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US Airways to Halt Flights if Talks Fail

Travel: Shutdown during strike threat expected to have little impact in California.

March 23, 2000|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

US Airways has threatened to shut down operations this weekend if contract negotiations with its flight attendants fizzle, but any potential disruption in service is not expected to have a major effect on California air travel.

The nation's sixth-largest air carrier has a limited presence on the West Coast, handling no more than 3% of passenger volume at each of the state's three main airports: Los Angeles International, San Francisco International and San Diego International. At John Wayne International, US Airways operates just two flights a day, each accommodating no more than 145 passengers.

The Arlington, Va.-based air carrier has said it will ground all flights indefinitely at 9:01 p.m. PST Friday if contract talks break down with the Assn. of Flight Attendants, a union that represents about 10,000 US Airways employees. The flight attendants have been working without a contract since 1996, and talks are in the final days of a 30-day cooling-off period, during which neither the union nor management can resort to job actions such as a strike or lockout.

Foremost among the flight attendants' demands are higher pay, improved retirement benefits and greater job security.

The talks, being mediated by National Mediation Board, continued Wednesday with both sides coy on the status of the negotiations.

While he wouldn't give specifics, union spokesman Jeff Zack said Wednesday's meeting had produced "a little bit of progress" but added that "the big issues" had yet to be settled.

US Airways said last week that it would shut down the airline if the talks hit an impasse by Friday night, preempting plans by the flight attendants to disrupt selected parts of the system with random, limited walk-outs.

On Wednesday, union members distributed leaflets to passengers at LAX and other airports nationwide.

One of the flights targeted for the attendants' job action is the daily nonstop between Los Angeles and US Airways' hub in Philadelphia.

While a systemwide shutdown would undoubtedly affect travel in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, the carrier's primary markets, such a move could prove a minor irritation at best on the West Coast, seemingly because US Airways doesn't appear to be a top choice for local travelers.

Susan Dushane, a travel agent with Northridge-based Travel By Greta, said she rarely books reservations on US Airways. Clients, Dushane said, tend to choose carriers with more scheduling and destination options. United Airlines and American Airlines are the No. 1 and No. 2 carriers serving LAX.

In the event of a shutdown, passengers holding tickets on US Airways can either reschedule their trip or receive a refund, sales agents told callers Wednesday. The airline does not have a ticket reciprocation plan with another carrier.

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