US Airways may have turned a corner in its long struggle to provide better service at Philadelphia International Airport.
That's a bold statement, considering the tales of woe we've heard from customers for years about the airport's largest airline. But in the last few months, complaints to us about US Airways' baggage service, thefts from bags, delayed flights and the ability to recover from delays have dropped sharply.
Indeed, the only aggravated traveler we've heard from in recent weeks was a United Airlines passenger. We're likely to hear from more of that carrier's customers given the trouble it had with delays and cancellations at its Chicago hub last week.
The contrast between what we heard from US Airways customers in 2006 and early 2007 and what we're hearing today couldn't be more striking. You can find a link to The Inquirer's 2006 investigation of baggage-service problems at
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under "Reports from The Inquirer," near the bottom of links from the home page.
We will continue to monitor US Airways' performance. In the meantime, we'll let Tony Grantham, the airline's managing director of its Philadelphia hub, explain what the company has done to improve.
US Airways has spent $37 million over the last two years at PHL, mostly on replacing or upgrading baggage-handling and other equipment that had suffered from years of neglect, Grantham says. The airline also has about 1,000 more employees at the airport today than it did in September 2005, when it merged with America West Airlines.
The last time we checked, about six weeks ago, most of the ugly, dirty, split seat covers in the gate areas of Terminal C still needed to be replaced. But in the last two years, the airline has spent $2 million to refurbish most of its gate areas and will finish the work in early 2008.
Perhaps the greatest contrast today - reflected in the drop in complaints to us about lost or damaged bags - is in the time it takes arriving passengers to get their luggage. Grantham says the average time for the last bag off a flight to reach a carousel is less than 20 minutes after arrival. The average was often 45 minutes or more last year.
Helping with all aspects of baggage service are new electronic display screens at each B and C gate that provide better information about where an arriving plane came from, where it is headed next, and how long it is scheduled to be on the ground.
That "helps tremendously with on-time performance," Grantham said. "It lets the guys know where to drop transfer bags off."
Another big assist has come from $1 million of additional checked-baggage screening equipment, bought by the airline and operated by the Transportation Security Administration, which is now being installed. By June, Grantham estimates, the airline will be able to process 1,350 domestic outbound bags per hour, compared with 550 an hour a couple of years ago.
A third major improvement is creation of a passenger-operations center where staffers monitor inbound flights and look for customers on late arrivals who would miss a connection. Before the late flight lands, passengers should be rebooked on the next available departure, and new boarding passes printed and handed to them as they come off the plane. If passengers have missed the last connecting flight of the day, hotel vouchers also should be ready.
Grantham says the best aspect of this proactive approach is that few if any passengers have to stand in what once were long, snaking lines to be rebooked. "The lines at the customer-service counters are down to single digits," he said.
We will be shocked if some of you don't tell us that we have this completely wrong and that US Airways is still the airline you love to hate. If so, tell us why and what remains to be done. But for now, we wish you a happy new year with the fervent hope that we will see even more positive change in 2008.