Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Some passengers yesterday at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport said they were trying to use up their US Airways frequent-flier miles as the Arlington carrier struggles to stay out of another bankruptcy.

Others shrugged off the possibility of a shutdown.

Michael Walker-Jones, a criminal justice professor at Curry College in Milton, Mass., said he is booking extra trips for himself and his daughters to use up his 50,000 Dividend Miles.

“I’ve been keeping up with how things are progressing, but it looks like it would be wise to use those miles now,” he said.

US Airways is rushing to secure $800 million in annual cuts from its unions, including $295 million from its pilots.

Talks broke down on Monday between the Arlington carrier and Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 3,000 pilots. The union’s negotiators will report to its leaders today and decide whether to resume talking or put US Airways’ latest proposal up for a vote, with or without union endorsement.

The airline is losing money despite cutting costs by $1.9 billion annually in a bankruptcy that concluded in 2003. It employs about 28,000 people.

On Sept. 15, the airline must make pension payments of $110 million, which could be delayed if the company files a second time for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

On Sept. 30, it must meet requirements associated with $720 million in federal loan guarantees from the federal Air Transportation Stabilization Board. The airline’s chairman, David Bronner, has said having cost-cutting labor agreements in place could inspire the board to be more flexible if US Airways defaults on the loan terms.

He also has said the airline’s chances of surviving another bankruptcy are slim.

US Airways spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said yesterday the company was operating “business as usual” with no changes in daily operations. She had no updates on the union talks.

The airline’s rewards program almost certainly would remain as long as the airline is flying. But a shutdown would mean the end of the program for 25 million frequent fliers.

Still, consumer advocate Terry Trippler, with San Francisco travel search engine Sidestep.com, said airline frequent fliers and ticket holders should not panic.

“I would definitely not hoard frequent flier miles, but spend them prudently,” Mr. Trippler said, adding he was not “writing US Airways’ obituary anytime soon.”

“They have done a lot of right things and a lot of wrong things, but this company still has a lot to offer and now is not the time to write them off,” he said.

Mr. Trippler advised frequent fliers to keep track of their miles and periodically use them to prevent a long buildup that might not be redeemable.

“These programs on all airlines are voluntary and could be stopped at any time. So it’s better to get one ticket than have enough for two but never get them,” he said.

District resident Judy Washington was one of several passengers yesterday who was unaware of US Airways’ financial straits.

“It’s the first I’ve heard of it,” she said on her way to Orlando, Fla., for a business trip. “I don’t think it’ll be a problem for me, though, to use up the miles I have” within a six-month period.

Miss Washington would not say how many miles she had racked up, calling them a “substantial amount.”

A Wilmington, N.C., resident, who would not give her name, also said she had not heard the “negative news.”

The North Carolina resident said she had 200,000 miles.

“Hopefully they’ll pull out of this because there are only two” commercial carriers at the Wilmington International Airport — U.S. Airways and Delta, the woman said.

Moreno Valley, Calif., resident Peter Jackson said he was glad to use his US Airways ticket yesterday. He had bought the ticket in advance to attend a wedding in the Washington area.

“If [the wedding] was after the holidays, I would definitely have thought twice about waiting to use the ticket until then,” Mr. Jackson said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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