- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

US Airways ticket holders will not be left stranded if the airline grounds its planes Saturday: They can get refunds or be flown by other airlines if the Arlington, Va., carrier shuts down to avoid a strike threatened by flight attendants.
Several carriers including American, United, Southwest, TWA and Northwest airlines said they will take US Airways customers traveling their routes on a standby basis this weekend. Amtrak, the passenger railway, said Tuesday it would honor US Airways paper tickets.
US Airways, the nation's sixth-largest carrier, said it would shut down to avoid subjecting its customers to CHAOS, or "Create Havoc Around Our System." CHAOS is random, impromptu walkouts the Association of Flight Attendants threatened on 49 of the airline's busiest routes if the union doesn't reach a contract agreement with the airline by midnight Friday.
"People's vacations are definitely being spoiled by the whole thing," said Bob Pool, a travel agent at Travel Management Inc. in Northwest. "We have had people cancel their plans altogether."
Passengers with electronic tickets must contact US Airways to be issued a paper ticket, because other airlines will not honor electronic ones. Customers traveling on frequent-flyer miles award programs also must contact the airline.
"These accommodations are as the other airlines are able to accommodate," said Rick Weintraub, spokesman for US Airways. "We have made arrangements so that they will accept our tickets."
He would not detail the terms of the agreements between the airlines, nor would he name them until the airline decides to shut down.
Passengers with weekend tickets can get a refund by calling the airline or their travel agent. US Airways officials also are helping them with travel arrangements, if they must travel this weekend.
US Airways domestic flights make up 40 percent of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport's daily traffic. The airline brings in almost a quarter of Washington Dulles International's and Baltimore-Washington International's business.
"If they go on strike [or shut down] it will be devastating to the area because of the number of flights that leave the Washington area that are US Airways," said Lynda McCall, a travel agent at Suburban Travel in Rockville, Md.
Negotiators for the airline and the Association of Flight Attendants last night were discussing a new airline proposal that represents a potential breakthrough after three years of contract talks, sources told the Charlotte, N.C., Observer.
In a bulletin to employees late yesterday, the airline said it has "offered alternative ways" to calculate its formula comparing the salaries and benefits of its flight attendants with those at other airlines, the newspaper reported.
The formula, called "parity plus one," is a main part of the airline's contract proposal. Until now, the airline had not budged from its method of calculating the formula, which flight attendants considered unfair. The union represents all of US Airways' 10,000 flight attendants.
The workers are resisting the airline's proposal to put them under a pay-and-benefits formula based on what its biggest competitors offer, plus 1 percent. Other unions representing US Airways workers have accepted the formula, but the flight attendants say it would result in erosion of their pay and benefits.
The starting salary for US Airways attendants is $17,145 a year, while those at the top of the pay scale earn $36,918.
The threat of a shutdown comes during the spring break travel season, which is affecting a large number of travelers.
"US Airways is pretty dominant in the Florida market and so many people are heading or returning from down there for spring vacation," said Mr. Pool.
About 20 people called his agency Thursday morning looking for information, he estimated.
US Airways flies to 38 states and the District as well as Canada, Europe, Mexico and the Caribbean.
"If [travelers] don't really have to go, we are telling them to wait and see," Mr. Pool said.
Travel agents say booking other flights for the weekend is a bad idea, since it's difficult and expensive to do on such a short notice.
Not all of the airlines accommodating US Airways passengers fly to all three local airports. Southwest, for example, flies to BWI, but not Dulles or National.
Airlines not accommodating US Airways passengers are hoping to profit from desperate travelers who buy a second ticket, travel agents say.
Other companies, like on-line company FlightServ.com, which organizes flights on chartered and private jets, also are hoping to attract customers.
Travelers can log on to the Web site, www.flightserv.com, and request a flight from a certain destination. If enough people book it, the flight is on. So far, the company has only one flight, which goes from Charlotte, N.C., to Teterboro Airport in northern New Jersey.
CHAOS has been used once, in 1993, when the union fought with Alaska Air and struck seven flights over six months.
This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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