- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

US Airways appealed to its employees to come to Philadelphia International Airport on their days off this weekend to help boost staffing, hoping to avoid the type of Christmas fiasco that left the airline with too few workers to fly all its planes and process luggage.

Separately, the airline warned employees that it would review the attendance records of those who called in sick over the holidays and discipline any healthy workers who abused the sick-time system.

US Airways Group Inc. canceled hundreds of flights in the days around Christmas when an unusually large number of flight attendants and baggage handlers failed to show up for work, crippling a flying operation already hampered by days of bad weather.

The debacle left an estimated 10,000 undelivered bags at Philadelphia’s airport and stranded travelers along the East Coast. Many vowed to never again fly the airline, which is trying to emerge from bankruptcy.

In a message to its employees yesterday, US Airways sought volunteers willing to give up their New Year’s Eve plans and work for free in Philadelphia. It said they could expect to be used as customer greeters, ramp agents or baggage sorters.

In a separate note, the company said it would conduct an “enhanced review” of each worker’s attendance record from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3 to determine who should be disciplined, or denied pay, because of the spike in sick calls.

Also yesterday, the president of the US Airways unit of the Association of Flight Attendants posted a message on the union’s Web site chastising workers who failed to report to work over the holidays.

“By now, we have all seen the reports on the news about the operation of our airline over this past holiday weekend, and how that operation failed miserably. This was caused, unfortunately, by a minority of employees who appear to have decided to take some type of action against the company,” Perry Hayes wrote.

“Sadly, the employees who took this action may ultimately cause the failure of the airline.”

Union leaders have denied there was any organized effort to get workers to call in sick.

Mollie McCarthy, president of the Association of Flight Attendants chapter in Philadelphia, said 238 flight attendants called in sick on Christmas Eve this year, compared with 261 in 2003. She said 306 called in sick on Christmas Day this year, compared with 298 in 2003.

“We love this company. It is our home. It is our family,” she said. “This time, the public is blaming us. We’re their neighbors. We are the people who help them on the airplane. And they don’t trust us anymore.”

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