Got a flight booked on Northwest in the next couple of days? Cross your fingers, because the airline has been canceling more than 10 percent of its flights every day for the past several days, and things aren’t expected to improve until next week.
The underlying issue is labor trouble.
Northwest at first blamed bad weather for the cancellations. But the weather didn’t seem to be causing mass cancellations at other airlines, and Northwest amended its explanation to include "air traffic control restrictions, severe summertime weather and a higher than normal level of pilot absenteeism."
The director of communications for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association called the statement "apallingly inaccurate." Northwest wouldn’t divulge statistics about sick calls and the pilots union said there is no organized sick-out. (The weather had no comment.)
The trouble, according to the Seattle Times, is not so much absenteeism as a lack of volunteerism. By contract, Northwest pilots must fly up to 90 hours a month. They can volunteer to fly another 10 hours – up to the FAA’s maximum of 100 hours – at their regular pay rates. Lately, they’re not volunteering.
The pilots say Northwest emerged from bankruptcy four weeks ago with perilously thin staffing, but failed to recall enough furloughed pilots. The pilots are also smarting from the 40 percent pay cuts they’ve endured over the lean years, and outraged by big bonuses that airline executives got as the company emerged from bankruptcy.
The pilots’ hours will reset to zero on July 1, which ought to straighten out the schedules. But business travel guru Joe Brancatelli is suggesting things will tighten up again toward the end of the month. His advice, according to USA Today, is to avoid booking Northwest flights toward the end of July or August.
Hey, maybe this will take the heat off United.