Travelers at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport Monday kept their fingers crossed as the Northwest Airlines' mechanics' strike entered its third full day.
Steve Crossman of Longville was at the airport Monday to send his mother, Joyce Crossman, off on a Mesaba Airlines flight to Minneapolis, followed by a Northwest flight to Seattle.
"At this point, I trust them," he said.
Glen Santi of Brainerd flew Mesaba to Minneapolis Monday and was scheduled to fly Northwest to Salt Lake City. His wife, Betsy, reported to the Dispatch from Brainerd that his 5:18 p.m. Monday flight from Minneapolis was delayed as of 6 p.m. because of mechanical problems. He had been told that passengers on that flight would switch planes before heading to Salt Lake City.
Passengers walked Monday to a waiting Mesaba flight out of Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. Despite a strike by Northwest Airline mechanics, Mesaba continues to serve the Brainerd airport with four departures a day.
Before boarding his Mesaba flight in Brainerd, Glen Santi noted it was the first time he had to travel for business in about six years and that his trip had to take place during a Northwest strike.
His wife, Betsy, who was among the striking teachers in the Crosby-Ironton School District last year, said Monday she's not sure she would have flown on Northwest because of the mechanics' strike.
A third air traveler, Bob Ritchie of Midland, Texas, was returning home from his summer home on the Whitefish Chain on a Mesaba aircraft.
Mesaba Airlines is a feeder airline that's an independent contractor with Northwest, said Steve Sievek, Brainerd airport manager, Monday. Northwest owns 30 percent of Mesaba, controls its schedules and pricing and owns its aircraft, he said.
The biggest change since the strike, he said, was that Mesaba had started its normal, post-Labor Day air schedule. The winter schedule went into effect on Saturday. Instead of the summer schedule of six departures a day during the week and seven on the weekends, Sievek said, the airline now offers four departures a day.
That means a decrease in revenue for the Brainerd airport since it receives landing fees from the airlines, Sievek said.
Ridership out of Brainerd has been up 17.5 percent, which Sievek described as a pretty healthy increase.
If Northwest is able to maintain its schedule during the strike, Sievek said, it might keep business travelers from driving to the cities.
"We work hard to convince people to fly locally," he said. "It's tough to bring them back," he said of passengers who get into the habit of driving to the Twin Cities instead of flying.
He predicts Northwest Airlines may very well keep flying, but will declare bankruptcy to take advantage of less restrictive regulations that are available before a change in the bankruptcy law takes effect.
Karen Skarolid, Mesaba Airlines station manager in Brainerd, said Monday that other than the reduced schedule, it's business as usual.
"Nothing's really changed," she said. "We're still doing the same thing day in and day out. We're in a waiting game."
Lisa Paxton, chief executive officer of the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce, with offices in Brainerd, Crosslake and Pequot Lakes, said Mesaba's early scheduling of the post-Labor Day flight schedule is coupled with the shutting down of a runway for a runway construction project. The construction project, scheduled to be completed by mid-November, will mean that beginning Sept. 6, air service will be restricted to daylight hours of operation.
"Hopefully, Northwest will continue to operate because we need consistent service," she said. "I think everyone is hoping that the existing service can be maintained."
Lynn Clark, controller at Russell and Herder Advertising, said her firm, which frequently uses Northwest Airlines, hasn't changed any travel plans since the strike was announced. She said many of the firm's travelers drive to the Twin Cities to catch flights.
Jeff Zernov, chief executive officer of the Brainerd-based Nature Vision, the firm that makes Aqua-Vu underwater video viewing system, said it appears that Northwest's strike contingency plan is working.
"It's so hard not to book with Northwest when you're in the Brainerd area," he said. "We will continue to support Northwest. They're a great carrier in our area."
Zernov said he logs between 120,000 and 150,000 miles a year and his employees log an additional 50,000 to 75,000 miles a year. He said his firm has gross revenues of $25 million a year and employs 65 employees in Brainerd and Minneapolis. One-third of those employees are in Brainerd, he said.
He said he understood how difficult it is for the union workers to take a 25 percent reduction in wages.
"That's a tough pill to swallow, but management's got to do what management's got to do," he said. "We're in a dramatically changing world nowadays."
MIKE O'ROURKE can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.
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