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.
One of the biggest complaints from US Airways passengers, however, probably won't be addressed for another year. The carrier's Web site has long been a source of frustration, with travelers complaining of the slowness and the difficulty they encountered while trying to search for and book flights.
"I have never been able to make a reservation on it. It's a total waste of time," said Washington-based US Airways frequent flier Jane C. Loeffler, a University of Maryland architecture history professor. "What happens is that I end up calling on the phone or I end up booking online via Orbitz."
Attorney Allan Miller of Springfield said his biggest complaint with the Web site was the number of times he had to reenter his personal information each time he pages through the site to find a flight. "It's incredibly difficult to navigate," he says.
US Airways' previous executives had promised repeatedly to overhaul the airline's Web site, but with a bankruptcy filing, a merger announcement and emerging from bankruptcy protection, overhauling the site never made it to the top of the must-do list.
Now, the airline hopes to have the site feature the same technology as the America West site, which travelers have found to be more user-friendly. But that upgrade will take about eight months, US Airways executives say.
Another change US Airways frequent fliers would like to see is in the airline's culture. Several travelers, such as Donna Kamm of Alexandria and Jeffrey Kostbar of Bethesda, say they hope the airline encourages employees to be less formal in their interactions with passengers, similar to America West's more laid-back approach.
The airline plans to send its employees through training to better integrate operations and adopt the best practices from each carrier, Cole said.
"We're reviewing thousands of things that we do," he said, "but we haven't made any decisions as of yet" about what practices will be kept.