Before the strike started, Northwest had canceled 400 flights for Friday and Saturday, giving many passengers time to rearrange their plans. Only 15,000 passengers traveled through Minneapolis on Saturday, down from the usual 80,000, said Jeff Hamiel, executive director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission.
That advance notice didn't work for everyone.
Scott Johnson spent the night at the Tokyo airport after his original flight was canceled. He finally caught a plane to Detroit and tried to get to his Chicago home.
"I figured I would just wing it," he said as he slumped in his seat on the airport shuttle bus.
Both the airline and the pilots union said they were willing to resume negotiations that broke off shortly before the 6,100 pilots struck, but there was no indication when that would happen. The union rejected a last-minute company offer shortly before their strike deadline of 12:01 a.m. EDT Saturday.
"I'm not going to play games about who's going to call who, but clearly these guys walked out," Northwest spokesman Jon Austin said. "They have to walk back in."
"It kind of takes two to dance," said Paul Omodt, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association.
Northwest canceled all of its 1,700 daily flights through Tuesday, Austin said. International flights from Europe also were canceled for Wednesday.
Northwest loses as much as $12 million each day its planes remain grounded
Airports were quiet at the three cities where Northwest controls more than three-quarters of the air traffic: Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis, Tenn.
Ninety-seven Northwest planes, about a quarter of its fleet, were parked at the airline's home base at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
While Northwest's pilots walked picket lines outside, other employees remained at work at counters to help passengers get to their destinations. They are among the airline's 45,000 workers who will probably be laid off if the strike drags on.
The union had said that tentative agreements were reached on most contract issues, but not on job security and compensation.
Northwest is the nation's sixth largest airline in terms of passengers and its fourth largest in terms of revenue. It carries nearly 150,000 passengers a day and 2.9 million pounds of cargo on 1,600 flights in North America, Europe, Asia and India. Cargo service had been halte on Thursday.
Northwest pilots say they earn an average salary of about $120,000 per year. The airline says the average salary is $133,000.
President Clinton, who halted a strike by American Airlines pilots last year by ordering a 60-day cooling-off period, took no action and urged both sides to continue bargaining.
Written by Karen Schwarz.