The record snowstorm that blew into the Washington area over the Presidents' Day weekend was a headache for thousands of airline travelers and employees. But for many US Airways passengers flying the Northeast shuttle, the winter blast brought a slew of free frequent-flier miles.
US Airways has had a frequent-flier bonus system in place since September that awards 1,500 miles to travelers on Northeast shuttle flights that depart more than five minutes late. The program includes flights between Reagan National and New York's La Guardia or Boston's Logan International airports. If flights are canceled on those routes, passengers get 10,000 frequent-flier miles.
When the Arlington-based carrier launched the deal, little did it know that the biggest snowstorm in 11 years would blanket the Northeast.
So, as of Feb. 20, the airline has handed out more than 26 million frequent-flier miles.
Before Presidents' Day, only 2,800 passengers had each received 10,000 bonus miles. But during that weekend blizzard, 5,200 shuttle travelers each nabbed 10,000 bonus miles when their flights were canceled because of snow. Since September, 17,500 US Airways passengers have received 1,500 miles each because their flights were delayed more than five minutes.
US Airways launched the program to lure passengers away from its competitors, which include Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and Amtrak. "This continues to be a very competitive marketplace and environment," said Stephen M. Usery, US Airways' vice president of marketing and revenue management.
Delta and American were already offering similar bonuses, but their deals ended late last year. US Airways is sticking with its program until March 31 and weighing whether to extend it. If the program were to continue, it would move into a period when the East Coast often experiences severe thunderstorms. That could mean more chances for free miles.
But it also poses the opportunity for US Airways to build passenger loyalty. The promotional value often outweighs the cost of the awards, US Airways says.
"This has been very popular with our customers," said US Airways spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.
Despite the tough snow weekend, US Airways still ranks high in on-time performance on the shuttle route. According to statistics provided by the airline, since January, US Airways has canceled 5 percent of its shuttle flights and 10 percent of its flights were late. Delta canceled 8 percent of its flights, and 9 percent were late. American Eagle canceled 8 percent, and 27 percent were late.
American Eagle spokeswoman Lisa Bailey said one of the reasons American's shuttle was interrupted so many times was that unlike US Airways, American Eagle replaces planes whose mechanical problems force a flight to be canceled or delayed with reserved aircraft from other flights.
Pay for Performance
If you notice that America West's employees are extra helpful these days or that your flights are departing and arriving on time more often, it may be because of the performance bonuses the airline is paying to workers. Beginning this month, America West is paying each employee a $50 monthly bonus whenever the carrier ranks among the top three airlines with the fewest complaints filed with the Transportation Department. It will also pay employees another $50 a month each time the carrier is ranked No. 1 in on-time service.
"We believe that the impact this program will have on employee morale and the airline's reputation are very valuable," said America West spokeswoman Janice Monahan.
In 1994, Continental Airlines became the first carrier to pay its employees for performance. The airline gives $100 bonuses every month it ranks first in on-time arrivals.
A Continental spokesman said the money is well spent. In its first year, Continental paid out about $2.5 million in bonuses, but that was half what it spent to give passengers free hotel rooms, meals and phone calls when late arrivals caused travelers to miss flights.
America West employees have their work cut out for them. The airline came in first in the monthly on-time rankings only three times last year. And it never ranked among the top three carriers with the fewest complaints. In some months, including August, September and December, it ranked either last or next to last with the most complaints, according to DOT statistics. Continental ranked first in on-time performance three times last year.
Some airline executives have balked at the idea of paying such bonuses, arguing that it makes little sense to offer incentives to employees for work they're already paid to do.
Delta's Security Experiment
As part of a new government-inspired security program, Delta begins a month-long test that will examine the credit histories and travel habits of passengers. A scoring system aims to identify travelers who pose a high security risk. Biz Class wants to know what you think about this decision. Is it too invasive? Or does the new security policy make you feel safer? Send your comments along with your name and daytime telephone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.