't that good or they require so much management oversight that they aren't saving Northwest any money. On the flip side, what is the mechanics union to do? It doesn't even have a "win" scenario and never did because its best-case contract is sure to include layoffs and givebacks. And that begs the question that has been hanging over this thing for weeks: What was the AMFA thinking when it asked the NMB for an impasse in July? The board had recently rebuffed Northwest's impasse request and the union could have gone months under the old wage scale and work rules had it not forced the August 20 strike date.

September 7, 5 p.m.
Northwest Cancels Its New York-Tokyo Nonstop Flights
Northwest's oft-repeated strike mantra--everything's normal and quickly returning to normal--is beginning to unravel. Just hours after its August traffic report showed its comparatively weak passenger numbers, the airline announced that it will "indefinitely suspend" its New York/Kennedy-Tokyo nonstop service, Flights 17 and 18, effective October 2. The airline blamed skyrocketing fuel costs. Fuel costs have skyrocketed, of course, but you also have to think that Northwest's ongoing maintenance issues--the JFK-NRT flights have suffered several long delays since the mechanics strike began--were part of the decision. And although the service represents just two flights, it is actually 8 percent of Northwest's entire transpacific capacity as measured by available seat miles. There's also this: Northwest's flights won't be missed. Besides JFK-NRT nonstops from Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, United Airlines and American Airlines operate on the route. And Continental Airlines flies nonstop to Tokyo from Newark--and even gives Northwest WorldPerks miles.

September 7, 4 p.m.
Northwest's Traffic Takes a Hit in August
Northwest Airlines released its August traffic figures today and the usual measures--revenue passenger miles, available seat miles and load factor--are not necessarily instructive. Why? Northwest cancelled a disproportionately large number of flights during the last 15 days of August. It also slashed capacity by about 17 percent on August 20, the day that the mechanics strike began. So let's look at "enplaned passengers," which is the actual number of travelers that Northwest carried. That's where you see the hit Northwest has taken. The airline carried 5,064,028 passengers in August, a 2.1 percent decline from August, 2004. It's the first time in 2005 that Northwest suffered a monthly year-over-year decline in the number of enplaned passengers. For the first seven months of 2005, Northwest registered monthly gains of between 3.3 and 7.9 percent. Worse, Northwest carried about 475,000 fewer passengers in August than it did in July. By comparison, Northwest's July-to-August traffic decline in 2004 was less than 200,000 passengers.

September 6, 11:30 p.m.
Focus on Las Vegas: 64% On-Time Today
Northwest operates nonstops to Las Vegas from at least five cities. Besides flights from its Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis hub, it also runs a daily nonstop from both Indianapolis and Milwaukee. Of 14 Las Vegas-bound flights I checked today, nine arrived on-time. That's a 64 percent rating.

September 6, 11 p.m.
Focus on San Francisco: 33% On-Time Today
Northwest Airlines operated nine flights to San Francisco today from its Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis hubs, but only three managed an on-time arrival or are scheduled to arrive on-time. All three flights from the troubled Detroit hub operated late.

September 6, 10:30 p.m.
A Rocky Day on the International Front
The grinding nature of this mechanics strike, now 18 days old, may be catching up with Northwest's flights to Europe and Asia. There were sporadic departure delays across both oceans today. All three of Northwest's Minneapolis-Amsterdam flights left late, for example. So, too, did the Minneapolis-Tokyo flight. The Honolulu-Osaka nonstop also left late. But the worst international flight of the day is/was Flight 21. The Tokyo-bound flight is sitting on the ground in Honolulu, waiting out an estimated delay of four hours and 10 minutes.

September 6, 9 a.m.
A Paper Trail (or Lack of It) Puts Northwest's Safety Under Scrutiny
The removal of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector last week (see below) has led to frightening allegations about the state of Northwest Airlines' maintenance practices since its unionized mechanics went on strike on August 20. As first reported in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Detroit Free Press on Friday and admirably followed up by Susan Carey in today's editions of The Wall Street Journal, the FAA inspector claims that almost 500 reports on Northwest in the first 11 days of the strike were never entered into the FAA's electronic database. The inspector says between 58 and 90 percent of those reports noted "defects" in Northwest's operations. An airline's defect rate is usually below 5 percent and a defect rate of just 9 percent triggers an FAA audit. The allegations were contained in a letter written by Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton to FAA Administrator Marion Blakely. Carey's story says that both the FAA and the office of the FAA Inspector General are now looking into the allegations.

September 5, 11 p.m.
A Good Labor Day With Huge Holes at Northwest
A random look at flights at the end of this Labor Day indicates that Northwest Airlines may have had its best day for on-time operations since the mechanics strike began on August 20. But that conclusion comes with a caveat: Even my random look at the NWA.com flight tracker revealed some distressingly long mechanical delays and mysterious cancellations. Flight 581 from Orlando to Minneapolis, for example, was delayed four hours and 43 minutes. Flight 322 from Detroit/Metro to Burlington, Vermont, suffered a delay and diversion of more than three hours. Several flights from Asia also got whacked: Flight 2 from Tokyo to Los Angeles was delayed on departure about three hours while Flight 18 from Tokyo to New York/Kennedy was three hours and 25 minutes late. Of course, there is also the now-standard "schedule change" cancellation (see below). You have to wonder how long travelers on Flight 141 from Chicago/O'Hare to Minneapolis were delayed at the gate with a mechanical before Northwest, ahem, changed the schedule and cancelled the flight.

September 4, 11:30 p.m.
Focus on Florida: 69% On-Time Today
Northwest Airlines ran 36 flights to Florida today from its hubs in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit/Metro and Memphis. Twenty-five of them arrived on-time today, a 69 percent on-time rating. The poorest performance was to Tampa, where three of seven flights were late, including a delay of more than two hours. On the positive side, the airline ran all five of its Miami flights on-time today.

September 4, 11 p.m.
Detroit-Boston: 55% On-Time Today
Honest, I keep coming back to Boston because I figure that Northwest Airlines has to improve eventually. But as Northwest's dreary strike record to Beantown shows (see entries below), I might as well just give up. Northwest operated only 6 of its 11 flights between Detroit/Metro and Boston on-time today, an awful 55 percent rating.

September 4, 10:30 p.m.
Chicago Is Not Northwest's Kind of Town Today
The Chicago-Minneapolis milk run continues to be a problem for Northwest. Of the 12 flights between the two cities, five ran late today, an uninspiring 58 percent on-time rating. Worse, the delays averaged 55 minutes on a route that averages only about 80 minutes of scheduled travel time. That's the kind of stuff that infuriates business travelers.

September 4, 10 p.m.
Northwest to Europe: 62.5% On-Time Today
It looks like Northwest's aging fleet of DC-10s, which operate on the routes to and from Europe, is beginning to grind down. Of 16 Northwest departures to Europe I checked today, six left late, a less-than-dandy 62.5 percent on-time rating. Five of the delays were attributed to mechanical reasons. The sixth was a late-arriving aircraft, which had a mechanical on an earlier leg.

September 4: 1 p.m.
A Rainy Day Around Minneapolis
A line of thunderstorms disrupted many end-of-day departures last night from Minneapolis and the weather has gone from bad-to-worse today. Up to 5 inches of rain was expected to fall in the Metropolitan Minneapolis area. Suburban Hennepin County is bearing the brunt of the downpours, but a nasty thunderstorm whacked downtown Minneapolis just after dawn.

September 3, 10 p.m.
A Very Bad Day in Asia for Northwest
Mamma didn't say there'd be days like this. Flight 7 from Seattle to Tokyo is being delayed a mind-boggling 19.5 hours as replacement mechanics grappled with a series of "non-scheduled" problems on the Airbus A330-200. It was due to depart at 2:30 p.m. local time, but is still sitting on the ground at 10 p.m. The new scheduled departure time is now 10 a.m. Sunday morning. But that's not all. Flight 911 from Tokyo to Taipei arrived 4 hours and 57 minutes late on Saturday local time. Also off schedule: Flight 19 from Minneapolis to Narita, which is running late. (September 4 update: Flight 7 finally departed at 9:53 a.m. on Sunday morning).

September 2, 11:30 p.m.
Northwest Complains and an FAA Inspector Is Banished
If you're worried about the safety of Northwest Airlines, you are not alone. As you can read in Saturday's editions of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a Federal Aviation Administration inspector last week filed a report questioning the airline's safety and the ability of the FAA to adequately police Northwest's maintenance efforts. Northwest promptly complained and the inspector was banished to a desk job. But an inquiry from Minnesota Senator Mark Dayton has ignited a controversy--and an investigation into the banishment.

September 2, 4:30 p.m.
Everything's Alright at Northwest, Says a JoeSentMe Member
A report from a JoeSentMe member: "I'm a WorldPerks Platinum Elite and I routinely take four Northwest flights a week--and have every week since the strike began. I've been reading your notes about NWA and 'the real misery that Northwest is inflicting on travelers.' I have to say that I'm not seeing that misery. I fly through the Detroit hub and all of my flights have been business as normal. I have experienced some short ground delays getting out of Detroit, but I've still arrived on time or even early on each of my flights since the strike began."

September 1, 11 p.m.
By The Time You Get to Phoenix on Northwest, Jimmy Webb Will Be Retired…
I heard the great Jimmy Webb tune, By the Time I Get to Phoenix, on the radio this morning. So it behooved me--be careful when I'm behooved--to see how Northwest Airlines flew into Phoenix today. From its three hubs (Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis), Northwest flies to Phoenix a total of 10 times a day. Only 4 of the flights arrived on schedule, a miserable 40 percent on-time rating. The worst delay: Flight 261 from Detroit/Metro. It's still in the air, with the delay estimated at two hours and 37 minutes.

September 1, 9 p.m.
Northwest's Pyrrhic Victory May Lead to Bankruptcy
Northwest has declared victory in the mechanics strike and most of the talking-head analysts and less-skeptical media outlets seem to feel the same way. That may be, but the victory sure seems like it will be a hollow one. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing today, the carrier says its third-quarter loss may reach $400 million. Management says it has no collateral for future loans, its liquidity is plummeting and it is planning to cut capacity "significantly" in the fourth quarter and in 2006. The airline admits it is running out of time on the bankruptcy front, too. And we still don't know how much courting and fighting the mechanics strike is costing on a daily basis--and how much traffic Northwest has bled.

September 1, 6 p.m.
Detroit-to-Minneapolis: 60% On-Time Today
The ultimate prisoners of this strike are travelers who need to travel between Detroit/Metro and Minneapolis, Northwest's primary hub. Of the 10 flights from Metro to Minneapolis so far today, four ran late or are scheduled to arrive late.

September 1, 5 p.m.
Northwest From Europe: 86% On-Time Today
A very good day for Northwest from Europe today. Of 14 flights I tracked arriving from Europe, 12 landed on-time, a nifty 86 percent on-time rating.

August 31, 11 p.m.
Denver-Minneapolis: 57% On-Time Today
So you wonder why United Airlines in specific has gone after Northwest's customers (see below)? Here's one possible explanation: Of 14 flights between Denver and Minneapolis today, Northwest operated just eight on-time. Four others were delayed and two were cancelled for an on-time rating of just 57 percent. By contrast, United operated 13 of its 14 flights on-time today between its Denver hub and Minneapolis. That's a 93 percent on-time rating.

August 31, 10 p.m.
Northwest to Asia: Almost Perfect Today
Northwest got off to a bad start on its flights to Asia during the first couple of days of the strike. But it had an almost-perfect day today. Of 10 Asia-bound departures I tracked, nine departed on-time. The only delay was a one hour and 15 minute mechanical on Flight 7 from Seattle-Tacoma to Tokyo.

August 31, 9 p.m.
Explained: The Mystery of the 'Schedule Change' Cancellation
A weird type of cancellation has begun appearing with alarming frequency in the NWA.com Flight Tracker. Flights are being "cancelled due to schedule change." What's that mean? I didn't know until a Northwest flight attendant E-mailed me an explanation today: A "schedule change" cancellation is a mechanical cancellation in disguise. Whenever a mechanical extends for a long period of time and is subsequently deemed unfixable, Northwest cancels the flight and marks it as a "schedule change" rather than a mechanical cancellation. Then the flight mysteriously re-appears on the schedule the next day. What's the value of such a strange shell game? After all, a cancellation, for whatever reason, counts against Northwest's completion rate. However, marking flights "cancelled" in the flight tracker masks the real misery that Northwest is inflicting on travelers. When reporters and other snoops--I guess I'm both--see a cancelled flight on the NWA.com Flight Tracker, they have logically assumed that the travelers have been reaccommodated after only some minor inconvenience. What we didn't know until now is that travelers and crews on the "cancelled due to schedule change" flights actually have been held at the gates for hours before Northwest throws in the metaphoric towel and announces a cancellation.

August 31, 8 p.m.
Northwest Fights Frequent-Flyer Fire With Gasoline
United Airlines has mounted a covert, guerilla attack on Northwest in an attempt to pry loose some of the strike-bound carrier's most frequent (and presumably most disgruntled) customers. In a private mailing to select Northwest WorldPerks Elite flyers, United has been offering double miles on flights and a lavish inducement: double elite qualifying miles in United's MileagePlus program. Northwest struck back publicly today. Not only did it match the private United offer, but it also extended it to all Northwest WorldPerks members in the United States and Canada. Advanced registration is required and no retroactive flights qualify, but Northwest's double miles/double elite miles offer sharply raises the cost of keeping the loyalty of its best customers. You can examine the terms and conditions of the Northwest double-miles offer here. The promotion lasts until October 9 and is valid for as many as five roundtrips.

August 31, 6 p.m.
Northwest Starts the 1,000-Mile Bribe Campaign
Northwest Airlines continues to claim that all is normal, but it has now begun to drop form-letter apologies on flyers who have been inconvenienced by the delays and cancellations since August 20, Day One of the mechanics strike. Signed by Kristen Shovlin, director of customer care and refunds, the apologies include a bribe: 1,000 WorldPerks miles. The apology also has an interesting claim: "Occasionally, we must compromise on-time operations to guarantee safe travel." And one other fillip: Northwest is asking recipients of the apology to complete a survey rating the quality of its service and the quality of its service recovery.

August 31, 8 a.m.
Better Late Than Never, The Strib Starts Tracking
One would have thought that the Minneapolis Star Tribune would have been testing Northwest's operating performance since Day One of the strike via the NWA.com flight tracker. But better late then never. A story in today's Strib says the paper tracked 106 Northwest flights between 3 p.m. Monday and 3 p.m. Tuesday. The on-time rating: 66 percent, which is right about where our 99 Northwest Flights on a Chart had the airline on the last three days before Hurricane Katrina began scrambling schedules.

August 30, 11:45 p.m.
Detroit-Milwaukee: 55% On-Time Tuesday
Northwest has been making a huge effort in recent months to overwhelm Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines (fka Midwest Express). But on 11 flights between Milwaukee and Detroit today, Northwest managed just a 55 percent on-time rating. That includes one cancellation in each direction, two late arrivals in Detroit and a late arrival in Milwaukee.

August 30, 11:30 p.m.
Northwest to Europe Tonight: 43% On-Time Departures
I checked 14 Northwest Airlines flights departing to Europe tonight. Eight departed late and all of the delays were attributed to mechanicals or mechanical-related problems. The most problematic: Flight 32 from Detroit/Metro to London/Gatwick. Its departure, delayed due to "non-scheduled maintenance," was scheduled for 9:40 p.m. Several new departure times have come and gone. The current "estimated" departure time is 1:45 a.m. (Update: Flight 32 eventually left at 12:15 a.m.)

August 30, 10:30 p.m.
Minneapolis to Los Angeles: 67% On-Time
Northwest ran four of its six flights to Los Angeles on-time today. That is its best performance to LAX since the strike began.

August 30, 10 p.m.
Detroit to Indianapolis: 62.5% On-Time
Northwest Airlines ran five of eight flights on the Detroit/Metro-Indianapolis route on-time today. The three delays averaged one hour and four minutes. The scheduled flight time is about one hour and 10 minutes.

August 30, 6 p.m.
The 'Normal' Four-Hour Delays of the Day
Northwest Airlines keeps claiming--and too many media outlets keep repeating--the mantra of "normal" operations. They might want to explain that to the passengers on Flight 461 from Chicago/Midway to Detroit. It was delayed four hours by a mechanical delay. Or try the normal line on the travelers inconvenienced by Flight 676 from Salt Lake City to Minneapolis. They endured a mechanical delay of four hours and 33 minutes.

August 29, 11:45 p.m.
Please Come to Boston, Just Not on Northwest
As you can see by scrolling down, Northwest was under 6 percent on-time to Boston from Minneapolis and Detroit during the first two days of the mechanics strike. More than a week later, Northwest isn't doing much better. Just four of the 12 flights from its two primarily hubs operated on-time to Boston today, a dreary 33 percent on-time rating. If you're going to take Dave Loggins' advice and come to Boston, where he has friends who have lotsa room, please fly someone else.

August 29, 11:30 p.m.
A 'Normal' Five-Hour Mechanical Delay in Washington
Northwest Airlines managed to operate three of its five Washington/Dulles to Detroit/Metro flights on-time today. But Flight 1407, scheduled to arrive at 2:16 p.m., didn't get to Detroit until 7:44 p.m. The five-hour, 28-minute delay was attributed to mechanical problems.

August 29, 11 p.m.
Denver to Minneapolis: 72% On-Time
If Northwest is looking for happy news today, they can point to the Denver-to-Minneapolis route. Five of its seven flights operated on-time, which is nirvana by Northwest's current standards. And the delays were relatively modest: one flight was delayed 50 minutes, the other 47 minutes.

