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CNN Today

Maxa: US Airways Ticketholders Face 'Game of Brinkmanship'

Aired March 24, 2000 - 1:36 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Our top story the possible shutdown at US Airways. Negotiations do continue in a bid to keep the nation's sixth-largest airline flying. Flight attendants say that unless there is a contract agreement, they will begin scattered walkouts shortly after midnight tonight. US Airways says, if that happens, all US Airways flights will be canceled. The union claims that's an overreaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICIA FRIEND, PRES., ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS: Our sincere hope is that by midnight tonight, we will be able to announce that we have a tentative agreement, but if we don't, we hope that the flying public will remember that this airline shut itself down. US Airways and US Airways alone will be to blame for the pain that it causes you, your families, and your communities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: President Clinton could step in to keep the airline flying for another 60 days, but so far, the White House has announced no plans to intervene.

Rudy Maxa writes about travel for "Forbes" and "Worth" magazines. He's the host also of Public Radio International's weekend show, "The Savvy Traveler." And he joins us now from Washington.

Mr. Maxa, I guess this could be called the 11th hour and those who depend upon US Airways had better be making alternate plans. What's the first step?

RUDY MAXA, HOST, "THE SAVVY TRAVELER": Well, the first step is, if you -- you absolutely positively have to be somewhere tomorrow, or Sunday or in the next week for that matter, absolutely go buy a ticket on another airline. It's not worth playing Russian roulette for. You're going to buy a full-fare ticker which is fully refundable ticket if US Airways comes to the brink and winds up not shutting down. So you haven't lost any money on the deal.

WATERS: Will the other airlines be able to absorb?

MAXA: Well, they are not going to able to absorb everybody, and US Airways hasn't said yet, but I expect, if the airline does shut down at midnight tonight or one minute after, that it will rush to cement agreements with rival airlines to accept US Airways tickets.

Now, if you have a really, really low, rock-bottom fare ticket, though, of say $202 coast-to-coast because you bought it a couple of months ago on sale, you may have to put in some more money to travel. If you have got a full-fare ticket or a business or first-class ticket, you won't have any trouble. If you have got an award ticket on US Airways, another airline might not accept it. So it's going to be a game of brinkmanship.

WATERS: And if you have an electronic ticker with US Air, you need to convert that to paper, do you not?

MAXA: Exactly, I mean, you should have done that yesterday or the day before, but today is not too late. The problem is, computers for the various major airlines do not talk to each other generally. So an American Airlines, United Airlines computer can't recognize that you actually had paid for a ticket on US Airways. So e-tickets are not yet transferable. You have got to get a paper ticket from US Airways, have them endorse it over to another airline, hope there's space available, because you are flying on a space available basis, if you can get a seat on another airline.

WATERS: Do we know which airlines have agreed to swap for US Air tickets?

MAXA: Well, none of them have yet because US Airways technically hasn't asked them. They will probably begin asking them around midnight. If past history is a lesson, and I think it is, most major airlines will accept the other tickets. After all, they are going to be paid for flying you by US Airways.

WATERS: Now, this US Airways Express, those commuter planes, are they also affected by this, if the airlines are shut down?

MAXA: No, no, this would include the US Airways, the US Airways Shuttle on the East Coast, which is considered a separate division, and the low-cost low-fare carrier called MetroJet, which is US Airways' sister. It does not include US Airways Express, the commuter flights, which are owned and operated by other folks under the banner.

However, if there aren't US Airways feeder flights, bringing passengers into those commuter places, many of those may pause in service simply because they have not have enough people to fly to make it worthwhile.

WATERS: You mentioned something to one of our folks when they talked to you earlier, and having just gotten off a cruise myself, I am wondering about the folks who have made the arrangements or have had the arrangements made for them to get on a cruise ship, specifically I guess the ones in Miami would be the most outstanding problem here.

MAXA: No question because US Airways dominates the East Coast and in Washington alone provides about one-third of the service. If your cruise line arranged your air transportation, it's the cruise line's responsibility to get you to the dock in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, or wherever you are departing from. If, however, you handled your own flight arrangements, it's your responsibility to get yourself to the dock and, if you don't, you're going to get to miss the ship, and it's questionable that you will get a lot -- all your money back.

WATERS: Those folks could be just plain out of luck. You have followed these kinds of labor disputes at previous times. Is there any chance that, if they can't reach an agreement before midnight, that the White House would step in here?

MAXA: There's always the chance but you know, Lou, the last one we had was the Northwest strike, and the White House did not step in. And Northwest is certainly as important to air service in the Midwest as US Airways is to the East Coast. My betting is, the White House doesn't necessarily want to have a dog in this fight and would not step in unless it went on for a long time and really was hurting business and snarling the entire East Coast.

WATERS: Well, we want to thank you for helping us out. We want to wish all the savvy travelers good luck, Mr. Rudy Maxa, host of public radio's "Savvy Traveler."

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