updated 12/27/2004 7:22:03 PM ET 2004-12-28T00:22:03

Against his better judgment, John Price checked a suitcase full of presents for relatives on his Christmas Eve US Airways flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia.

He got off the plane at Philadelphia International Airport on Friday evening, but his luggage didn’t make it. Late Saturday morning, a bleary-eyed Price watched airport workers sort piles of unclaimed bags — none of them his.

“I can’t show up empty-handed. That just doesn’t cut it,” he said.

For the third day in a row, US Airways passengers were separated from thousands of pieces of lost luggage, many of them at Philadelphia International Airport. Several hundred people stood in long lines at sparsely staffed check-in counters, and piles of suitcases were scattered throughout the baggage claim area.

The airline, which originally cited winter storms, on Saturday blamed the canceled flights and baggage backups on a large number of employees calling in sick.

“We have had an unusually high number of flight attendant sick calls and an unusually high number of bag handler sick calls in Philadelphia,” airline spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said. Philadelphia is a US Airways hub.

'No union action'
Spokespeople for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents US Airways baggage handlers, and the Association of Flight Attendants said they had not organized any job actions.

“There is no union action. It’s poor management planning, that’s my opinion. ... We have sick calls every single year around the holiday,” said Teddy Xidas, president of Association of Flight Attendants Local 40 in Pittsburgh.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta has directed senior officials to talk with US Airways management about problems at the airport, Transportation Department spokesman Robert Johnson said Saturday.

“We are obviously concerned about the situation, and we will be interested in learning more from the airline about how the passengers and their luggage came to be stranded,” Johnson said.

The baggage backups extended to other East Coast airports.

In Virginia, hundreds of unclaimed bags from US Airways flights were piled at Richmond International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

'Ruined everybody's Christmas'
Shirley Malave flew from Philadelphia to Florida on Saturday to be with relatives, but when she arrived in Tampa she discovered that her luggage wasn’t on the US Airways plane with her. She waited for two more flights from Philadelphia, but her luggage was on neither.

“They ruined everybody’s Christmas,” said Malave, who lives near Tom’s River, N.J.

She was offered a $50 stipend to buy clothes, but on Christmas Day, “good luck trying to find something open,” she said. “I have no clothes. Nothing.”

In Tampa and Miami, baggage delays on Delta Air Lines flights were also reported. The airline did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Systemwide, US Airways canceled 80 flights Saturday and 100 flights Friday, Kudwa said.

Extra flights carrying nothing but luggage were scheduled to fly from Philadelphia to the airline’s bag processing facility in Charlotte, N.C., where workers could help process bags more quickly, Kudwa said.

Struggling US Airways, bankrupt for the second time in two years, says it needs to drastically cut labor costs if it is to survive beyond mid-January, when its interim financing arrangement with the federal government’s Air Transportation Stabilization Board is set to expire.

US Airways reservations and gate agents approved a new contract Thursday that cut pay by 13 percent. The airline still needs deals from its flight attendants and its machinists’ union.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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