August 29, 10:30 p.m.
Minneapolis to LAX: 67% On-Time With an Asterisk
Victory is what you make of it, I guess. Northwest Airlines can claim a mediocre 67 percent on-time rating on flights today from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. But while four of the six flights ran on-time, a fifth was cancelled due to a "schedule change" and the last flight of the day was delayed "due to aircraft cleaning." The "aircraft cleaning" delay is increasingly common around the Northwest system. Makes you wonder if Northwest simply forgot to hire replacement janitors along with replacement mechanics. As for the "schedule change" cancellation, I guess that's just part of the "normal" order of things around Northwest Airlines.

August 29, 9 p.m.
Detroit to Chicago/O'Hare: 28% On-Time
When Andy Roberts, Northwest's vice president of operations, explained last Friday that "normal" meant running flights, not running them on-time, I guess he was referring to the Detroit-Chicago/O'Hare route. Of seven flights today, five ran late. Three of the late flights were delayed for mechanical reasons and a fourth was blamed on a late-arriving aircraft. That late-arriving aircraft had been delayed for mechanical reasons on the flight into Detroit.

August 28, 11:30 p.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: Good Night, Katrina
The imminent arrival of Hurricane Katrina makes it impossible for us to track any airline and hold it to any standard. So, at least for now, 99 Northwest Flights on a Chart serves no useful service. The storm, which is approaching New Orleans and the Gulf Coast with winds clocked at 160 miles per hour, has already impacted the schedules of several airlines today. This week is going to be an operational disaster for all carriers as they deal with the winds, rains, storms, floods and tornadoes that Katrina is expected to cause as far north as Maine and for as long as Thursday. I suggest you reconsider your travel plans this week. If you can, don't fly. And I mean don't fly any airline. It's going to be an ugly week. If JoeSentMe members still have questions about the operational reliability of Northwest Airlines post-Katrina, we may revive this chart, perhaps after Labor Day.

JOE'S 99 NORTHWEST FLIGHTS ON A CHART

Strike Day

On-Time Rate

Cancel Rate

Average Delay

8 - Sat., 8/27*

63.5%

1.0%

54.3 minutes

7 - Fri., 8/26*

Weather

Weather

Weather

6 - Thu., 8/25*

66.5%

0.0%

44.0 minutes

5 - Wed., 8/24*

67.5%

3.0%

33.6 minutes

4 - Tue., 8/23*

58.5%

4.0%

33.8 minutes

3 - Mon., 8/22*

37.5%

4.0%

59.8 minutes

2 - Sun., 8/21*

53.5%

3.0%

1 hour, 6 minutes

1 - Sat., 8/20*

46.5%

2.0%

1 hour, 11 minutes

Strike Average

56.2%

2.4%

51.8 minutes

Northwest (8/2004)

81.1%

1.1%

 

Sources: Flight tracker at NWA.com for strike operations. Department of Transportation for August, 2004, rating. *For 99 US/Canada flights ending in Number 1.


August 28, 9 p.m.
Would I Fly Northwest Now? No, But I Have Options…
Since our coverage of the Northwest Airlines strike is derailed by the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, logic dictates at least a temporary assessment of whether the carrier is reliable to fly. For me, personally, the answer is no. Why would I fly an airline that admits to canceling 4 percent of its flights, lied about its early-strike performance and seems proud that its "standard" of "normality" is 68 percent on-time? But, hey, I fly from the New York metro area and I have options. I can fly almost anywhere in the world and comfortably avoid Northwest. And I know most JoeSentMe readers who have options will avoid Northwest. (Actually, the vast majority of readers tell me they have avoided Northwest for quite some time.) But if you live in Minneapolis, Detroit or Memphis, well, your decision may be different. I can't tell you how to spend your time and your money. If you think a Northwest Airlines running 68 percent on-time (at best) and 4 percent cancellations is still your best option, then you should fly them. You know your schedule and your needs and your tolerance for airline tomfoolery better than any of us.

August 28, 8 p.m.
The High Cost of Saving Money at Northwest
Northwest Airlines has been adamant in its demand that the mechanics union that struck the carrier on August 20 accept $176 million in annual concessions. Northwest's demand has generally been expressed as 50 percent layoffs of the AMFA members and a 25 percent pay cut for the survivors. Northwest also said it would accept any configuration of layoffs and pay cuts that reaches $176 million. But consider this: According to internal Northwest documents acquired by several media outlets, the airline has already spent $107 million planning for a strike and hiring and training replacement workers. That figure does not, of course, include the cost of compensating passengers on busted itineraries since August 20. One example of that kind of spending: the cost of putting up more than 300 passengers at a Minneapolis Airport hotel when Flight 44 to London last week was delayed by 22 hours. Then consider this: How much revenue has Northwest sacrificed since August 20? The airline has not spoken about ticket sales since the strike, but it did claim 80 percent load factors over the first weekend of the strike. That sounds good, except when you remember that Northwest's load factor in July was 87 percent. The bottom line on the bottom line? Northwest probably won't be saving anything in the first year of what it calls the new reality of labor relations.

August 28, 4 p.m.
Travelers Aid Apparently Didn't Get the 'Normal' Memo
The Travelers Aid Society of Metropolitan Detroit put out a press release on Friday night announcing "its continued support to the distressed travelers inconvenienced as the Northwest Airlines strike continues." The release went on to explain that Travelers Aid has noticed that "Northwest Airlines has experienced a high number of flight delays and cancellations." Funny, I thought Northwest said everything was "normal." Don't those nice folks at the Travelers Aid desk know "normal" when they see it?

August 28, 2 a.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: 63.5% On-Time on Saturday
With a lighter weekend schedule on Day Eight of the mechanics strike, Northwest Airlines should have done substantially better than Saturday's miserable 63.5 percent on-time rating. After leaping up to the mark of mediocrity--one in three flights late--on Wednesday, Northwest is now slowly sliding backward. Also alarming: Northwest's average delay is climbing. It was 54.3 minutes on Saturday, much worse than Thursday, the last weekday we tracked. And the average delay on Thursday was much worse than Wednesday, Northwest's best day since the strike began. Also of note: Four of the delays on the 99-flight test exceeded two hours. No matter how many times Northwest executives say it, this is not "normal" operations. A few weeks of low-60s on-time operations will drive business-travel prisoners of fortress hubs like Detroit/Metro and Minneapolis to book away and accept connections rather than risk a consistently off-schedule Northwest nonstop. (As we have done since August 20, Day One of the strike, this 99-flight survey checks Northwest Airlines-operated mainline jet flights ending in the number 1 and operating wholly within the United States and Canada. Tonight we reached Flight 1881 to get to 99 flights.)

August 27, 9:30 p.m.
Defining the Mythical Tipping Point for Business Travelers
Business travelers don't move in lockstep, of course, but one thing they agree upon is the need for timeliness and reliability. If an airline can't provide both--and provide them day after day, week after week--the theoretical convenience of a schedule full of nonstop flights is worthless. At a certain point, business travelers, even business travelers in a fortress hub, will book away and accept a connecting itinerary on another carrier. As an example, I give you Detroit/Metro-Boston. The Boston run has been a disaster for Northwest since the strike began and today was no exception. All five DTW-BOS flights ran late. Two delays were blamed on "non-scheduled maintenance," a third on a luggage-loading delay and a fourth on a late-arriving crew. The fifth was unexplained on the NWA.com flight tracker. Detroit business travelers who need to get to Boston eventually begin looking for alternatives. And they find that they can fly Delta over Cincinnati or even Continental over Newark. Even better, they remember, Delta and Continental both offer Northwest WorldPerks miles and elite-qualification credit.

August 27, 10 a.m.
The Union That Couldn't Spin Straight
I've been saying to inquiring media all week that business travelers couldn't care less about who is "winning" or "losing" this strike. Regardless of whether their personal politics are pro-union or pro-company, business travelers just want to know if their planes are flying and how far off schedule they may be. That said, however, it's impossible not to notice how much better Northwest has been spinning its side of the story. As noted elsewhere, Northwest has claimed victory simply because it is flying, albeit hobbled by unacceptably high cancellations and a dreary on-time performance. It's also calculated well how easily the media can be fooled by blanket denials and late-arriving hard data. On the other hand, the striking union, the AMFA, made idiotic pre-strike claims about what would happen to Northwest in the early days of the strike. There weren't likely to be plane parts falling from the skies or fleets of stricken Northwest aircraft parked at airports. That was a stupid scenario to paint. For us, as business travelers, the true test is whether Northwest can fly a safe, reliable, on-time operation for weeks or months at a time with its replacement mechanics. So I suggest you continue to ignore Northwest's smooth spin, ignore the AMFA's bumbling antics and focus on the numbers. Good or bad, the numbers will tell the long-term tale.

