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Northwest cuts flights to avoid more cancellations

After canceling hundreds of flights over the past few weeks due to a severe pilot shortage, Northwest has finally proposed some solutions. But if you're flying with Northwest in the near future, don't expect schedules to be back on track. After canceling dozens of flights earlier this week, it may take some time before the airline's proposed solution helps anyone.

In a nutshell, Northwest announced it will trim flights in August by four percent to reduce the number of hours pilots have to fly each month. The rash of cancellations began in late June when many of its pilots, who are contracted to work 90 hours per month, reached their limit before the month's end, leaving many flights without adequate crews. The airline hopes to avoid a repeat of this situation by reducing the number of flights.

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Northwest also said it will begin rehiring the hundreds of pilots it put on furlough after its bankruptcy in September 2005. According to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune Northwest hopes to hire 250 to 350 pilots over the next year. This would be the first time the airline has hired pilots since 9/11.

Passengers won't feel the affect of this increased staffing for while, though, as all new pilots have to go through a training program before they can start flying. As a temporary solution for August—the month most likely to be affected by the pilot shortage—the airline will use 298-passenger Airbus A330s, normally flown on international routes, on some domestic flights usually served by smaller 757s.

My advice? Stay away Northwest for at least a few months. Across the board, the U.S. air industry has been plagued by overcrowding, cancellations, and delays this summer; flying Northwest right now only increases your odds of scheduling mishap.

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