Airline: Expect changes in Phila.|
Anthony Mule was trying to decide whether Concourse B or Concourse C was a better place to begin the tour of US Airways' operations at Philadelphia International Airport. "It doesn't matter," he finally said, "because they both are ugly." Mule, the Tempe, Ariz.-based airline's senior vice president of customer service, settled on C. Gate C17 alone featured an entire row of gray chairs with foam spilling from the seats. Stains covered the wall-to-wall industrial carpeting. Across the way at C20, a row of chairs set strategically against a wall hid a hole the size of a dinner plate. It didn't take long to understand why executives running the new airline deemed fixing Philadelphia priority No. 1 even before the America West-US Airways merger last fall. Years of neglect by the old US Airways during back-to-back bankruptcies, coupled with its unfortunate spot in the oldest part of the airport, have left its Philadelphia operation dirty, dysfunctional and dreaded by customers. The company committed $20 million to the hub -- its second-busiest (Charlotte, N.C., is first), its biggest by revenue and its international gateway. US Airways generates nearly one-fifth of its revenue from passengers flying to and from Philadelphia. Former America West executives may run the nation's fifth-largest airline from Arizona, but their focus is never far from the business power center 2,400 miles away. As Philadelphia goes, in many respects, so goes the new US Airways. The airline's problems in Philadelphia are much more than cosmetic. Indeed, just $2.7 million of the $20 million will go toward sprucing up the gate areas and decrepit break rooms for employees. The airline's 2004 Christmas baggage meltdown was national news and still haunts the airline in the form of ill will and lingering customer complaints. People can't understand how they can get off a plane, go to the restroom and maybe even shop in the airport's popular mall and still make it to baggage claim before their bags, said Charles Isdell, the city's aviation director. Last year, the old US Airways ranked 19th of 19 in customer complaints and 15th of 19 in mishandled bags. Baggage operations are being revamped and upgraded to the tune of $7.5 million. Altogether, the airline has 10 to 15 projects in various stages, covering everything from break rooms to baggage readers. The airline has little choice. US Airways' market share last year fell to 64.1 percent from 67.2 percent in 2004, with rival Southwest Airlines -- a relatively new player in Philadelphia -- gaining.