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Originally published June 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 28, 2007 at 4:23 PM

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Northwest cancels hundreds of flights

As Northwest Airlines passengers continued to cope with widespread flight cancellations, the outlook for the next few days was shaping up...

Detroit Free Press

DETROIT — As Northwest Airlines passengers continued to cope with widespread flight cancellations, the outlook for the next few days was shaping up into four bad words:

More of the same.

So far, traffic at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has seen little impact from weather and labor problems.

Industry experts warned that the airline will be forced to continue canceling a large number of flights through the end of the month as it deals with a shortage of pilots.

Northwest has canceled more than 825 flights since last week, including at least 194 as of late Tuesday, creating havoc for travelers. That's nearly 11 percent of its flights Friday through Monday, excluding short-hop Airlink flights.

"I would rate them, on a scale of 1 to 10, as a negative 10," said Richard Morrissett of Davison on Tuesday. His Northwest flight from Detroit to Flint, Mich., was canceled Thursday because of crew shortages, after he'd waited out a 7.5-hour delay. "They are going to self-destruct, and it won't be anyone's fault except their own."

Northwest had cancelled no flights in and out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport this morning, and so far has cancelled none for Thursday. A few departures and arrivals have been delayed.

"It's not looking bad for our part of the country,'' said Sea-Tac spokeswoman Rachel Garson.

Northwest is the fifth-largest carrier operating out of Sea-Tac, with more than 6 percent of the airport's 149,000 yearly flights. It flies daily to Amsterdam and Tokyo as well as to many Midwest destinations including Minneapolis, Detroit and Boston.

To find out if Northwest has cancelled or delayed a flight for today or the next day, go to Sea-Tac's real-time flight information page.

The airline declined Tuesday to waive cancellation or change penalties for passengers who might want to avoid flying this week.

Instead, it stuck to its explanation that bad weather earlier this month was to blame. Late Tuesday, it added air traffic control and pilot absenteeism as reasons for the canceled flights.

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Northwest has been out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy for only 27 days.

That has been enough time to reignite the festering animosity between management and its pilots union, which blames Northwest, the nation's fifth-largest airline, for poor planning. Its members declined to work more than the contractually allowed 90 flight hours per month. The FAA limits a pilot's flight hours to 100 per month.

Pilots were acting responsibly this week by declining hours for which they don't have the stamina, Northwest pilots union spokesman Monty Montgomery said Tuesday. Montgomery said 396 pilots are on furlough. The Air Line Pilots Association Web site says 5,100 pilots are currently flying Northwest planes.

"We tried to warn the airline" it needed more pilots this month, he said. "Pilots' careers and the future of their families are tied to the fate of this airline. We didn't give up 40 percent of our pay for this to fail. We are hopeful that Northwest will succeed."

Even before the summer started, the nation's airlines weren't doing so well in terms of service.

From January through April, only 73 percent of major airlines' domestic flights arrived on time, and 1 in every 130 bags was mishandled, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Yet Northwest, which just last week was rated last among eight major airlines in a J.D. Power and Associates customer-satisfaction survey, now faces more unhappy customers.

Some analysts still view the mayhem at Northwest as a labor dispute.

"No matter what anybody is saying, this is a labor-management battle," said Terry Trippler, an airline watchdog based in Minneapolis. "The pilots union is sending a message. I don't know how long this is going to last, but the consumer is, once again, caught in the middle."

Ellen Ernst Kossek, a labor expert at Michigan State University, said Northwest needs to mend its relationship with labor quickly.

"There were concessions from labor and perhaps not many from management, in terms of executive compensation," Kossek said, referring to a $26 million bonus Northwest President Doug Steenland received once the airline emerged from bankruptcy on May 31.

"When you reorganize, there should be equal amounts of pain suffered by all," Kossek said. "You have to focus on culture change and a more cooperative relationship.

Airline watchdog Joe Brancatelli of the Web site joesentme.com said Northwest is "an airline that simply doesn't care."

"At this point, they're out of control."

Seattle Times travel writer Carol Pucci contributed to this report

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