August 27, 9 a.m.
Can We Talk? Tales of the Flight Trackers
Now that JoeSentMe.com and the NWA.com Flight Tracker have inadvertently become joined at the hip, can we talk? First of all, I'm stunned that I was the only reporter around last Saturday who thought to check Northwest's claims against its own flight information. And a week later I'm stunned that virtually no one else except KARE-11 TV in Minneapolis and Minnesota Public Radio is doing anything systemic with the tracker. That said, a candid admission: JoeSentMe's 99 Northwest Flights on a Chart came about completely by accident. I always planned to use the NWA.com flight tracker to sample routes so I that could report operations to you during the first few hours of the strike. But the idea of doing a 99-flight estimate of Northwest's on-time rating for the day was a late-night stroke of desperation. After updating you all day Saturday with the horrendous performance on randomly chosen routes, by 9:30 p.m. I was feeling that I might have overestimated Northwest's problems. Almost simultaneously, a commercial running on the office TV was using 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall as its music bed. In my head, I heard "99 Northwest Flights on a Chart"--and off I went. Funny how things work out: Had I not tried to find something nice to say about Northwest in those first few hours, I'd never have done the 99 flights and Northwest would have been able to bluff its way through the first week of the strike. Or, as a friend at one of Northwest's Big Six competitors said in an E-mail on Thursday: "You can be damned sure we'll disable our [flight tracker] the week before any strike might start. I'm sure there'll be an entire chapter on it" in the crisis-communications handbook.

August 26, 11:45 p.m.
Why Did Northwest Come Clean Today?
After a week of stonewalling and repeating the meaningless word "normal," Northwest finally admitted that its early-strike operations were a shambles. It even went so far as to admit its pre-strike operations were equally shambolic. Why come clean today? Well, from a public-relations perspective, several reasons. Today Northwest could twin last week's bad "old" news with the fresher good news of decent Wednesday and Thursday operations, thus forcing reporters to decide whether to report the "new" stuff and judge the week-old fibs as "old" news. Also, dumping bad news on a summer Friday is classic old-school PR. The theory is that no one reads the Saturday papers. Moreover, Northwest need not hide the start-of-strike news now. Bad news early in the strike might have immediately scared off leisure travelers and slowed ticket sales. With a week of barely acceptable operations behind it, Northwest may feel customers won't care about last week's inconveniences. Will the strategy work? The Associated Press was compliant enough and the wire service's copy is omnipresent on Web sites and smaller newspapers in Northwest's Midwestern and Great Plains markets. And without film of backed-up ticket counters or disabled planes, television stations have largely pulled off the story already. How will the big papers react? Neither the Minneapolis nor Detroit papers have posted on the Web yet, but The New York Times is not pleased. Proving once again that it's not nice to lie to the Old Grey Lady, Saturday's piece is appropriately outraged. Both the headline and story play up the ugly early-strike facts that the paper had repeatedly chosen to ignore earlier this week. The Wall Street Journal coverage won't post until Sunday evening, but the Journal has been much more skeptical about Northwest's claims from the start.

August 26, 11 p.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: Incomplete for Friday
Northwest gets a weather-created mulligan today, Day 7 of the mechanics strike. With Hurricane Katrina disrupting some Florida flights and thunderstorms this morning in Minneapolis, it would be impossible to give a valid, non-weather assessment of Northwest's operations on Friday. Not that I didn't try. But Northwest's hub operations are so sensitive to weather-related disruptions--even its first-flights-out to important destinations such as San Francisco and Los Angeles from Minneapolis rely on equipment making crack-of-dawn arrivals from elsewhere--that it would be foolish to make a stab at separating genuine mechanicals from cascading weather delays. That said, however, I did see some signs that Northwest is beginning to fray. There were a plethora of delays today of more than two hours that were specifically credited to non-scheduled maintenance. So this should be a very interesting weekend. Also worth watching: Will Northwest cancel flights this weekend to save some end-of-month crew time? Management might gamble that it would wiser to cancel weekend flights with lighter passenger loads than end-of-month business-week flights early next week. Besides, canceling weekend flights generates less media attention than work-week schedule disruptions.

August 26, 8 p.m.
What Part of 'Normal' Didn't We Understand?
Northwest Airlines had a big telephonic media jamboree today. The goal? Celebrate its return to "normal operations" from its earlier status of "normal operations" that were so "normal" that the airline nevertheless apologized for the "normal" disruptions that passengers had suffered. But, obviously, none of us really understand the meaning of "normal." This little tidbit was buried in an Associated Press story that moved on the wires this afternoon: Andy Roberts, vice president for operations, said "there was no contradiction between Northwest's early insistence it was maintaining a normal schedule and its acknowledgment on Friday that half its flights had been late. He said he meant, 'We were intending to fly our full schedule.' "

nw August 26, 6 p.m.
'Normal' Is as 'Normal' Does…or the 68% Solution
"Say-y-y, Rocky," I hear Bullwinkle J. Moose asking, "What's that squiggly green and gray thing over there?" Well, Bullwinkle, Northwest Airlines released this chart today of its on-time performance since the federal "cooling off" period began on July 20. There are a couple of interesting things to note about this chart. First, there is Northwest's appalling on-time performance when the strike began. It is eerily similar to the averages our 99-Northwest-Flights-on-a-Chart has reported since Saturday, August 20. In other words, Northwest was operating at or below 50 percent, as our random survey suggested. Second, it's interesting that Northwest says that it considers 68 percent on-time performance "normal." (The 68th percentile is that blue line on the chart.) As Boris Badenov might say, "First I break union. Then I delay passengers. Then I put airline in bankruptcy. Natasha, call Fearless Leader and tell him to meet us at Frostbite Falls Federal Bankruptcy Court and remember to bring secret executive-retention plan."

August 25, 11:45 p.m.
The Sad Saga of Flight 431 (Seven Hours Delayed and Counting)
Let's hope no one you know is on Northwest Flight 431, an Orlando to Detroit flight. The Boeing 757-200R flight is supposed to depart MCO at 5:22 p.m. and arrive at DTW at 8:01 p.m. When I first started doing tonight's 99 Northwest Flights on a Chart, the flight was listed "delayed due to non-scheduled maintenance" on the NWA.com flight tracker and marked for a new arrival time of 12:30 a.m. When I checked again, the arrival time had been pushed back to 1:24 a.m. with a new notation: "Flight left the gate at 10:28 p.m. but has not taken off." A third check listed the flight as "returned to gate" with still another arrival time: 2:02 a.m. Even as I write, it has a new/old notation ("delayed due to non-scheduled maintenance"), a new departure time (12:30 a.m.) and still another new arrival time: 3:02 a.m. That would be a seven hour and one minute delay. It'll be interesting to hear the passengers' stories. (And, by the way, I checked: Flight 431 is not a casualty of Hurricane Katrina. Orlando has been operating at or near-normal tonight. Skies have been clear and no rain is expected until tomorrow.)

August 25, 11:00 p.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: 66.5% On-Time Thursday
Northwest seems to have found its groove on Day 6 of the mechanics strike. The groove? Not disastrous, just plain lousy. Northwest racked up a 66.5 percent on-time rating Thursday in our survey of 99 flights. That's a point below yesterday. But our survey revealed no cancellations today, which we thought was a statistical oddity considering the fact that the stonewallers at Northwest have at least admitted to the fact that they'll be canceling an appalling 4 percent of its flights daily. So we randomly checked another 50 flights and still couldn't find a cancellation, except for one Fort Lauderdale-bound flight. That was clearly a hurricane-related incident. So one wonders where all the cancellations were today. But the good news on cancellations was offset by another problem: The average time of delays was up to 44 minutes today, a worrisome over Wednesday's 33.6-minute average. There were lots of ugly, mechanical-related delays, too, including Flight 1491 (Minneapolis-St. Louis), delayed two hours and 51 minutes, and Flight 1251 (Detroit-Chicago/O'Hare), delayed two hours and 13 minutes. And this 99-flight survey made its first "exception" in its six-day life: Flight 431 from Orlando to Detroit. It's in such bad shape (see above) that I felt it would skew the average-delay results if I left it in the survey. (As we have done since Saturday, Day One of the strike, this 99-flight survey checks Northwest Airlines-operated mainline jet flights ending in the number 1 and operating wholly within the United States and Canada. Tonight we reached Flight 1701 to get to 99 flights.)

August 24, 2005 11:45 p.m.
Gee, I Wish I Had Said That!
The New York Times says in Thursday's editions that FlightStats, "which bases its statistics on data from the Federal Aviation Administration and other sources," reports that 47 percent of Northwest flights operated late during the first three days of the strike. As you may recall, the JoeSentMe "99 Northwest Flights on a Chart" three-day on-time rating for Northwest was 50 percent. So it seems to me our 99-flight tracker did pretty good for a survey that Northwest spinmeisters called "random," "arbitrary," "unscientific" and a couple of other pejorative adjectives. You can read The Times piece here.

