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US Airways, Comair struggleto recover from holiday woes

Denver resident Stacy Tornatore rests on her luggage after her US Airways flight back to Philadelphia was canceled and rescheduled for Monday. Jacqueline Larma / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Luggage was stacked in rows longer than a football field Monday as airlines struggled to recover from the delays and mix-ups caused by regional carrier Comair’s systemwide cancelations during the holiday weekend and the failure of US Airways’ baggage system.

Travelers moved slowly along the long rows at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, looking for bags that had been misdirected or were caught up by flight cancellations.

“This is fun, isn’t it?” said Pete Lindsay, 54, a swimming coach at Miami University in Oxford, still trying to find a bag lost on a Delta flight from San Diego to Cincinnati, even though Delta told him Sunday it had found the missing piece. He needed it for a flight out Tuesday to a swim meet in Florida.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky was showing signs of recovery from the weekend with information monitors displaying far fewer canceled flights.

However, Comair officials did not respond to numerous calls seeking comment Monday, and airport officials said only the airline could provide details on its flights.

On Sunday, a day after all 1,100 of Comair’s flights were canceled, frustrated customers got some relief when the airline resumed 172 flights, about 15 percent of its normal schedule.

“We anticipate Comair will be able to operate on a full schedule by Wednesday,” Nick Miller, a spokesman for the Delta subsidiary based at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, said Sunday. “That is our goal.”

Comair’s computer system that manages flight assignments failed Friday night, overwhelmed by cancellations and delays caused by the winter storm that socked the Ohio Valley. Miller did not know how many customers were affected, but said the airline serves 30,000 travelers in 118 cities on a normal day.

US Airways was recovering from what its chief executive called an “operational meltdown,” with its planes flying out of Philadelphia International Airport at a near-normal pace Monday. Hundreds of US Airways flights were canceled from Friday to Sunday, the result of severe weather Thursday and large numbers of baggage handlers, ramp workers and flight attendants calling in sick.

US Airways flew two baggage-only flights from Philadelphia to its hub in Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday in an attempt to connect bags to customers.

Some undelivered bags remained stacked up in Philadelphia’s baggage-claim area Monday, an airport spokesman said.

On Sunday, US Airways canceled 43 out of about 1,200 flights systemwide, down from 143 cancellations on Saturday and 176 on Friday.

In a memo to employees, US Airways chief executive Bruce Lakefield thanked those who helped “our customers during the operational meltdown we experienced over the weekend.” However, he criticized those who exacerbated problems by calling in sick.

“I have seen lots of excuses for why people took it upon themselves to call in sick, such as low morale, poor management, anger over pay cuts and frustration with labor negotiations,” Lakefield said. “None of those excuses passes the test. We all have our jobs to do.”

Union leaders representing workers in negotiations with the airline over pay and benefits concessions denied any organized effort to slow operations.

US Airways, which is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, approved a new contract with its reservations and gate agents Thursday that slashed pay by 13 percent. The airline is seeking deals with flight attendants and machinists that it says it needs to drastically cut labor costs to survive beyond mid-January.