New Management Restores Some US Airways Extras

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It's been less than a month since America West executives took over US Airways, but the new management team has wasted no time in reversing recent cost-saving initiatives that had frustrated longtime US Airways customers.

One decision revisited by the newly combined airline -- which has assumed the US Airways brand name -- involved free snacks for its coach passengers.

Last month, before the merger closed, US Airways stopped passing out the snacks in hopes of saving $1 million a year. But on Sept. 28, a day after the merger's completion, executives ruled that coach passengers deserved free snacks. After all, America West passengers got free pretzels, so why shouldn't the passengers on the new US Airways?

"It's something that our passengers say they liked and enjoyed with their beverages," said Ron Cole, vice president of US Airways in-flight services, a position he also held at America West.

US Airways frequent fliers are hoping the merger with America West will result in a stronger, more customer-friendly carrier. The former America West executives hope it will do just that as the two carriers undergo the painful process of trying to combine operations. The process is expected to take up to two years, so the airline is trying to identify some changes that can be made quickly to keep customers happy.

Another decision the airline has reversed involved reopening its airport lounge in Los Angeles. In April, US Airways closed the club to control costs. The airline plans to reopen it next month.

Cole said that while many travelers are looking for cheap fares, on-board amenities often are a deciding factor in a competitive marketplace.

To improve service to its best customers, the airline has announced plans to hire 30 reservation agents for the frequent flier desk at its Winston-Salem, N.C., center. The new agents will help reduce the telephone wait times, one of the biggest complaints from its frequent fliers.

"One of the issues that they had is that they want to be able to get through and want to be able to get through quickly. That's why we are putting the resources to make sure we can take care of those customers," said Jeffrey D. McClelland, US Airways' vice president of administration.

US Airways also has simplified its policy on last-minute upgrades and on flying standby. And next month it will reduce the fees and restrictions on excess baggage.

The airline also is reconsidering a decision made before the merger to disconnect the power outlets on armrests on some of its Airbus jets. Many travelers, who relied on the outlets to power their laptops or other electronic devices, were angered by the move, which also came as a surprise to some America West executives.

"This is something we are continually looking at," said America West spokesman Carlo Bertolini.

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