August 24, 2005 11 p.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: 67.5% On-Time Wednesday
On Wednesday, Day Five of the mechanics strike, Northwest managed to run two-thirds of its flights on-time. We found three cancellations among the 99 flights we surveyed, a drop from Tuesday. The average delay was 33.6 minutes, about the same as Tuesday's figure. If you told a business traveler that he had to fly a carrier that was running one of three flights late and canceling 3 percent, too, he'd utter a quiet curse and start looking for another airline. But given Northwest's dreary earlier performances during the strike, even miserable looks decent now. In fact, Northwest can crow about it. Oh, no, wait, it can't celebrate because it claims it has been running a "normal" operation all along. Amazing how denial comes back to bite you on the corporate butt. When things start to go better, you can't tell anyone. Of course, one day of on-time mediocrity could be an anomaly and there is a warning sign: Some long delays popped up again among the 99 flights. One example: Travelers headed to Minot, North Dakota, endured a delay of 2 hours and 20 minutes on their flight from Minneapolis. (As we have done since Saturday, Day One of the strike, this 99-flight survey checks Northwest Airlines-operated mainline jet flights ending in the number 1 and operating wholly within the United States and Canada. Tonight we reached Flight 1621 to get to 99 flights.)

August 24, 2005 10 p.m.
It's Not Easy Being Detroit
Detroit/Metro has always been a problem child for Northwest. There always seems to be an operational disaster that Minnesota-based Northwest has to apologize for, a task force working on some crisis or other and the inevitable corporate vow to do better by the Motor City. And during the strike, of course, Detroit has been running much more poorly than Minneapolis. Today it was cancellations and long delays that dogged Detroit. Among the incidents I found in a random search, Northwest cancelled flights to Detroit from Montreal and New York/Kennedy. It also cancelled Detroit departures to Chicago/O'Hare and Grand Rapids. A flight to Detroit from Washington/National arrived almost five hours late and folks on Flight 277 from Detroit to San Diego are still in the air, gutting out a delay that the NWA.com flight tracker says is going to be about 3.5 hours.

August 23, 10 p.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: 58.5% On-Time Tuesday
Northwest recovered from Monday's Day Three debacle by posting a 58.5 percent on-time rating on Tuesday, Day Four of the mechanics strike. While that is more than a 20-point improvement from Monday, running more than four in 10 flights late is dreadful and it is absurd for Northwest to continue to insist that its daily operations are "normal." But one place where the airline is making noticeable progress is on the average time of the delays. Northwest did not record horrendously long delays on any of the 99 flights we tracked, thus bringing the average delay per flight down to a merely annoying 33.8 minutes. We found four cancellations among the 99 tracked flights, an appalling 4 percent cancellation rate. As the respected trade journal Aviation Daily said this morning, airlines aim for a cancellation rate at or below 1 percent. (As we have done since Saturday, Day One of the strike, this 99-flight survey checks Northwest Airlines-operated mainline jet flights ending in the number 1 and operating wholly within the United States and Canada. Tonight we once again reached Flight 1581 to get to 99 flights.)

August 23, 9:45 p.m.
There'll Always Be an England, So Don't Sweat the 22-Hour Delays
I report this for the record rather than for its illuminative effect on how Northwest is operating just now. On Monday, August 22, Flight 44 was scheduled for a 6:55 p.m. departure from Minneapolis to London/Gatwick. It didn't depart until 5:05 p.m. today, Tuesday. In case you're having trouble with the math, that's a delay of 22 hours and 10 minutes. Tonight's Flight 44 to London, scheduled for a 7 p.m. departure, has not yet left the building. A "non-scheduled maintenance" delay has pushed the departure to back to at least 9:10 p.m. Maybe it's just as well. After all, it'd be embarrassing if tonight's Flight 44 lapped yesterday's Flight 44 somewhere over the Atlantic.

August 23, 9:30 p.m.
A Relative Bright Spot: Indianapolis (71%)
Northwest has been making a big push in Indianapolis in recent months as it attempts to wrest control of the city away from hometown, but bankrupt, ATA Airlines. Today's effort in Indianapolis is an metaphoric island of sanity and relative timeliness for Northwest. Six of the eight flights from Detroit/Metro arrived on-time. Four of six flights from Minneapolis arrived on-time. And two of three flights from Memphis arrived on-time. That's a 17-flight on-time rating of almost 71 percent.

August 23, 9 p.m.
Rocky Mountain Low: Minneapolis to Denver (0% Again)
I thought I'd look again at the Minneapolis-to-Denver route, where Northwest Airlines wiped out yesterday. I figured that wouldn't happen today, too. Silly me. Six of the seven daily flights have now operated. Five arrived late and one was cancelled. Memo to the Minneapolis flyer: Heard of an alternate carrier called Frontier Airlines that flies nonstop to Denver? It has nice new Airbus planes equipped with at-your-seat televisions, too.

August 23, 6 p.m.
Detroit to New York/LaGuardia: Fugeddaboutit!
A JoeSentMe member E-mailed me last night and asked how Northwest was faring on New York flights. You ask, I track. Northwest is scheduled to operate six flights from Detroit/Metro to New York/La Guardia by 5 p.m. Four of the flights ran late today and a fifth was cancelled. Weirdly, the sixth, Flight 540, landed 16 minutes early.

August 22, 11:45 p.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: 37.5% On-Time Monday
A lot of talking heads opined that Monday, Day Three of the mechanics strike, would be Northwest's first "real test." In that case, Northwest has failed--and failed spectacularly. Our tracking of 99 flights today shows that Northwest racked up a disastrous 37.5 percent on-time rating. The average delay today was 59.8 minutes, marginally lower than the average delay on Sunday and Saturday. Four of the 99 flights we checked were cancelled. That's a 4 percent cancellation rate, which is much too high if it holds true across the Northwest system. Worst flight of the day of the 99 checked: Northwest Flight 411 from Flint to Minneapolis. It was delayed a mind-bending six hours and 29 minutes. Also on today's misery list: Flight 451 from Minneapolis to Colorado Springs, delayed three hours and 39 minutes; Flight 1111 from Fort Myers to Detroit, delayed three hours and 30 minutes; and Flight 761 from Detroit to Minneapolis, which has just landed two hours and 42 minutes late. (As we have done since Saturday, Day One of the strike, this 99-flight survey checks Northwest Airlines-operated mainline jet flights ending in the number 1 and operating wholly within the United States and Canada. Tonight we reached Flight 1581 to get to 99 flights.)

August 22, 10:15 p.m.
Detroit to California: 10% On-Time Today
Let's hope no Detroit-based business travelers had to take a meeting in California today. Why? Northwest operated only one of ten Detroit-California nonstops on-time today. And that on-time flight just made it: Flight 345 to San Francisco arrived 14 minutes late. One more minute and it, too, would have been classified late by the Transportation Department. All four Detroit flights to Los Angeles ran late or are scheduled to arrive late. Northwest's other two DTW-SFO flights arrived late. So did the daily flight to Orange County and the two daily flights to San Diego.

August 22, 9:45 p.m.
Forlorn in Fargo: Four Cancelled, Four Late
When I was a very young frequent flyer--It was so long ago that I might have had hair!--it seemed to me that every Northwest flight I took went through Fargo. That probably wasn't true, but this is true: Fargo needs Northwest, because it is the only carrier operating mainline jets into Hector International Airport. But today was not a good day to be a Fargo flyer. Of the 12 Northwest flights between Minneapolis and Fargo scheduled to operate by 9 p.m. Eastern time, only four arrived on-time. Four operated late. Four were cancelled. Needless to say, a 33 percent on-time rating isn't good. A 33 percent cancellation rate is the textbook definition of disaster.

August 22, 9:30 p.m.
Today From Minneapolis: Denver (0%), Dallas (75%) and JFK (50%)
Our random look at Northwest flights yesterday from Minneapolis to the Far West churned up a dreary 16 percent combined on-time rating, so I thought we should focus today on Minneapolis flights to business hubs. Results were mixed for flights scheduled to arrive at Denver, Dallas/Fort Worth and New York/Kennedy by 9 p.m. Eastern time. Northwest went oh-for Denver, as five flights ran late and one was cancelled. The worst of the late flights was Flight 559. It ran four hours and five minutes late. On the plus side, Northwest did operate three of its four flights to DFW on-time. The carrier went 50 percent on its two flights to JFK. The morning arrival was late by one hour and 37 minutes. The afternoon arrival was on-time.

August 22, 9 p.m.
Memphis: The Little Hub That Couldn't
Memphis is Northwest's smallest hub and in recent years the airline has been stuffing it full of regional jets operated by commuter carriers that aren't affected by the strike. That turns out to be lucky for Tennessee travelers since Northwest has had a lousy strike Day 3 on the routes it does operate from Memphis to its mega-hubs in Minneapolis and Detroit. Of the flights from Memphis scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis by 9 p.m. Eastern today, all four ran late. And of the five Memphis flights to Detroit scheduled to arrive before 9 p.m., Northwest ran three late. That's a combined on-time rating of 22 percent.

