Monday, March 26, 2012

Time for Another Look at US Airways?

Full disclosure, before last week, I hadn't flown on US Airways in years. Sure, I'd written a bit about the company, some positive posts, some not so. But when US Airways "media day" in Phoenix  coincided by lucky coincidence with an already scheduled visit to Arizona to tour Marana Aerospace Solutions near Tucson, (about which, more later!) I took the opportunity to attend and hear what the airline's executives have to say. They have quite a story. 

Top shelf US Airways execs answer reporters' questions.
Beyond touting the successes they've had in pulling the company out of bankruptcy in 2005, turning a horrific $808 million deficit in 2008 into a profitable 2010 and beyond and notable improvements in reducing airplane damage and mishandled bags, company CEO, Doug Parker seemed to be preparing reporters for the possibility that US Airways may not acquire American Airlines.

CEO Parker, casual and relaxed with reporters
The official word from Parker is that US Airways has a team studying all the issues involved with a potential merger with the bankrupt American. But consider this: He began his remarks to the assembled journalists and bloggers by saying, industry consolidation is not an imperative. It has already happened.  Thus, we are to conclude that if it does/if it does not decide to dance with American, makes little difference to the happy leaders of the now-thriving US Airways and its 11% market share.

"It is a more rational industry now. We don't need to merge. Our results prove that we're doing quite well. We have a model that works in a consolidated industry," he said.

US Airways secret for profitability is not such a secret.  I've heard it from a number of airline bosses and it is virtually the same plan I heard United's Jeff Smisek talking about at the Star Alliance gig in December. It must raise fares, sell more things beyond airline tickets, fill more seats and take more care in selecting routes. Sounds like tough talk, the kind of plan air travelers may not want to hear. Nevertheless, Parker's report is that the airline is doing all of these things.

I'm a champion of frank talk to air travelers. The near-toxic atmosphere between airlines and their customers is due to the disconnect between expectations and reality. And when passengers get perturbed, better watch out or the politicians will step in.

My three flights last week were in  keeping with Parker's claim that the airline is running a lean operation; no inflight entertainment, a buy-it-or-go-hungry meal plan, fees for just about any seat but the one in the middle. And yet every departure and arrival was on-time. The flight attendants were courteous and energetic. The plane was immaculate. Every aspect of my travel on the airline went off without a hitch.

This is the company Parker and his crew are bragging about, and rightfully so. 

In light of this, why would these seemingly sensible businessmen spend any time at all researching acquisition of the can of worms that is American Airlines with its high per-seat mile costs and its famously unhappy employees?  Unlike American, US Airways is flying high.
Really, what is there to think about?


Anonymous said...

Reality can be annoying even if you expect it, and any airline that stuffs you in a middle seat unless you ransom your way out automatically earns a place on my "only if there is absolutely no alternative" list. Nickel-and-diming the hoi polloi for even basic accommodations is never going to be a popular customer service approach.

David Venz said...

Peel the skin of US and underneath it is still Allegheny in its approach to customers. Last year I used miles to book a trip to BCN. To get back, I had to pay extra for a "quality" seat. At the airport my "quality" seat had been given away and I was assigned a middle seat way back in the rear of the A330. Only becoming loud and obnoxious did I get my seat back. And "quality" seats can be anyhing from an aisle to a middle seat. It's all arbitrary. But the approach is simply disdain for the passenger.

Anonymous said...

I haven't flown in years, but right now I wouldn't get on an American Airlines plane even if you paid me! And I live within 10 miles of DFW Airport.