Northwest Airlines Gives Travelers Nightmares

During the last few weeks we have done more flying than I had ever thought possible, but the layovers and cancelations were enough to drive a sane person crazy. One flight in May, using American airlines was delayed by weather and was therefore understandable but since then several flights by other carriers have been canceled or delayed due to overbooking, crew shortages, and plane mechanical problems. One flight was actually run on schedule but had no air conditioning, causing my seatmate, an elderly lady with a pacemaker, to actually become ill.

However, while all the major airlines appear to be causing passengers an equal amount of grief resulting in booming business for airline concessioniers, Northwest cancellations seem to top them all. Within this airline pilots are blaming management for poor scheduling while the carrier itself is attempting to place all the blame on bad weather. However, no matter what the reason, Northwest has canceled more than 850 flights in the last week alone, mostly because of crew shortages that management blames on disrupted work schedules from past bad weather.

According to tracker FlightStats, Northwest on Monday canceled 10.9% of its 1,409 scheduled flights through 5 p.m. ET. That was, however, an improvement from Sunday when it canceled 14.2%, or 10 times the normal cancellation rate of the big airlines during good weather.

Compare its rate to Delta, Continental, or United, with a cancellation rate of under 1% on Monday and American and Southwest a rate of just under 2.5% and one will think twice before booking on Northwest. Northwest, of course, immediately hit the defensive claiming that the cancelation rate in recent weeks was due to severe weather in the East and Midwest that caused increased crew duty time and the inability to consistently position aircraft and crews as needed. Given this it is little wonder that if one figures 125 passengers per plane that more than 100,000 travelers had their Northwest flights canceled this past week. For business travelers and those who needed to return to work this may have increased the cost of their plane ticket two-fold.

I know from personal experience, having looked anxiously ahead for my flight, last Tuesday, United subjected us to numerous delays before finally canceling our flight. This frustration was increased, however, as I was then forced to stand in an hour long line hoping to be one of the fortunate ones to get on a later flight. However, this was nothing compared to a fellow traveler who had already been subjected to a plane cancellation on Sunday only to find herself still unable to get home.

So while Northwest insists that it is relaxing ticket restrictions and reservations staffing to deal with the situation the Airline Pilots Association said that Northwest’s management should have foreseen the end-of-the-month crew shortage. This has resulted in a vote of “no confidence” from the union in the carrier’s management practices, after its failure to recall 396 pilots who remain on layoff.

An additional problem that may cause concern among travelers according to Monty Montgomery, head of ALPA’s communication committee, is the airline’s scheduling of pilots. Apparently, Northwest is currently requiring its pilots to fly at the monthly limits set by their contract and by federal safety regulations making for crews that may not be as sharp in the air as they need to be. Overall, as of last week, statistics show that between Friday and Monday Northwest had the largest number of canceled flights which day ranging from a low of a 7% cancellation rate to a unbelievable 14.2% while United over that same period was forced to cancel a maximum of .9% on any single day.

[tags]Northwest Airlines, airline cancellations, United airlines, Traveler’s delays, pilots, crew shortages, travel nightmares, FlightStats[/tags]