Free flights? Not on US Airways!

The new frontrunner in the airlines' race for the bottom: US Airways.

Yesterday's announcement outlines a mess of customer-unfriendly moves planned by the struggling carrier, including flight and job cuts, and "several new revenue initiatives to help expedite the airline's return to sustained profitability in this new and challenging environment."

"Revenue initiatives" is the new airline industry code term for nuisance fees, which are the heart and soul of what US Airways is calling its "business model transformation." It's a strategy seemingly based on seizing every possible opportunity to aggrieve its customers.

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Among the new fees:

  • New $15 fee for the first checked bag (following American and United)
  • New fees for in-flight beverages (yep, even soft drinks, coffee, and water)
  • Increased fees for call center bookings (from $15 currently, to $25 for domestic and $35 for international reservations)
  • New fees for parents and friends traveling on employees' buddy passes (previously free)
  • New "processing fee" for issuing Dividend Miles award tickets ($25 for domestic/Canada tickets, $35 for Mexico/Caribbean, $50 for Hawaii/international)

US Airways partisans will find the Dividend Miles fees especially vexing. What, they will rightly wonder, am I being charged for?

Let's see. Would the so-called processing fee be to cover the cost of a reservations agent booking the member's award trip? No, there's a separate fee for award bookings made through the airline's call center (see fee list above).

Maybe it's for the extra cost of having a customer service agent write the ticket? No, because these are auto-generated e-tickets.

Perhaps these are really handling fees, to offset the labor and postage costs of mailing award tickets to program members. Sorry, no, travelers must print their own e-tickets.

Calling these processing fees adds insult to injury. Nuisance fees is more like it, although that would be overly generous. They're more accurately described as a gouge.

The fees are not the only bad news for Dividend Miles members. US Airways will also stop awarding the bonus miles currently earned by elite members—one of the cornerstone benefits of attaining elite status.

In the face of these blatantly negative changes, the news release includes the following reassurance: "The airline's frequent flyer program continues to be one of the best programs in the industry and presents the most generous upgrade opportunities." Dividend Miles trumps other programs only in the very limited sense that some elite members may qualify for complimentary upgrades sooner in the US Airways program. The categorical "best program" claim is simply false.

US Airways' chief Doug Parker claims to be building a "new business model." To many US Airways customers, the old model suddenly looks awfully good.

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