Friday, June 29, 2007

Northwest: Pilots, Weather in Plot to Ruin Summer

As we all know, Northwest Airlines has canceled over 1,000 flights in the last week. At first, Northwest blamed the weather. But when that didn't fly (no other airline was being affected severely enough by the weather to be canceling 10 percent and more of its flights each day until American's schedule started falling apart a couple of days ago), Northwest allowed as how pilot staffing problems were also a big part of the problem. The pilots are responding that Northwest management is covering up for the fact that it has laid off so many pilots that it cannot maintain its regular schedule.

Northwest issued a statement today that, while blaming the pilots for calling in sick, also indicated that it would be further reducing its domestic schedule this summer. Meaning, if you're planning on flying Northwest, buyer beware.

Here's Northwest's statement (followed by the Northwest pilots' union statement):

EAGAN, Minn.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--June 29, 2007--Northwest Airlines today issued the following statement regarding its recent flight cancellations and its plan to address the issue:

During June, Northwest Airlines' mainline schedule has been negatively impacted by several factors, the most important of which are: summertime thunderstorms on the east coast and at several Northwest hubs, air traffic control congestion, and pilot absenteeism -- which was 80 percent higher in June 2007 versus June 2006. The cumulative impact of these factors caused the airline to pre-cancel hundreds of flight during the past week.

Over the past week (June 22 to June 28) the average percentage of canceled flights on a system-wide basis, including all NWA mainline and Airlink flights, was 7.6. For the same period, the average percentage of cancelled mainline flights was approximately 11.9.

[My note: Joe Brancatelli of says that the average percentage of cancellations a typical major airline has is 1 to 2 percent a day]

Northwest is working to remedy the situation and expects to operate a normal summertime schedule by this weekend.

Northwest is continuing to take the necessary steps to address the situation including:

-- Canceling its second Detroit-Frankfurt frequency, effective July 18, to free up 757 pilots to fly other routes. [That's what they wrote. I don't think they meant to say that a total of 757 pilots would be loosed, but rather that the pilots who fly their 757 aircraft would be.]

-- In August, the airline will take further actions to reduce its schedule by 90 flying hours per day (a three percent domestic mainline capacity reduction) to increase its "reserve" of
pilot flying hours. [My note: Hey, wait a minute. Didn't they just say three paragraphs higher that they expect to operate their "normal summertime schedule?"]

-- The airline continues to retrain its furloughed pilots so that They can return to active flying. Northwest wants all remaining furloughed pilots to return to work as soon as ossible and it will initiate new pilot hiring, if necessary.

-- Recognizing that summer thunderstorms and air traffic control congestion are inevitable, starting in August, Northwest will modify the way that its pilots' trips are scheduled, especially to and from large East Coast cities. This will minimize the impact to the airline's flying schedule when bad weather and ATC delays do occur. ...

And the pilots reply:

LOOMINGTON, Minn. Leaders of the Northwest Airlines unit of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) today said that NWA management's decision to cancel hundreds of flights this past week was due to management's operational decisions that created inadequate pilot staffing for the summer months.

NWA management has recently attempted to place the blame for flight cancellations on pilot sick calls. This reason does not adequately explain the over 10 percent rate of flight cancellations that the company has experienced during the past week. The reason for flight cancellations is that Northwest Airlines is understaffed.

"Northwest's flight cancellations this past week are due to insufficient staffing," NWA ALPA Spokesman Capt. Monty Montgomery said. "Pilots are not responsible for management's lack of foresight as it pertains to staffing the airline."

Representatives of the pilots' union forecasted the pilot shortage and advised management months in advance. Unfortunately for all NWA shareholders, this forecast was correct resulting in unnecessary hardships being placed on all NWA employees and customers.

NWA management could have prevented the staffing shortage by expeditiously recalling the 400 furloughed pilots not yet back to work. Instead, management decided to run the airline beyond redline during the summer months resulting in the current flight cancellations.

"First, management blames the weather and that didn't work, so now they are trying to blame the pilots," Capt. Montgomery said. "It is unfortunate management continues to seek a confrontational relationship with Northwest employees."

ALPA said it is available to work with management concerning the staffing problem. Currently, NWA's operation contains no slack in the system, thus increasing the possibility that the operation will continue to break down. In addition, Northwest pilots have been flying at their personal and contractual maximums since last year, increasing stress and fatigue.

"We are the ultimate investors in Northwest Airlines. Our careers and the futures of our families are tied to the success of this airline," Capt. Montgomery said. "Northwest pilots will continue to focus on safety and work hard for the success of our airline."

Founded in 1931, ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union, representing 60,000 pilots at 41 airlines in the United States and Canada. ALPA represents approximately 5,300 active and furloughed NWA pilots. Please visit the NWA ALPA website at


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