US Airways Group Inc., the only U.S. carrier to charge for sodas, coffee and tea, said its new policy has cut cabin congestion and the time flight attendants spend serving drinks.
The attendants, who initially opposed the program, would "riot" if the airline tried to return to the old system of free nonalcoholic beverages, President Scott Kirby said Thursday at a Calyon Securities conference in New York.
"Logjams in the aisles, significant trash collection, lines at the restrooms -- all those things are largely gone on US Airways because fewer people are buying and drinking sodas," he said. "We spend less money, we generate a little revenue, and those problems are largely gone."
The results help validate US Airways' use of "a la carte" pricing in which fliers pay only for services they select. Fees for drinks and checking bags are part of $500 million in projected new annual revenue.
The Tempe, Ariz.-based airline began charging $2 for soda, juice and bottled water and $1 for coffee and tea Aug. 1. The price of beer, wine and cocktails increased to $7 from $5.
"Kirby's comment that we would riot is just his way of telling himself they made the right decision," said Mike Flores, president of the Assn. of Flight Attendants-CWA at US Airways.
Among other improvements, attendants now spend less time on beverage service and trash collection, Kirby said. "Charging for sodas created a cabin environment that is much calmer and more efficient," he said.
Flores said that although charging for sodas has damped demand and pared attendants' time with beverage carts, the sales haven't reduced on-board trash. He also repeated the union's earlier concern that taking on responsibility for sales would detract from attendants' ability to ensure cabin safety.
"This is the very tip of the iceberg on what they're going to want us to sell," Flores said. "It's going to be everything from pillows and blankets to cellphone chargers."