Correction: An editorial in the Oct. 11 edition of the Daily (Rolling dice at 35,000 feet), incorrectly stated that a Northwest aircraft was departing Minneapolis for Memphis. The flight was departing from Memphis.
Flyers have few choices when it comes to leaving Detroit. For most travelers, Northwest Airlines provides the most convenient flights, and often the only direct flights, to final destinations. Unfortunately, as students approach fall break – a fou- day window to visit home or other schools – Northwest is grappling with a labor dispute. In light of this strike, students should avoid Northwest this weekend – not merely out of respect for the mechanics’ union, but also because flying the airline may truly be unsafe.
The airline’s mechanics, represented by the American Mechanics Fraternal Association, have been striking since late August, protesting cost-cutting measures that would dramatically downsize the airline’s team of mechanics and slash pay for those who remain. Since then, Northwest has been flying with the help of replacement mechanics – scabs hired for the sole purpose of surviving the strike and breaking the AMFA.
The current Northwest strike is the first major labor incident to affect the industry since Northwest’s pilot strike during the late 1990s. That strike, which grounded Northwest, was enlightening for the company’s executives; this time, the airline spent $100 million dollars and more than a year preparing for a mechanics strike. More than 1,000 scab mechanics were hired – at wages significantly below what Northwest mechanics were earning – to step up in the event of a strike. Thus, when the AMFA local went on strike almost seven weeks ago, Northwest took the stoppage in stride – it vowed to maintain Federal Aviation Administration safety standards while keeping scheduled flights in the air and on time.
Yet, despite what Northwest claims, the airline’s performance has been suffering. The FAA found that Northwest was the second tardiest airline last month – after a small, regional charter carrier. More importantly, the airline’s safety record is slipping. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune reported on FAA reports that detailed glaring deficiencies in Northwest’s maintenance procedures. In one alleged incident, a Northwest DC-9 was cleared by mechanics and prepared to depart Memphis when the copilot noticed a dead bird in one of the aircraft’s engines. At New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, an FAA inspector documented mechanics – and Northwest supervisors – incorrectly inspect and repair an engine blade. The paper, which received over 100 FAA reports, could not contact the airline for comment.
While labor analysts have declared the AMFA strike an abject failure – Northwest has continued to fly, while simultaneously slashing almost 2,500 mechanics’ jobs – the airline has only managed to do so by cutting critical corners. While it has managed to trim labor costs, it has also decided to gamble with passengers’ safety. As they head home for fall break, students should avoid the airline wherever possible. While other airlines may be less convenient, students must answer a personal question: How much is a flight in a safe, well-maintained aircraft worth?