August 22, 1 a.m.
99 Northwest Flights on a Chart: 53.5% On-Time
So how did Northwest do on Sunday, Day Two of the mechanics strike? Despite the company's carefully worded claims to the contrary, the airline is still a mess. Using the 99-random-flights-on-a-chart method--as I did yesterday, I tracked all the U.S. and Canadian flights ending in the number one up to Flight 1591--Northwest racked up a dreary 53.5 percent on-time rating. That's not much better than Day One's on-time rating of 46.5 percent. The average flight delay on Sunday was one hour and six minutes, only marginally better than Day One's average delay of one hour and 11 minutes. There were three cancellations Sunday, up from two Saturday. Whom are we feeling most sorry for? The poor passengers on Flight 1111 from Detroit/Metro to Baltimore/Washington on Sunday endured a delay of five hours and nine minutes. Passengers on Flight 291 from Detroit to Memphis were delayed by three hours and 52 minutes. Yet the biggest losers on Sunday are the travelers on Flight 91. Their flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu was delayed five hours and seven minutes on departure. They're still in the air, too, due to arrive at 11:20 p.m. Honolulu time, five hours and 27 minutes late. But that arrival has been pushed back twice while I've been writing this, so they may never get to the Aloha State.

August 21, 11 p.m.
Forget Greeley! Don't Go West (16% On-Time) From Minneapolis
Today's randomly selected focus cities from Minneapolis-St. Paul are all westward: San Jose, Phoenix and Seattle. Of the 12 flights from Minneapolis to those cities that have landed or are in the air, 10 were delayed or are scheduled to arrive late. Northwest blew both of its San Jose flights, including a two hour and 15 minute delay on Flight 197. Four of its five Phoenix flights ran late or are scheduled to do so. The delays averaged about 50 minutes. And four of the five Seattle flights that have departed from Minneapolis arrived late or are scheduled to do so. Flight 157 was the big loser, arriving at Sky Harbor Airport two hours and 28 minutes behind schedule.

August 21, 10:30 p.m.
From Detroit to Pittsburgh (67%), Tampa (0%) and Dulles (25%)
Today's randomly selected focus cities from Detroit/Metro were Pittsburgh, Tampa and Washington/Dulles. Northwest's first DTW-PIT flight (1922) arrived two hours and 15 minutes late. The day's two other flights were on-time, a 67 percent rating. Folks trying to get to Tampa weren't so lucky. All three of Northwest's DTW-TPA flights today landed late or are scheduled to do so. The worst of the day: Flight 478, which arrived in Tampa two hours and 52 minutes late. Washington/Dulles passengers on Flight 1406 had an on-time arrival. But two other Dulles flights ran late and the day's fourth DTW-IAD flight was cancelled.

August 21, 10 p.m.
Must to Avoid on Northwest: Boston (5.2% On-Time)
It wasn't my intention to repeat any city watches today, but since Northwest went oh-for-on-time in Boston yesterday, I thought fairness demanded we take a look at Beantown again to see if the airline fared better today. Well, things didn't improve much. The first flights of the day from both Detroit/Metro and Minneapolis/St. Paul were cancelled. Of the five other flights from Detroit to Boston today, four ran late or are scheduled to arrive late. All three of the remaining MSP-Boston flights today ran late or are scheduled to arrive late. So over the two days of the strike, Northwest was scheduled to run 19 flights to Boston from Detroit and Minneapolis. Three were cancelled, 15 ran late and one operated on-time. That's a 5.2 percent on-time rating. I think we see a pattern here: Don't fly Northwest if the destination is Boston.

August 21, 9 p.m.
Hub Poison: Minneapolis (54% On-Time) or Detroit (16% On-Time)
The business travelers who may be most dependent on Northwest are the flyers who need to fly between the airline's two big hubs: Minneapolis and Detroit/Metro. After tracking 25 flights today between the two hubs, the simple fact is that your life is awful. But you're marginally better off flying Minneapolis-Detroit than Detroit-Minneapolis. Of the 13 flights from MSP to DTW scheduled to arrive before 9 p.m. today, Northwest managed to operate seven on-time. That's a dreary 54 percent on-time rating, but it is heaven compared to flying DTW-MSP. Of the 12 flights Northwest was scheduled to operate today before 9 p.m., a startling 10 of them ran late. That's not only a 16 percent on-time rating, but the length of the delays was startling considering that the flight time between Detroit and Minneapolis is under two hours. Flight 739 ran one hour and 11 minutes late. Flight 763 operated three hours and 15 minutes late. Flight 743 ran two hours and 54 minutes late. Flight 861 ran one hour and 14 minutes late.

August 21, 7 p.m.
A Slightly Better Day to Asia
I wouldn't normally consider a 67 percent on-time departure number particularly good. But given how Northwest is running right now, its 67 percent performance to Tokyo looks stellar. Of nine departures to Tokyo I tracked today, six left on-time and the three delays were largely inconsequential. I wouldn't normally consider today's nearly two-hour delay on Flight 17 from New York/Kennedy inconsequential, but considering that Flight 17 departed nearly four hours late yesterday, well…

August 21, 2 p.m.
Can It Get Worse? Sadly, Yes.
My first run of flights today indicates that Northwest is on track for another day of flight operations at or below 50 percent on-time. And that's very bad news for the next 10 days of August. As you surely know, flight crews have federally mandated maximum monthly duty times and they are not permitted to work beyond those hours. It doesn't take much--a few bad storms or, in Northwest's case, a couple of below-50 percent days of operations--to overload the system since crew delays count against a crew's duty-time limits. So there seems to be a pretty good chance that Northwest will run out of crews to man flights toward the end of the month. And the airline will be forced to begin canceling flights later this week and early next week due to lack of available crews. Don't think it can happen? Just ask Air Canada, which ran out of crew time in July and was forced to cancel a slew of flights during the last week of the month. And Air Canada had no job action, just a few days of bad storms that caused delays. Keep that in mind as you plan your flights in the next few days.

August 21, 12:15 a.m.
99 Northwest Flights on the Chart: 46.5% On-Time
So how did Northwest do on Saturday, the first day of the mechanics strike? By my estimate, Northwest turned in a miserable 46.5 percent on-time percentage. How did I come to that conclusion? Easy. Starting with Northwest Flight 1 and ending with Flight 1871, I tracked every Northwest jet flight that ended with the number 1 and operated wholly within the United States and Canada. That gave me a total of 99 flights. Only 46 operated on-time. Fifty-one flights arrived late using the U.S. government 15-minute rule. Two of the 99 flights were cancelled. The average delay--and how's this for numeric coincidence--was 1 hour and 11 minutes. Even weirder, Flight 1111 from Detroit to Baltimore/Washington actually did arrive 1 hour and 11 minutes late. And have pity for the poor folks on Flight 431 from Orlando to Detroit. They were scheduled to leave at 5:22 p.m. on Saturday, but didn't leave until 12:12 a.m. on Sunday morning. The flight is now estimated to arrive at 2:44 a.m. Flight 431 was scheduled to reach Detroit at 8:01 p.m. Saturday, which means a 6 hour and 43 minute delay. Not counting Flight 431, the most delayed of the 99 flights I tracked Saturday were numbers 331 (Washington/National to Detroit) and 1191 (Detroit to Las Vegas). Both were delayed a numerically appropriate 3 hours and 51 minutes.

August 20, 10:15 p.m.
Lost in Translation En Route to Tokyo
All of Northwest's departures for Tokyo today are still in the air, so it's hard to say what the on-time arrival rate will be. But of the nine flights I tracked on departure, five left late. Two delays were inconsequential, but will still count against Northwest in the government rankings. A third late departure, Flight 25 from Detroit/Metro, also sat on the tarmac for a while after pushback and actually took off 45 minutes late. Flight 5 from Portland was more substantially delayed: 1 hour and 24 minutes. And Flight 17 from New York/Kennedy was ugly. It was due to depart at 2:05 p.m. But Northwest posted at least four later departure times, first blaming "non-scheduled maintenance" and then an aircraft change. It didn't leave until 5:55 p.m., a 3-hour, 50-minute delay.

August 20, 10:00 p.m.
Running Late at LAX
I also randomly chose to track Northwest's three daily flights from its Memphis hub to Los Angeles International. The morning flight arrived seven minutes late, which is technically an on-time arrival. The afternoon flight arrived 34 minutes late. The night flight to LAX departed from Memphis at 8:05 p.m., or an hour and 25 minutes late. According to the Northwest flight tracker, it'll be losing time in the air, too. It's scheduled for a 10:02 p.m. Pacific time arrival. That'll make it an hour and 31 minutes late. That would be a 33 percent on-time arrival rate for the day on the MEM-LAX route.

August 20, 9:45 p.m.
O'Hare? Oh, No!
Northwest Airlines runs a virtual shuttle between its Minneapolis/St. Paul hub and Chicago's O'Hare Airport. It runs eight mainline flights a day between the two cities. (The commuter carrier Mesaba operates two more). Seven of the eight Northwest flights are complete, and, needless to say, it was a bad day to want to fly between Minneapolis and Chicago. The first five flights of the day ran late, anywhere between 31 minutes late and 2 hours and 34 minutes late. The five-flight average: 1 hour and 3 minutes late, which is notable because the scheduled flight time is only about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The silver lining? The two evening flights ran early: one by 7 minutes, the other by 2 minutes. The last flight of the day is two hours from departure.

