Regional flights running smoothlyby Tom Robertson, Minnesota Public Radio
A recent spike in flight cancellations by Northwest Airlines has caused plenty of headaches for travelers. Northwest has cancelled hundreds of flights over the past week. The Minnesota-based airline blames the problems on severe weather, air traffic control restrictions and a spike in pilot absenteeism.
That problem has apparently not affected Mesaba Airlines, a subsidiary of Northwest that serves eight communities in greater Minnesota. Most flights to and from those communities have been running on schedule.
Bemidji, Minn. — For many Minnesota communities, Mesaba Airlines provides the only commercial link to the nation's air transportation system. Regional airport managers say that link has been working well and is largely unaffected by Northwest Airlines' recent cancellation and delay problems.
It's been business as usual, according to Steve Sievek, manager at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, which offers four flights a day to the Twin Cities.
"As near as we can tell, yes," Sievek says. "I think our enplanement numbers have stayed steady, since this alleged slowdown has started. It does not appear to be affecting the traffic to and from our airport."
The story is the same for the three daily flights out of the regional airport in Bemidji. But that doesn't mean air travelers are having smooth sailing once they arrive in the Twin Cities for a connecting flight with Northwest. Harold Van Leeuwen, airport manager in Bemidji says nothing has changed with local arrivals and departures.
"However, from the customer perspective, we're hearing a lot about multiple segments of people's flights being cancelled or delayed, and them having to reschedule," Van Leeuwne says.
Passengers complain of as many as three and four reschedules, according to Van Leeuwne, because of cancelled Northwest connecting flights once travelers depart Bemidji.
"They get on here, everything looks fine. They get down there and they got a crew issue and it is a crew issue that's causing this," Van Leeuwne says. "It's particularly the pilots crewing. And you can listen to either side of the story and I don't pick sides. I just know that the problem is because there's somewhere they don't have enough pilot hours to cover all the flights they need to cover."
Union officials representing pilots for Northwest agree. They say flight crews are stressed because the airline hasn't hired enough pilots to cover the number of scheduled flight hours. Officials at Northwest say an unusual number of pilots calling in sick has contributed to cancellations. The airline says it's working on the problems and expects flight delays should ease next week.
Mesaba Airlines hasn't run into the same sorts of problems that Northwest is having, according to Elizabeth Costello, a spokesperson for the regional carrier. Costello says even though Mesaba is a Northwest subsidiary, it does it's own hiring and scheduling of flight crews. And she says it's been working just fine.
"Crew scheduling, all those types of issues are handled separately. Mesaba has its own crews and we just have not had any of these issues," Costello says. "We've had great performance, actually, over the past few weeks as far as on-time departures and arrival times and things like that, so things are going well."
There will be some reduced flight schedules at regional airports in Minnesota next week. But that was decided long before Northwest's problems. Some regional airports will see fewer flights on the Fourth of July because it's a holiday.