US Air better staffed to deal with holiday

It hopes to avoid rerun of Philadelphia debacle

December 23, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA -- In the little office at Philadelphia International Airport where unhappy US Airways customers go to file claims for missing baggage, five employees were on duty at times this week - and had very little to do.

Seldom was more than one passenger with a bag problem at the counter at a time during an hour-long stretch Wednesday night.

The scene was in sharp contrast to the Terminal B-C bag-claim area during last year's holiday season, when US Airways' old management didn't have enough workers and equipment on hand to meet the demand. Chaos ensued, with thousands of passengers' bags delayed or lost for days.

This year, officials at the new US Airways say they believe they have fixed the problem by hiring 400 more baggage handlers and ticket and gate agents, a 30 percent increase over the work force at the airport last year.

The airline also spent $2 million on new equipment for loading and unloading luggage.

Most of the carrier's senior executives are from America West Airlines, which merged with US Airways in September.

"It's pretty apparent that last year the folks in Philadelphia did not have the resources to be successful, and we're committed to making sure that doesn't happen again," said US Airways spokesman Philip Gee. "Philadelphia was understaffed by about 250 folks last year, so with 400 more people, now we're overstaffed by 150."

A year ago, US Airways "didn't have any money because they were in Chapter 11," Gee said. "They were in survival mode. This year we can afford to spend $2 million."

New equipment

The new equipment includes 30 new baggage carts, six pushback tractors, and 35 belt-loaders that roll up to airplane cargo holds, he said.

The airport has done its part to help US Airways, which carries 60 percent of the passengers here, by adding more seats, flat-screen TVs, brighter lighting and kiosks selling food, beverages and gifts in the B-C claim area, airport spokesman Mark Pesce said.

The airport also is stationing customer-service employees of its own in the B-C claim area from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily through at least Jan. 8 to answer passengers' questions and help US Airways employees, he said.

Pesce said airlines expect to move about 85,000 passengers a day through the airport during the Christmas and New Year's holiday weekends, roughly the same as on a busy weekday the rest of the year.

`No complaints'

On Wednesday, it was hard to find any unhappy US Airways customers around the airline's seven baggage carousels.

"I have no complaints about US Airways," said Blair Thompson of Lewistown, Pa., who was waiting with his wife, Dorothy, for bags off a flight from Nassau in the Bahamas.

"The crew, the service, everything was OK. ... I normally check my bags and cross my fingers."

A few minutes later, the Thompsons had their bags and headed off to find a place to change from the shorts and T-shirts they had worn on the flight.

Nearby, Sara Maamouri and Ethan Schlenker, San Francisco residents who are natives of Newtown Square, Pa., waited with Schlenker's parents for their luggage and recalled that two years ago a backpack they had checked on a flight was never seen again.

"We didn't want them to check their bags," said Cheryl Schlenker, Ethan's mother. But a few minutes later her fears were alleviated when the last bag popped onto the carousel. "Now," she said with a big smile, "I'll get my presents."

Staffing problems at United Airlines were blamed for delays Saturday that left thousands of early holiday travelers outside for hours in frigid weather at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

The delays resulted in lines that stretched outside the terminal in freezing temperatures and waits of four hours or more. The city sent four buses to provide shelter to people waiting outside in temperatures that never climbed above 21 degrees.

Canceled flights

Jeff Green, a spokesman for the nation's second-largest airline, said Saturday's problems included efforts to find flights for several hundred customers whose flights east were canceled the day before because of weather and travelers showing up early for new flights.

He said more workers should have been scheduled Saturday morning.

Some passengers were put on later flights, routed through other cities or put on another airline, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.