Tuesday, June 26, 2007

'Weather' Targets Northwest Airlines Specifically

"Due to weirdness in climate change, the weather is specifically targeting Northwest Airlines flights, accounting for the stunning build-up of Northwest flight cancellations in the last five days. ... Yeah ... that's the ticket."

I realize I'm wearing out the joke -- once again, that's actor Jon Lovitz on the right, whose memorable character on Saturday Night Live, Tommy Flanagan (pronounced "Flan-AY-gan") was known for his consistent inability to tell the truth.

The meltdown at Northwest Airlines continues. As of 9 p.m. tonight, Northwest Airlines had canceled 198 of today's total of 1,422 flights. As it has been for days, that cancellation rate if way above the typical industry cancellation rate of one or two percent of flights. (Data are from the Web site that every business traveler ought to be aware of, www.FlightStats.com

The 9 p.m. rate brings the total of canceled flights from last Friday to more than 700 Northwest flights. Since each flight was probably (and statistically) totally booked, you don't have to do much math to see that Northwest has tossed a tremendous number of passengers into that special new circle on the exurban outskirts of rapidly-expanding Hell: Summer air travel 2007.

Joe Brancatelli, who knows more about the airlines than anyone I know, has also been hammering on this topic for days on his subscription business-travel Web site, JoeSentMe.com -- the reason being that this appears to be a fairly important travel story.

But I I have done the quick math on the number of travel writers who are following it: Two. Brancatelli and me. Three, if you count Mike Boyd, the airline consultant whose weekly essay at aviationplanning.com is a must-read, and often a counter balance to Conventional Wisdom.

I shall say no more about the rest of my colleagues in the media. Perhaps some are in attendance at the annual National Society of Newspaper Columnists convention in this week Philadelphia. Hey, you got that many newspaper columnists assembled, don't light a match in that room!.

In Philadelphia, incidentally, worthies from every dip-shit paper in the country that still tosses 700 words of space to a "columnist" actually invited Bill O'Reilly to give a speech -- and they sat there politely listening to some weasel whose resume on the subject of war includes being a Vietnam draft-dodger.

Oops, I just used a curse word. Shit! Two. Which is why I am about to re-announce, any day now, the long-delayed appointment of an independent ombudsman to oversee standards at Joe Sharkey At Large.

But I digress.

In an internal memo earlier last week, Northwest Airlines told key staff to stand by for heavy rolls, as they say in the Navy when the seas get rough. The reason: Northwest had already spotted a looming shortage of available pilots, flight attendants and other employees available to fly as the end of the month loomed. I have been hearing from flight attendants and pilots all day confirming this fact.

Did Northwest, which manifestly was aware of the approaching problem, give a heads-up to its customers before the latest meltdown started on Friday? It did not.

Now that the schedules have basically collapsed, though, Northwest has put a "Statement Regarding Flight Cancellations" up on its Web site.

It begins: "In recent weeks, severe weather has disrupted air service across the East Coast and
Midwest for a number of airlines, including Northwest. As a result, the weather and related air-traffic control restrictions have disrupted Northwest's scheduled operations, causing increased crew duty time and the inability to consistently reposition aircraft and crews as needed."

An update: By 2.45 p.m. today, Northwest had canceled 141 flights. And let's have a look at "a number of airlines," which oddly seem to have been spared the Northwest weather curse.

As of 2.45 p.m., Southwest had canceled two of its 3,352 scheduled flights for the day. Continental had canceled five of 1,229 flights. US Airways had canceled 18 of 987. American had canceled 25 of 2,206. And United had canceled 26 of 1,513.

Yet Northwest is blaming the "recent severe weather events" and not its own ineptness in reducing employment to the point where they can't run an airline if a butterfly flaps its wings and farts in Shanghai.

Yeah ... that's the ticket.

Update: Northwest has canceled 198 flights today as of 9 p.m. Since Friday, Northwest has canceled more than 800 flights.


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