MINNEAPOLIS -- Business travelers got their first taste of a strike at Northwest Airlines yesterday as the nation's fourth-largest carrier flew its busiest day since mechanics walked off the job.
Operations were largely normal, although industry observers said the airline saw more delays and cancellations than usual on a typical weekday.
Northwest has refused to release statistics on delays or cancellations since the strike began Saturday. At midday yesterday, a check of the airline's video screens at its Detroit hub showed delays for 23 out of 120 departures -- about normal. At its Memphis hub later in the day, the screens showed seven of more than 120 flights canceled, none delayed.
Meanwhile, an independent travel expert found widespread delays in the strike's first two days.
Joe Brancatelli, who publishes a business travel website, sampled 99 of Northwest's 1,381 Sunday flights and found that 53.5 percent left on time, according to Northwest's website, he said.
Using that method on Saturday, he found that only 46.5 percent of the sampled Northwest flights were on time. The airline has about 1,470 weekday flights.
Company spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch derided Brancatelli's numbers, but refused to say how many flights had been delayed or canceled. During August 2004, 17.6 percent of Northwest flights were late and 1 percent were canceled, according to the Transportation Department.
''The survey was unscientific and completely random, and included markets that could have been affected by weather or air traffic which impact the operations of all airlines, not just Northwest," Ebenhoch said.
Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest has also said that a slowdown by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association just before the strike began caused a spike in the number of planes out of service or with minor mechanical write-ups.