More than 100 US Airways executives and other employees volunteered to serve coffee and snacks, sort and move bags and help passengers find their way Sunday at Philadelphia International Airport to try to avoid a repeat of the bankrupt carrier’s Christmas weekend debacle.
The airline reported no problems by late Sunday afternoon, when about half the day’s expected 38,000 passengers had boarded their flights or claimed their bags. The volume was comparable with the Christmas and Thanksgiving travel peaks.
“It’s been a very busy day, very heavily booked,” said Chris Chiames, a vice president who flew in from US Airways headquarters in Arlington, Va., to help. “You want to start the day with operations running smoothly and keep that momentum up.”
Around Christmas, hundreds of flights were canceled and thousands of bags piled up in what the airline’s chief executive, Bruce Lakefield, called an “operational meltdown” that stranded holiday travelers and prompted a federal investigation.
Airline management blamed the problems on unexpected numbers of flight attendants and baggage handlers calling in sick, while employees’ unions blamed poor planning by management.
The baggage pileup was cleared by the end of last week after the company took the unusual step of asking employees around the country if they would travel to Philadelphia to supplement the regular staff as unpaid volunteers.
Aside from the volunteers, staffing levels appeared to be normal this weekend.
“The employees are focused on making sure we let our customers know how much we appreciate their business, and two, keeping up the momentum as we complete our financial restructuring,” Chiames said. “The media are watching us, the analysts are watching us, and we’ve got to produce.”
Some passengers were skeptical about the airline’s ability to recover from the horrific holiday.
“They can do it, but it’s going to take a lot,” said John Guldin, of Pittsburgh, who flew into Philadelphia without a hitch Sunday but had fresh memories of his three-hour wait for a Christmas night flight from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.
The extra attention pleased customers like Kimberly Kearns, of the Philadelphia suburb of Southampton, who said she also appreciated the $118 round-trip fare for her New Year’s Eve flight to Raleigh, N.C., and back on Sunday.
“We had a smooth flight. They have people out serving coffee and saying hello — a lot of meet and greet,” Kearns said. “We wish US Airways a better year.”
US Airways Group Inc. has said that without an immediate reduction in labor costs it probably will begin liquidation after an interim financing deal with the government’s Air Transportation Stabilization Board expires Jan. 15.
Pilots, reservations agents and gate agents have agreed to salary cuts, but the airline is still awaiting results expected this week of telephone voting by flight attendants on a new contract that would cut their pay.
The airline is also negotiating with baggage handlers and mechanics, and awaiting a bankruptcy court ruling this week on its request to cancel current pay agreements if a new deal can’t be reached soon.