News Article - March 15, 2007

US Airways vows to fix problems here  
  TEMPE, Ariz. - US Airways' senior executives vowed again yesterday that they would solve the airline's problems with customer service and operating on time at its Philadelphia International Airport hub. "We have to operate an airline customers like, and we're not running as good an airline as we'd like to," US Airways Group Inc. chief executive officer Doug Parker said as he opened a day of briefings for the media at the company's headquarters here. "The key to that is fixing Philadelphia."

   The airline, Philadelphia's largest carrier with almost two-thirds of the traffic, also outlined plans to buy or lease at least 60 new narrow-body jets and replace during the next two to three years some of its long-haul wide-body planes used to fly the Atlantic. Bloomberg News calculated the potential cost of doing so at about $5 billion. President Scott Kirby explained the technical reasons that US Airways had failed to make a smooth transition to a new computer reservations system on March 4, leading to long lines at check-in counters and multiple delays for days afterward.

   There were two identification numbers for each passenger's reservation under the old system, and those two numbers did not stay in sync when the new consolidated system was turned on, he said. That rendered self-service check-in kiosks unworkable, forcing all passengers to check in with a ticket agent. US Airways is offering compensation to passengers case by case for those who ask and were inconvenienced by the snafus, Kirby said.

   Airline officials devoted the longest briefing session to what they call its "Philadelphia problem." Tony Grantham, managing director of the hub in Philadelphia, provided details about how US Airways was spending more than $20 million to upgrade facilities and buy new baggage-handling equipment. The airline has cut the average time it takes to deliver inbound checked bags at Philadelphia to less than 20 minutes and is hearing far fewer complaints from passengers, Grantham said. Plans are under way to add additional security-checkpoint lanes in the B-C domestic terminal and to change explosive-detection equipment used by the Transportation Security Administration, in an effort to process passengers and their bags faster, he said.

   Grantham noted that US Airways had 500 more employees handling baggage at the airport now than it did a year ago. There are no plans to add additional customer-service employees at the airport, Kirby said. "I think we're correctly staffed in Philadelphia, subject to seeing how things work," he said. "But things are working better. The anecdotal feedback we're getting is good."

   US Airways' pilots' union used the media day to conduct informational picketing outside the airline's headquarters, demanding that the company share more of its recent profits - $304 million in 2006 - with them and other employees. In fact, the airline announced yesterday that it was distributing $58.7 million to more than 35,000 employees, retirees and people on furlough under its profit-sharing plan. That program sets aside 10 percent of the airline's annual pretax profits, excluding special items.

   Parker, in a question-and-answer session, said the Air Line Pilots Association and the company still were far apart on reaching an agreement that would allow the full integration of the US Airways and America West Airlines pilot groups. The groups have continued to fly only airplanes that came from each airline before they merged at the corporate level in September 2005. Shares of US Airways, which have fallen 23 percent since Feb. 8, closed yesterday at $45.78, down $1.66, or 3.5 percent.

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer