Which airline is the most aggressive cost cutter amongst its peers in the face of soaring fuel prices? That's a tough question because there are so many good solid candidates right now. But I'm giving the little gold man to Star Alliance member US Airways, which is sniffing out ways to slash costs in every nook and cranny of its operation (hey, let's face it, this is survival-mode stuff).
The carrier has just confirmed to employees that more non-union staffers than the originally estimated 200 may lose their jobs, that it is delaying most of its aircraft painting activity until 2010, and that it will no longer supply ticket jackets to passengers.
"The jackets do not provide a value-added service for our customers. Losing your tickets was a major problem and therefore ticket jackets assisted customers. The consequences of losing your boarding pass aren't as serious as losing your paper tickets (remember those?) and therefore ticket jackets have become somewhat obsolete," says US Airways director, airport services JonCarlo Gulbranson, who points out that other airlines eliminated ticket jackets years ago.
He says the carrier needs to eliminate cost and waste "no matter how small". So what other plans are in the offing? As previously disclosed, the carrier is cutting some aircraft, charging for checked baggage and domestic beverage service (including water), and removing the in-flight entertainment on its entire Airbus A320 fleet, plus some non-ETOPS Boeing 757s.
"We're hopeful that we can find an IFE system that will prove to be complimentary to our 'a la carte' offerings allowing customers to choose to pay for the service offerings that are important to them," says US Airways.
Let's also not forget that US Airways has expanded its preferred seats sales. Dubbed "Choice Seats", the program initially comprised about 8% of the main cabin, but was recently expanded to 16% covering aisle, middle and window seat assignments. And then there is US Airways' current study as to whether it should offer passengers an upgraded pillow and blanket package to purchase and reuse on future flights. This last one seems a little silly, since it means forcing passengers to bring even more "luggage" onto the plane. But I digress.
Additionally, the kibosh is being put on anything that smells of nonsensical spending. Asked by an employee if US Airways will acquire Thai Airways' Airbus A340-500s, the carrier's SVP, schedule planning and alliances Andrew Nocella says: "The planes they have for sale have four engines versus the two engine A330-200s we have on order. The economics of a four-engine plane at current oil prices are unattractive and as a result we have no interest in these planes."
Good luck with that sales pitch, Thai. And good luck to US Airways, which might be dealing with some grumbly passengers over the next few months, but which is finally starting to look like it might actually deserve to trade under the "LCC" symbol it selected after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and merging with America West Airlines in September 2005. Now let's talk about some of those fares!