August 20, 9:30 p.m.
Northwest Goes Oh-for-Boston
One of the randomly chosen routes I've been following today is flights to Boston/Logan from Northwest's Minneapolis and Detroit/Metro hubs. (Northwest has no mainline flights from its Memphis hub.) The verdict: Northwest went oh-for Beantown. Every flight was late or cancelled. The airline had five scheduled flights from Detroit. The first flight of the day (372) ran 6 hours and 43 minutes late. The second flight (241) was cancelled. The third flight (370) ran 42 minutes late. The "star" of the day, Flight 332, ran "just" 32 minutes late. The last flight of the day, Number 262, is still unaccounted for. It was scheduled to arrive in Boston at 10:45 p.m. But the flight tracker at NWA.com says it's now not even due to depart DTW until 10:10 p.m. Current estimated arrival time: 12:02 a.m., which would make it an hour and 17 minutes late. From Minneapolis, the first three flights of the day to Boston arrived 4 hours, 23 minutes late; 1 hour, 50 minutes late; and 38 minutes late. The last flight of the day (312) was scheduled to land at Logan at 10:30 p.m. But the trusty Northwest flight tracker says it is now due at 1:17 a.m., a delay of 2 hours and 47 minutes.

August 20, 2 p.m.
Northwest Says There's No Evil, So the Media Sees None
Northwest Airlines executives have just finished a second round of media interviews and their line is that everything's fine. And, sadly, the gullible general media is lapping it up. But all you have to do is look at the flight tracker at NWA.com. Enter any pair of destinations you wish and check the flight status and operations. You'll see that on-time percentages are 65 percent or lower so far today. That means operations later today will continue to deteriorate as the delays cascade. And now that the first bank of long-haul international flights is about to depart, we'll get an even better view of things. The first scheduled to go, Northwest 17 from New York/Kennedy to Tokyo/Narita, was due to depart at 2:05 p.m. It's just been delayed until at least 4 p.m. due to "non-scheduled maintenance."

August 20, 12:45 p.m.
The Saga of Northwest Flight 246
Northwest Flight 246 was scheduled to depart Detroit/Metro for Fort Lauderdale at 9:04 a.m. this morning. But it was "delayed due to aircraft cleaning" until 10:20. That slipped to 10:40 and then 10:50 a.m. Then the reason for the delay was switched to "non-scheduled maintenance." It didn't leave the gate until 11:09 a.m., then sat on the ground waiting for departure until about 11:30 a.m. Meanwhile, Flight 1980 (see below), which was finally due to depart at 11:15, was delayed again. Departure time slipped to 11:40 a.m., then 11:50 and 11:55. It finally left the gate at noon and actually took off somewhere between 12:20 and 12:30 p.m. That's a delay of at least three hours.

August 20, 11 a.m.
Honest! The Dog Ate The Flight Plan
Northwest is running into a spate of delays and some cancellations in the early hours of Saturday. And the excuses for the delays are intriguing. At least two flights--a 7:20 a.m. departure from Madison, Wisconsin, and a 6 a.m. departure from Boston--were late "due to required crew rest." I guess that means pilots were out late Friday night. Several flights have been delayed an hour or more "due to aircraft cleaning." A flight from Detroit to New York/LaGuardia has been "delayed due to non-scheduled maintenance." (As opposed to the flights being delayed by scheduled maintenance.) Flight 1980 from Detroit to Myrtle Beach was due to take off at 9:22 a.m. It was delayed until 10:30 "due to aircraft maintenance." Now the departure has been delayed again until 11:15 a.m. (Would that be the scheduled maintenance, do you think?) And at least one flight scheduled to depart Saturday afternoon has been cancelled because of "irregular operations."

August 20, 12:30 a.m.
The Strike Is On at Northwest Airlines
Northwest's mechanics went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Saturday Eastern time. The two sides never met face-to-face on Friday. Instead, Northwest and the mechanics unions met separately with federal mediators, but made little or no progress. As far as we know, Northwest did not move off its essential demand: a pay cut in the range of 25 percent and the right to lay off about half of the workforce of about 5,000. Northwest released a statement shortly after midnight claiming that it will run its normal schedule.

August 20, 12 a.m.
Keeping Track of the Long-Hauls
One indication of how well Northwest Airlines may be operating is the departures of its long-haul flights to its Tokyo (NRT) hub. If flight attendants, pilots and other union workers are sympathizing with the mechanics, the profitable long-hauls will be an obvious target for "work-to-rule" slowdowns and other actions. So check the NWA.com flight tracker for the following:
--Northwest 17 (New York/Kennedy-NRT), scheduled for 2:05 p.m. Eastern time;
--Northwest 25 (Detroit/Metro-NRT), scheduled for 2:35 p.m. Eastern time;
--Northwest 11 (Detroit/Metro-NRT), scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Eastern time;
--Northwest 19 (Minneapolis-NRT), scheduled for 3:05 p.m. Central time;
--Northwest 1 (Los Angeles-NRT), scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Pacific time.

August 20, 12 a.m.
Watching the Traffic Flow
What can travelers expect at the airport? Well, very little activity in the first hours. Except for a few West Coast departures to its Minneapolis, Memphis and Detroit hubs--Flight 336 is scheduled to depart LAX for Detroit/Metro at 12:15 a.m. Pacific Time, for example--Northwest Airlines is basically done until about 6 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday. Generally speaking, Saturday morning is a light period for flights. Even without mechanics, Northwest should be fine throughout most of the day. By the evening banks of flights on Saturday, however, we may get some sense of how Northwest is operating. A lot of cascading cancellations and long delays would be a very bad sign. Sunday morning is also relatively light. The big crunch will come Sunday afternoon and evening, when business travelers begin to reposition for the week ahead.

August 19, 11 p.m.
A Bad Week at Black Rock (and Detroit and Minneapolis, Too)
Specific numbers are hard (in fact, impossible) to come by, but it seems that Northwest Airlines had a very bad week. Flight delays and cancellations soared, especially in Minneapolis. The problem? Who knows? It could be a sign of a coming meltdown--or it may have been disgruntled mechanics getting in one last operational shot. Either way, passengers had a tougher week than usual on the never-particularly-reliable Northwest network.

August 19, 2 p.m.
There's Still Plenty of Room at the Inns
Rooms at or near the airport are going to be in very short supply if Northwest passengers are hit with a strike or lockout just after midnight tonight. But with 10 hours to go until the deadline, there are still plenty of rooms at the airport inns. At Detroit/Metro, Northwest's largest hub, the Westin hotel adjacent to Northwest's terminal is showing a rate of $89 on Saturday night. The price shoots up to $225 on Sunday night, however. At Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Hilton MSP is located less than two miles from the airport grounds. It's showing a $109 rate for Saturday and a $169 rate for Sunday. In Memphis, the Radisson on the airport grounds is sold out Saturday night, but has rooms at $74 on Sunday night. Just four miles away is the Courtyard Memphis Airport. Its Web site is offering rooms for $69 on Saturday night and $124 on Sunday night. In Tokyo, where Northwest maintains its Asia hub, the nearby Tobu Narita Holiday Inn has a complimentary airport shuttle and an indoor pool. The property, about a mile from the airport, is showing standard rooms on Sunday evening for ¥7,000 (about US$65). A deluxe room is about US$20 more.

August 19, 1 p.m.
What Do the Mechanics Have to Lose?
If you're wondering why Northwest's mechanics may strike after midnight tonight, consider the situation the workers face. Northwest is demanding the right to lay off about half the mechanics workforce of 5,000 and impose a 25 percent pay cut on the employees who survive. That's obviously not a particularly palatable proposition for a union, but let's say they accept the deal at the last minute. Northwest Airlines might still choose to declare Chapter 11 in the weeks or months to come. Under the protection of bankruptcy, Northwest could then renounce the new contract and demand even further concessions from the mechanics. So what's the incentive for settling? If the mechanics walk tomorrow, Northwest management will almost certainly be forced to declare bankruptcy, probably before the new, stricter Chapter 11 rules take effect in mid-October. That would leave the mechanics in no worse shape. Northwest will attempt to renounce the currently effective mechanics contract--airline contracts become amendable, but never technically expire--and then the mechanics union and Northwest management will slug out terms in front of the bankruptcy-court judge. "We think, in some cases, the judge might actually be more balanced than Northwest Airlines is," said Steve MacFarlane, a mechanics union official.

August 19, 11 a.m.
Remember the Dreary Alaska Airlines Precedent
Let's say Northwest mechanics strike in the early hours tomorrow, Northwest management brings in replacements and farms out some of the work and somehow manages to keep the airline flying. What's the medium-term prognosis for flight operations? If the Alaska Airlines precedent is any example, extraordinarily dreary. After an eerily similar labor dispute, Alaska Airlines fired almost 500 employees at its Seattle-Tacoma hub in May. It then farmed the work out to outside contractors. The result for passengers has been disastrous. Alaska Airlines' on-time rating dropped below 50 percent in June, the worst performance by a major carrier since the United Airlines meltdown in the spring and summer of 2000. Alaska's July on-time performance, just 61 percent, wasn't much better.

