August 24, 2005
St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) Several of Northwest Airlines' competitors are reporting a small increase in business since the carrier's mechanics went on strike last week.
But during a time when air travel overall is on the upswing, none expects huge extra business - at least in the short term.
"Certainly we have seen some increase, but it's pretty minimal," Wendy Blackshaw, a spokeswoman for Mendota Heights-based Sun Country Airlines, said Wednesday. She said it was probably around 10 to 15 percent.
United Airlines has also seen a small but not statistically significant bump since Northwest mechanics went on strike Saturday, spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said. That strike continued Wednesday with no talks scheduled between the Eagan-based carrier and the union that represents its mechanics.
So far, Northwest has reported minimal cancellations of its flights, while reports have varied on the extent of delays. One airline industry analyst said unless Northwest can show an improvement from week to week in minimizing cancellations and delays, customers will start finding alternatives.
"Right now people are willing to be patient - mainly because most of them already bought their tickets," said Terry Trippler, who writes for the Web site Cheapseats.com. "But if this drags on, it's hard for me to see people pushing each other out of the way to book advance tickets on Northwest."
The Aircraft Maintenance Fraternal Association, which represents striking mechanics, has predicted that it would take seven to 10 days before Northwest's system starts to bog down because of unmet maintenance needs. Mechanical work is being done by replacement workers and licensed Northwest managers.
Whether that happens is key to whether Northwest keeps its customers, Trippler predicted. "I think next week is going to be make or break," he said.
Another competitor, American Airlines, said it is seeing booking numbers into the fall that are better than last year - but they aren't attributing it to the Northwest strike.
"It's hard to track people's reasoning," spokesman Tim Smith said. "It's not like we're saying, 'Hello, customer, are you booking with us today because you don't want to fly with Northwest?"'
Delta Air Lines said it hadn't detected a change in booking since the strike started. "We're watching it just like everyone else to see what develops," spokeswoman Chris Kelly said.
Some airlines, including United and Delta, are honoring Northwest tickets for passengers who are affected by the strike.
Trippler said the surest way for Northwest to lose passengers would be any indication of safety problems on one of its flights. So far there's been none, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
"There are no safety issues," said Elizabeth Isham Cory of the FAA's Chicago office. "So far things are going very, very well."
Northwest did contend Wednesday that there were a few instances of vandalism late last week by AMFA-represented employees at the Minneapolis-St. Paul and Detroit airports. The company said some facilities and ground equipment were damaged, including lavatory servicing and water vehicles.
The company said it did cause a few delays, but said in a statement that "most of these issues have been addressed."
"We believe that these actions do not represent the behavior of the majority of our AMFA-represented employees," the statement said.
Steve MacFarlane, assistant national director for AMFA, said historically Northwest has approached the union in instances when it suspects vandalism.
"I'm putting absolutely no credibility in the stories at all," he said. "As far as I'm concerned it's rumor."
MacFarlane also said on Wednesday, several Northwest flight attendants and ground workers refused to cross the AMFA picket line. He said they were individual cases and not sanctioned by the unions for those workers.
Representatives of the flight attendants and ground workers unions did not return phone calls seeking comment.