Pro Air, other carriers may make gains if walkout hits Northwest Travel agents advise customers to be ready

August 27, 1998|By J. Leffall | J. Leffall,SUN STAFF

Baltimore travel agent Mary Joan Levin calls the prospect of a strike by pilots at Northwest Airlines "sickening." But Pro Air, a Northwest rival that began operations 13 months ago, is benefiting from talk of a walkout.

"Other airlines are going to clean up," said Levin, president of Mt. Royal Travel. "They always do when stuff like this happens. But it presents a bad situation for us because it messes up markets and makes it more difficult for us to book flights."

According to officials at Pro Air, which flies twice a day from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Detroit, customers are taking note of Northwest's situation and choosing other airlines.

"We certainly have seen an increase in reservations since talk of this strike first surfaced," said Ryan Hixenbaugh, a spokesman for the Detroit-based Pro Air. "People seem to be desperately seeking travel arrangements that they can count on instead of getting caught in the middle of corporate games."

Levin and other local travel agents are advising customers to seek alternatives in case Northwest's pilots go on strike at 12: 01 a.m. Saturday.

Last week, rival airlines, preparing for a possible strike at Northwest and looking to curtail speculative booking, made their first- and business-class tickets nonrefundable on flights to and from Northwest hubs in Minneapolis, Detroit and Memphis, Tenn.

Chip Wanek, an agent at Towson Travel, said this move probably won't deter travelers who need to get to their respective destinations.

"It's really up to our clients, and we leave the choice to them and book what they want," he said. "Regardless of the restrictions, most people that have to be somewhere are going to choose an alternative carrier and take their chances."

He added that ticket agents at Pro Air locations have been experiencing a higher volume of walk-up purchases since Sunday.

A strike by pilots at the country's fourth-largest airline, coupled with a shutdown of carriers partnered with Northwest, would cancel 2,640 daily departures at 223 airports worldwide.

Northwest has 12 daily flights departing from BWI to Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis.

BWI spokeswoman Marilyn Corbett said Northwest represents a relatively low percentage of the 320 flights per day out of Baltimore. Northwest has 5.7 percent total market share at BWI, with nearly 494,000 passengers so far this year as of last month.

"We don't anticipate a huge problem in the event of a strike, but it's hard to comment on that right now because it hasn't happened yet," Corbett added.

Some carriers have also agreed to accept selected Northwest tickets should there be a strike.

"I had someone the other day who wanted to fly to a city that Northwest serves," Levin said. "I didn't tell that person not to book the ticket, but in a situation like this, one has to be aware and really shop around even if options are limited."

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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