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US AIRWAYS TANKS ACROSS THE POND
By Joe Brancatelli
August 23, 2007 -- I've been on the road long enough to know that you must always look gift horses from the airlines in the mouth. So when the notoriously shifty bosses at US Airways started offering 20 percent off the price of its international business-class flights, I started poking around.

Even your ever-skeptical columnist was shocked at what I found: a near-collapse of the day-to-day operations of US Airways' Philadelphia-based transatlantic service. Even by this summer's reduced standards, the operation that US Airways runs between Philadelphia and Europe is shocking.

How about 17 percent on-time departures from Philadelphia to Glasgow between June 15 and August 15? Or 24 percent on-time between Philadelphia and London/Gatwick during the same two-month period. Try two in three flights late to Madrid. In fact, all of US Airways flights to Europe except for one are below the atrocious industry on-time average of just 68 percent.

ACROSS THE POND AND IN THE TANK

Philadelphia to

Flight

On-Time

Avg. Delay

Long Delay

Amsterdam

748

46%

41 minutes

3h, 57m

Athens

758

68%

70 minutes

5h, 40m

Barcelona

742

50%*

** minutes

*h, **m

Brussels

750

45%

71 minutes

7h, 56m

Dublin

722

44%

55 minutes

4h, 40m

Frankfurt

700

43%

46 minutes

3h, 58m

Glasgow

728

17%

89 minutes

8h, 33m

London/LGW

730

24%

68 minutes

5h, 17m

Lisbon

738

37%

56 minutes

5h, 17m

Madrid

740

33%

21 minutes

3h, 19m

Manchester

734

37%

70 minutes

7h, 28m

Munich

706

50%*

** minutes

*h, **m

Milan/MXP

716

41%

47 minutes

4h, 0m

Paris/CDG

754

46%

38 minutes

2h, 41m

Rome

718

50%

42 minutes

3, 37m

Shannon

724

48%

72 minutes

6h, 5m

Stockholm

752

37%

63 minutes

9h, 58m

Venice

714

44%

48 minutes

5h, 9m

Zurich

710

22%*

** minutes

*h, **m

BETTER HERE THAN IN PHILADELPHIA

To Philadelphia

Flight

On-Time

Avg. Delay

Long Delay

Amsterdam

749

70%

35 minutes

2h, 5m

Athens

759

32%

70 minutes

6h, 24m

Barcelona

743

32%

71 minutes

9h, 29m

Brussels

751

45%

62 minutes

8h, 9m

Dublin

723

40%

65 minutes

4h, 22m

Frankfurt

701

72%

18 minutes

1h, 19m

Glasgow

729

46%

85 minutes

8h, 16m

London/LGW

731

45%

49 minutes

4h, 27m

Lisbon

739

37%

51 minutes

4h, 28m

Madrid

741

43%

29 minutes

1h, 19m

Manchester

735

35%

84 minutes

6h, 52m

Munich

707

35%

102 minutes

9h, 38m

Milan/MXP

717

72%

27 minutes

2h, 9m

Paris/CDG

755

50%

38 minutes

2h, 1m

Rome

719

45%

49 minutes

2h, 52m

Shannon

725

61%

74 minutes

6h, 2m

Stockholm

753

62%

79 minutes

11h, 3m

Venice

715

46%

45 minutes

5h, 8m

Zurich

711

41%

85 minutes

7h, 52m

KEY: The chart shows average on-time performance and average delay between June 15 and August 15. "Long Delay" refers to the longest delay of the original flight using the original number between June 15 and August 15. ** Incomplete results. Source: FlightStats.com.

As you can also see by the chart, based on information from FlightStats.com, US Airways' performance from Europe to Philadelphia is nearly as despicable. Just three of 19 routes to Philadelphia operated at or above 70 percent on-time between June 15 and August 15. The other 16 ran between 32 and 62 percent on-time. The daily flight from Munich to Philadelphia, for example, operated at just 35 percent. Lisbon to Philadelphia? Just 37 percent on-time. The flight from Zurich? Try 41 percent on-time.

It would be bad enough if it were just US Airways' on-time performance that was in tatters. But the physical condition of the transatlantic cabins is disastrous.

As anyone who's had the misfortune to fly with US Airways to or from Europe can attest, little works in-flight. There are broken tray tables, busted seats and balky in-flight entertainment systems. The physical shabbiness is apparent in both coach and business-class cabins. Also obvious: Threadbare galleys that afflict both the flight attendants and the passengers.

Speaking of flight attendants, little of what has gone wrong at US Airways this summer is their fault. In fact, there are fewer of them than ever on the US Airways flights to and from Europe. Internal statistics passed to me by a disgusted US Airways employee show that dozens of flights in July and August were short-staffed with a reduced crew of flight attendants. Dozens more were flown without even one flight attendant who spoke the language of the flight's European country of origination or destination. Still more were hastily staffed with trainees or reserves when the original crews timed out after long ground delays.

Then there are the mechanical issues that caused the long delays, diversions and cancellations. In the June 15 to August 15 period, the Brussels to Philadelphia flight was cancelled six times. In mid-July, the Philadelphia to Athens flight was diverted twice in a week. And as you can see by the "long delay" category on the chart, some of the delays created by the mechanicals were appalling: six hours and five minutes to Shannon; eight hours and 33 minutes to Glasgow; nine hours and 29 minutes from Barcelona.

One cursed flight from Munich to Philadelphia this summer was cancelled and delayed for a total of 53 hours because US Airways management chose to fly in a part from the United States. Unfortunately, management made the further mistake of putting the part on a US Airways flight to Munich and that flight ran into its own problems with delays and cancellations.

Then there was what a local Philadelphia radio station called the "passenger revolt" on Flight 706 to Munich early in August. A series of mechanical delays and aborted takeoffs--not to mention the fact that the original crew needed to be replaced after they ran out of duty time--delayed the 8:20 p.m. departure by almost 11 hours. About 50 passengers couldn't bear the uncertainty and the middle-of-the-night wait at Philadelphia airport and simply went home.

"I have been flying for 30 years and have never seen anything like this," one rebel, Larry Hawthorne, told KYW Radio. "I have never seen a bunch of passengers rebel like this. It was a sight to behold."

What's caused this US Airways meltdown? The same-old, same-old: management incompetence.

The patchwork fleet of Airbus A330s, Boeing 757s and Boeing 767s that US Airways threw together to expand its European networks during the last few years is aging. Management runs the fleet so hard and so long that mechanics have no time on the ground to fix the non-essential flaws like broken seats, video systems and tray tables. And when it comes to the essential mechanical repairs, US Airways management has chosen to warehouse many critical parts at its Phoenix hub. When something goes wrong in Philadelphia, passengers often have to wait for parts to arrive from the desert. And as that woebegone Munich flight showed, US Airways management makes Europe-originating passengers wait while parts are ferried across the Atlantic.

Why not just fly fewer international flights more reliably? Even if they wanted to--and they don't seem to want to--US Airways managers insist that they cannot afford to slow down. A multi-sided gate dispute at Philadelphia forces them to use their departure gates or lose them, they claim.

But let's be honest. Does the why even matter any more?

In the two years since the US Airways-America West merger, US Airways management has proven in a hundred--nay, a thousand--ways that it does not give a damn about its customers, its product, its employees or its reputation. You don't really think they care about the state of its European operation, do you?

After all, the bosses sit in corporate headquarters in Tempe, Arizona. They're not going to Europe. For that matter, they don't go to Philadelphia all that much, either.
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.

This column is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.