How can they tell?

Northwest Airlines went through the second week of a mechanics strike with flying colours, or colours flying. The airline is fulfiling more than 98% of its schedule and operating at about industry average punctuality. The union, AMFA or Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, half-heartedly disputes the airline’s on-time performance data but says the real effects of its strike will come later as more flights are delayed because replacement machinists won’t be able to keep Northwest going.

The public, to judge by passenger loads at some key airports, thinks Northwest is doing all right. They’re not booking away, according to the other carriers which would be likely alternatives for the strike-wary. Of course it’s possible that the union is right and many Northwest flights are suffering delays and cancellations – and a flying public so used to delays and cancellations simply accepts them as a matter of course. US flight delays are already at or passing the record levels set in the disastrous summer of 2000 and are up by more than 7% this summer over the year before.

Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and vast swaths of the Gulf Coast, will just cloud the issue further. The storm track is taking it in a long curving path that squarely targets first Memphis and then Detroit – Northwest’s number three and number one hubs. That’s probably not the desired meaning of the old phrase “the perfect storm”.

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