- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2004

US Airways is saturating the City of Brotherly Love with random acts of kindness from cheesesteak giveaways to free gas fill-ups.

It’s part of the Arlington-based airline’s latest multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to introduce its new low fares to and from Philadelphia as it competes with Southwest Airlines, which is entering the market on Sunday.

“We could not afford to not do something there, or we would lose customers,” said US Airways spokesman David Castelveter.

The nation’s seventh-largest airline, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a year ago, reported a net loss of $177 million for the first quarter of this year.

The airlines’ new “GoFares” range from $29 to $499 one-way to and from Philadelphia International Airport, where US Airways offers 375 flights daily. For example, a one-way fare from Philadelphia to Chicago can cost $79 to $339, compared with $740 one-way last month.

Southwest’s one-way fares start at $29 and are capped at $299.

“We have heard our customers loudly and clearly,” said B. Ben Baldanza, senior vice president of marketing and planning for US Airways. “They have told us that fares are too high, too complicated and that we need to do something about that — and we are.”

To get the word out about GoFares, US Airways began its marketing blitz last week with the help of 75 U.S. Airways employees who have volunteered to participate in the nine-day effort.

The airline has given away 3,000 slices of pizza, 600 cheesesteaks, more than 100 car washes, free bowling passes, movie tickets and massages. The employees, dressed in bright yellow shirts, have been filling gas tanks up to $29 and feeding parking meters.

“We had to come out swinging and be very aggressive,” said Stephen Etzine, executive creative director of Eisner Communications, which created the campaign.

“We wanted to reinforce the concept of unbelievable low fares, so we wanted to do unbelievable things for the people of Philadelphia.”

The marketing effort includes TV, radio and outdoor ads that will run through early fall in the Philadelphia area.

“US Airways has always been a very professional operation with a solid reputation,” Mr. Etzine said. ”

But we knew that if we wanted to compete with the young upstarts in the industry, we’d have to shed the business, pinstripe and straitjacket image.”

Terry Trippler, president of Trippler & Associates, which follows the airline industry, says the marketing blitz is “fantastic.”

But he said the airline should have done it three to six months ago, when they first learned Southwest would be invading Philadelphia.

“This is an airline fighting for its survival,” Mr. Trippler said. “If Southwest knocks them down like they did in Baltimore, it’s all over.”

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