More Woes For Northwest Airlines

Northwest Airlines jets are shown parked at their gates at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in a Romulus, Mich. file photo from Aug. 22, 2005.
AP Photo
Northwest Airlines was struggling again with end-of-the-month cancellations this week.

Northwest canceled 127 flights of its 1,424 scheduled flights Monday, or 9 percent, according to the Web site said on CBS News' The Early Show. "They just came out of bankruptcy. Their pilots can only work up to 90 hours a month, and they've been pushing every single one of those guys up to 90 hours. And with the bad weather we've had around North America, those crews fly around and use up all their time."

"I wish maybe I had chosen another airline," Detroit passenger Carolyn Parker said.

Northwest spokesman Roman Blahoski said the airline expected cancellations to drop on Monday versus Sunday, when the carrier scrubbed 225 flights, according to FlightStats.

He said Northwest completed about 92 percent of its flights over the weekend — less on Sunday — and expected to complete about 92 percent on Monday as well. By comparison, Northwest said it completed about 98 percent of its flights during the first three weeks of July.

The airline once again blamed a surge in pilot sick calls, especially on narrow-body flights.

"We're looking at pilot absenteeism, pilots not reporting for duty as scheduled," Blahoski said.

Pilots have said the problem is that pilots are flying more tightly-packed schedules than before. Northwest boosted the monthly cap on flying hours from 80 to 90 hours in bankruptcy, and pilots have said that's a more grueling schedule. And as the end of the month approaches, pilots can hit their hours ceiling more quickly than expected if weather delays cause them to fly more hours than planned.

"They're overworked, they're tired, they can't get up," Parsons told Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen.

"We're very disappointed that the company is trying to blame us for what we see as quite obviously a lack of staffing," said Monty Montgomery, a spokesman for the Northwest branch of the Air Line Pilots Association.

"We've been, shall we say, treated as pawns in a labor dispute," said passenger Bill Carnarvin at the Detroit airport. "It's very annoying."

Northwest has recalled furloughed pilots and has said it expects to hire 200 to 250 pilots in the next year. However, furloughed pilots must be retrained before they can fly again.

"It takes about 40 days to train a pilot to get them back in the air," said Parsons. "I think this problem will be around for the month of august, towards the end of the month."

Northwest also reduced its August flying schedule by 4 percent and canceled a Detroit to Frankfurt flight beginning July 18.

The entire U.S. airline system is stretched to the limit, says Parsons, and Northwest is not the only airline with problems.

"I call it the Band-Aid operation, fixing everything as we go," he said. "We have an air traffic control system that should be much better than it is today to let these planes fly around storms better. You've got airlines pushing airports like La Guardia (in New York) to the max when they shouldn't be doing that. It's just one big, big mess. I think the biggest problem, though is weather."