Questions Fly At Usair Meeting

May 27, 1993|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA — ARLINGTON, Va. -- Things were looking pretty good for USAir.

Over the past six months, the airline has watched its revenues inch upward. Its stock price has climbed more than $4 a share since last May -- despite huge losses in 1992. It teamed up with cash-happy British Airways in January, giving the U.S. carrier cheap access to a global market. And it recently announced a popular new fare structure in the Northeast.

But then Evelyn T. Davis shows up.

A well-known millionaire publisher of a small Washington newsletter, Mrs. Davis is a minor stockholder in 120 blue chip companies.

And yesterday, the corporate gadfly-in-the-ointment and media hound added USAir Group to the list of corporations whose annual meetings she attends, breaking the normal rubber-stamp routine with questions, often trivial and sometimes troublesome.

From USAir Chief Executive Officer Seth E. Schofield, Mrs. Davis demanded to know:

* Doesn't British Airways, which this year invested $300 million in USAir, really intend to take control of the nation's sixth-largest airline? And couldn't USAir have found a nice American investor to pony up the much-needed cash?

No, Mr. Schofield said, American investors weren't exactly coming out the woodwork when the financially struggling USAir (with losses of $1.2 billion last year alone) was looking for a partner.

And no, USAir won't become a British Airways subsidiary. BA ultimately could have veto power over certain decisions at USAir, he conceded, pending changes in U.S. law and another $450 million in investment over the next eight years.

"But British Air does not run USAir. USAir runs USAir," Mr. Schofield said, shortly before stockholders overwhelmingly ratified the alliance.

* So how much did USAir pay investment bankers and lawyers in the BA deal?

A reasonable $1.5 million to the bankers, said Mr. Schofield, and $5.4 million in outside legal fees.

* Will the airline offer its senior discount on British Airways flights? asked the 62-year-old Mrs. Davis.

It's an idea, said a patient Mr. Schofield, who, like his counterparts at General Motors, Chrysler and Citicorp, couldn't quite ignore a womanwhose eccentric newsletter, Highlights and Lowlights, reviews corporate behavior and is sold only to top executives.

* Since USAir has teamed up with the Brits, couldn't it at least offer some tea, scones and some of those nice biscuits?

And speaking of food, the peanuts on USAir Express service to New York are slim pickin's, nothing to compare with Delta's full-blown snack. Couldn't USAir do better?

That's an idea, said Mr. Schofield.

* Does USAir do any charter business with the White House?

Not a dime, the CEO said.

* And one more thing, said Mrs. Davis, who owns 150 shares of USAir:

Those glitzy seat belt buckles on USAir's Shuttle service to LaGuardia. Couldn't the airline get rid of the "T," left over from Donald Trump's Shuttle, which USAir purchased?

Well, with all the cost cutting, it hadn't really been a priority, explained Mr. Schofield.

Not to worry, though; it's on the list.

"They will be removed," he said. "They will be."

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