NWA’s Latest Hit – “F*** tha Pilots”

Labor Relations, Northwest

Just when you thought that United’s labor relations were the worst around, Northwest (no, not THAT NWA) always jumps out to remind you otherwise. So what did they do this time?

07_07_02 nwaYou’ve probably seen the national media has been all over them this past week as the operation has hit a brick wall with massive cancellations heading well over 10% of the scheduled flights. So what’s happening? Well the official line from Northwest is that it’s due to a variety of factors, “the most important of which are: summertime thunderstorms on the east coast and at several Northwest hubs, air traffic control congestion, and pilot absenteeism – which was 80 percent higher in June 2007 versus June 2006.”

Uh, pilot absenteeism? The pilots would beg to differ. In this news release, the pilots claim that it’s due to short staffing, which is more likely to be the case. Nothing like throwing your employees under the bus when it’s clearly a much larger issue. Some internal info I’ve seen shows that Northwest tried to run more flight hours with fewer pilots in June. When your pilots are already running close to maximums, I wouldn’t expect that sort of plan to work out too well.

So how do we know who is right? Actions speak louder than words. The airline has put together a long list of flight cancellations going forward. If it were a pilot sickout, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be canceling so far in advance in anticipation of it continuing that long. Sounds like it’s a scheduling problem and they know it.

If you’re flying Northwest, keep an eye out. They’ve canceled one of the flights from Detroit to Frankfurt beginning July 18. They’re also going to cut back flying by about 90 hours so they can increase pilot reserves. In addition, they’re rehiring furloughed pilots as quickly as they can, so they say. Does this sound like an airline that is plagued by a pilot sickout? I don’t think so. Sounds like an airline that got caught with too few pilots to me.

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1 comment on “NWA’s Latest Hit – “F*** tha Pilots”

  1. It actually sounds like both to me. Even with the pilots reaching the maximum monthly/yearly hours, when a pilot calls in sick, that leaves you short of who you can replace him with.

    Example… say you have 1000 pilots based at your hub and it’s the end of the month. Maybe 800 are flying the line, with 200 sitting reserve and airport reserve. Lines for pilots range from 1-4 days long. If 100 call in sick on day 1 of their trip, that leaves you with just 100 sitting reserve for day 2. Now granted, you have other reserve pilots coming in on day 2 for their weekly reserve line, but they would be replacing the other reserves that are finishing their weekly line. Airport reserves may be hitting the end of their daily duty sit, which further diminishes your daily reserves. Pretty soon, you’re looking at your reserves dwindling, and your guys coming off the line can’t pick up any extra trips, because they’re at max duty.

    If NWA’s absentee numbers are even remotely close to what they say they are, it is a disaster. So, although pilot absenteeism isn’t the only factor coming into play here, I do believe it plays a large role.

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