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August 2007

Problems Increase in the Airline Industry

The talk of the past several weeks from WECN readers is the apparent difficulty Northwest Airlines is experiencing following its May 31, 2007, emergence from its September 2005 bankruptcy. I have heard many stories from Northwest customers who found themselves without flights while far away from home.

A recent personal experience wasn’t quite so bad; I got stuck in East Lansing, Michigan, with two cancelled flights in mid-afternoon on a Tuesday in late June. Northwest switched me over to United Airlines, and United then proceeded to delay my flight to Chicago O’Hare three times and finally cancelled the flight. A United operator then told me that because my original flight was on Northwest, I was “on my own.”

Home, Eventually

Fortunately, a concerned Northwest gate employee in Lansing got me on a flight to Detroit where I waited some more. Finally, I arrived home to Wisconsin the next morning. I was grateful. I heard other passengers being told that it might be one or two days before they could be flown out. Meanwhile, there wasn’t a rental car to be found. This experience was on top of my two previous trips where I was also significantly delayed.

Northwest, according to a statement on its web site, blamed much of the delays on absent pilots.

According to Flightstats.com, June was a terrible month for aviation. Airlines cancelled 91 percent more flights in the first two weeks of June than they did during the same period in 2006. Plus, only 70.7 percent of all flights arrived on time compared to 79 percent for all of last year. By comparison, 2002 was the best year for on-time performance when nearly 83 percent of flights arrived on time.

Flight Tips

What can you do to decrease your chances of a cancellation or serious delay? First, check Flightstats.com before purchasing your ticket. This handy website allows you to search which airports have continuing problems and which flights are most often delayed or cancelled. The site even helpfully provides a rating of each flight so you have some ability to measure one flight possibility against another.
Second, fly earlier in the day. This reduces the chances of a serious delay at a crowded hub like O’Hare and also decreases the chance of a weather delay.
Third, don’t book tight connections. No one likes to spend more time than necessary at an airport; however, a layover of more than 1.5 hours provides some room for error and, given the lack of food on planes, the opportunity to eat. You may also want to consider flying the night before to ensure you arrive in time for a meeting or family event.

Fourth, sign up for your airline’s electronic alerts so you will have relatively early notice of a cancellation or delay.

Finally, I often bring some water and snacks on the plane in case my flight is left on the airport tarmac for some time. This is getting harder as security is tightened and prices can be high, but some of the larger airports around the country now require food to be sold in the airport at local (i.e. non-airport) market prices.

What should you do if your flight is cancelled or seriously delayed and you want to complain? You should first complain to your airline. If the response is unsatisfactory, you can complain to the U.S. Department of Transportation at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/problems.htm.


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