US Airways CEO again apologizes for woes

Posted: May 16, 2007

Few shareholders showed up yesterday for US Airways' annual meeting in Philadelphia, leaving ample time for two union officials to ask pointed questions of chief executive officer Doug Parker about the March service meltdown.

In a refrain he has used in other recent public statements, Parker apologized to shareholders and employees for mismanaging the airline's switch to a new computer reservations-and-ticketing system.

Parker acknowledged that the company had not made sure the system would work properly from a technical standpoint, nor had it trained employees well enough on how to use it, before its March 4 launch.

"We didn't spend nearly enough time designing procedures and designing the system," he said in an interview after the meeting at the Radisson Warwick Hotel in Center City. "We know we didn't do that well enough."

Most of US Airways' self-service ticketing kiosks did not work for days after the switch, forcing passengers to stand in long lines to be reaccommodated and prompting the airline to cancel or delay flights.

Those problems, plus the sleet-and-ice storm that shut down US Airways' hub at Philadelphia International Airport on March 16, resulted in the airline's and the airport's having the nation's worst record for on-time performance and customer service during the month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The move to the new system "was poorly managed by us," Parker said in answer to questions from two leaders of the Communications Workers of America, which represents ticket and gate agents. "It was not employees' fault."

John Hanson, president of the CWA local for New Jersey, New York and New England, told the CEO that even when the new system is functioning, it can take 10 to 15 minutes to rebook a passenger who has missed a connection, a job that once took one to three minutes.

The "reservations migration," as airline workers call the switchover from the old system to the new, "set us back 10 years," Hanson said.

Parker said that fixing the glitches that still infect the system was being done with input from frontline employees. "We can't talk to each other enough," he said. "I hear your frustration."

Dennis Eichfeld, executive vice president of CWA's Philadelphia local, asked if the 1,000 additional airport workers whom US Airways Group Inc. says it will hire here this summer will be enough to handle the usual summer-vacation surge in customers. Staffing for the airport's international operations has not been increased adequately to handle the 19 daily European flights the airline has scheduled this summer, he said.

Parker replied that the extra employees were needed throughout the airport, but that he would look into the staffing requirements for the international operations.

In the interview, Parker said that adding employees to the 6,158 now here was needed in part to take care of attrition, but that there would be a net increase in Philadelphia airport workers this summer.

The shareholders meeting drew a sparse group of about 20, most of them company officials or employees.


Contact staff writer Tom Belden

at 215-854-2454 or tbelden@phillynews.com.

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