August 19, 9 a.m.
Let's Hope This Isn't an Omen
It goes without saying that many travelers are concerned about the state of Northwest's maintenance operations if the mechanics strike after midnight tonight and the airline's management runs the carrier with replacement workers and outside contractors. Northwest also has the oldest fleet among major U.S. airlines and flies throngs of aging DC-9s and early-generation Boeing 747s. Which is why this incident is so ominous: The major wire services are reporting today that the nose gear of a Northwest Boeing 747-200 collapsed on landing in Guam. The flight, Northwest 74 from Narita, had at least 300 passengers and 16 crew members aboard. The passengers and crew exited the plane by emergency chutes and there were several minor injuries. One passenger was hospitalized, according to wire service reports.

August 18, 7 p.m.
Prices, Restrictions Creep Up on Northwest Routes
In the days before Northwest Airlines pilots struck the carrier in 1998, Northwest's major competitors were quick to gouge passengers on competitive flights. They pulled all of the discounted fares on routes flown by Northwest and made even walk-up, unrestricted coach prices nonrefundable. With another Northwest strike or lockout less than 36 hours away, the Big Six have been more circumspect in how they are pricing on flights into Northwest's hub. I found fares between Chicago/O'Hare and Minneapolis for Sunday afternoon flights at less than $130 one-way. Not all prices are quite so reasonable, of course. On Sunday afternoon, American Airlines is charging $569.20 one-way between Dallas/Fort Worth and Minneapolis--and that fare is nonrefundable. And Delta Air Lines is charging $449 one-way for a nonrefundable seat on Sunday evening for a regional-jet flight between Cincinnati and Minneapolis. Sunday morning flights on both routes were about 40 percent cheaper, however.

August 18, 2005, 3 p.m.
Northwest Slashes Schedules Before the Strike
With a strike/lockout deadline just 36 hours away, Northwest Airlines management continues to insist that it will run a full schedule of flights if there is a labor disruption. But what schedule are we talking about? As I mentioned last Thursday, Northwest is already cutting by moving up the start of its fall schedule to August 20. What we didn't know last week was exactly how much smaller the fall schedule would be. Now we know. The fall schedule that Northwest will claim is "full" on August 20 is 17 percent smaller than the carrier was flying during the summer. In plain language, that means Northwest has already cancelled one in six flights that it had previously been planning to operate. Northwest had, of course, accepted reservations for many of the flights it has now surreptitiously canceled by moving up the start date of the fall schedule. If you're booked on any Northwest flight, better check now to see if it's still on the schedule. Even without a strike or a lockout, your flight may have already disappeared.

August 17, 2005, 8 p.m.
Pay No Attention to the Strike Behind the Curtain
Northwest Airlines apparently thinks that it can bribe business travelers to stick with the carrier despite the imminent threat of a strike or lockout on August 20. This morning it stuffed the E-mailboxes of many WorldPerks members with an array of double- and triple-mile offers and targeted fare sales. The mileage offers and sales are mostly on routes where Northwest faces competition from its hubs at Detroit, Minneapolis, Memphis and Tokyo.

August 17, 2005, 4 p.m.
Wall Street Roots for a Strike at Northwest
It's mind-boggling, but the talking heads on Wall Street are actually rooting for a strike or lockout at Northwest Airlines. Although others echoed his feelings, J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker was the most blunt: "We're hoping for a strike." His theory: If Northwest survives a mechanics strike and operates without major disruptions, it can break its unions. But what if Northwest management takes a strike or creates a lockout and then can't operate? That's a different story, admits Baker. "An unsuccessful weekend operation would likely radically increase Northwest's near-term probability of a bankruptcy filing, as other unions call management's 'we-can-fly-through-a-strike' bluff." As always with the Wall Street goons, passenger operations, customer inconvenience and good will never factor into their analyses--which is why their guidance about the state of the major carriers is almost always inaccurate and always useless.

August 16, 2005
So Much for Those Charter Flights
Northwest Airlines management has dropped a plan to charter flights from other airlines to fill holes in its schedule after August 20. Northwest used a charter operated by Champion Air last week and that immediately brought howls of protest from Northwest's pilot union. Why? The charter flight violated the airline's agreement with its pilots. Charter flights were a key plank in Northwest's contingency plan for operating if it locks out mechanics or the mechanics strike on August 20.

August 15, 2005
What Will Northwest's Commuter Carriers Do?
The commuter carriers that fly as the Northwest Airlink claim that they will keep flying if Northwest Airlines and its mechanics engage in a lockout or strike on August 20. But that is not what happened when Northwest Airlines pilots went on strike in 1998 and the mainline carrier shut down. Northwest's commuter carriers voluntarily stopped flying, too, claiming that it made no sense to haul travelers to Northwest hubs because there were no onward flights. Moreover, at least one Airlink carrier stopped government-funded Essential Air Service (EAS) despite the fact that airlines must give 90-day advance notice before dropping EAS flights. So if you're booked on a Northwest Airlink flight on or after August 20, do not assume that your flight will depart as scheduled. Northwest's primary Airlink carriers are Mesaba and Pinnacle. Two other commuter airlines, Big Sky and American Eagle, have code-share service with Northwest, but it is unlikely that they will be affected.

August 11, 2005
Northwest Airlines' Big Lie on Its Strike Schedule
Northwest Airlines and its mechanics are on a collision course for a strike or lockout on August 20 and Northwest management is already lying through its corporate teeth about its ability to keep the carrier flying. Although Northwest executives repeatedly claim that they will stick to "100 percent of our scheduled flights," the carrier is already slashing, burning and preparing for cuts. The most obvious schedule sham has already occurred: Northwest has advanced its fall schedule, which would normally have gone into effect in September, to August 20. That means several thousand flights that would have operated between August 20 and the Labor Day weekend have already been wiped off the schedule. (If you're "confirmed" on a Northwest flight in that time period, double-check your reservations.) As for what remains, Northwest's commitment is literally a day-to-day affair. A management contingency plan that leaked out this week reveals that Northwest will cancel flights on the morning of departure whenever and wherever necessary without advance warning. Two other ploys management will use: hiring charter airlines to fly Northwest flights and busing passengers between destinations rather than operating many shorter-haul flights.

July 21, 2005
Time to Book Away From Northwest Airlines
The National Mediation Board (NMB) gave Northwest Airlines and its mechanics union what they wanted and declared an impasse in the contract negotiations. That means a federally mandated 30-day cooling off period is now in effect and will expire at 12:01 a.m. on August 20. At that time, mechanics are free to strike and Northwest is free to unilaterally impose new work rules or lock out employees. Northwest's management publicly claims that it is prepared and will maintain a full schedule of flights if the mechanics walk or are locked out. Don't believe it. Even with months of advance planning--and Northwest admits it has been preparing for months--there will be substantial flight delays and cancellations. Bottom line: For your own sanity, book away from Northwest for any travel beginning August 20 until you hear that the labor dispute has been settled. And remember that many Continental, Delta and KLM flights are actually code-shares with Northwest Airlines and they will also be affected. For the record, negotiations have run aground over Northwest's demands for a pay cut of about 25 percent and the right to lay off about half the mechanics.

July 14, 2005
Northwest and Its Mechanics Head Toward a Strike
Northwest Airlines isn't bankrupt yet, but its insiders are selling stock like it's going out of style. And now the airline's mechanics have asked the National Mediation Board (NMB) to declare an impasse in negotiations. Northwest's management tried the ploy several weeks ago and was rejected, but the NMB might have to declare the impasse now that both sides want one. Once an impasse is declared, a federally mandated, 30-day cooling off period is imposed. Then the airline is free to lock out workers and the employees are free to strike. Northwest is demanding $176 million in concessions and the right to lay off up to half of the mechanics.

June 9, 2005
Northwest Tries to Provoke a Strike
There have been a lot of peculiar events at the Big Six since the 9/11 attacks, but this may be the weirdest: Northwest Airlines management seems intent on provoking a mechanics strike. Why? So they can lay off huge numbers of employees and farm out work to lower-cost contractors. The mechanics and Northwest began negotiations late last year and the existing contract officially became amendable on May 11. (Airline contracts technically never expire.) Just days later, Northwest petitioned the National Mediation Board to declare an impasse. Such a declaration leads to a federally mandated, 30-day "cooling off" period and then, absent presidential intervention, frees unions to strike or airlines to lock out employees. But requests for impasses are almost never asked for by either party until months, and sometimes years, after a contract has become amendable. Northwest accuses the mechanics of intransigence because they won't agree to the airline's contract proposal: a 25 percent wage cut and the elimination of about half of the union's jobs. To add insult to financial injury, Northwest is already advertising for replacement flight attendants and for contractors to take over the mechanics jobs. For its part, the mechanics union said this week that it never even received the specifics of Northwest's contract proposal until May 31, seven days after the airline asked the NMB to declare an impasse. Federal mediators obviously saw through Northwest's transparent game and today (June 9) refused the airline's request to declare an impasse.

Copyright © 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.