June 26, 2008

US Airways Plans to Cut Back Services in Norfolk

By Debbie Messina, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Jun. 26--NORFOLK -- Difficult financial times in the airline industry, due in large part to skyrocketing fuel costs, appear to be trickling down to Norfolk International Airport.

Starting July 9, US Airways, the airport's second-largest carrier, will no longer offer skycap services at curbside check-in or at baggage claim, as a cost-cutting measure.

In addition, the airport was named Wednesday to the Business Travel Coalition's list of 50 large airports nationwide that are most at risk of losing some or all of its commercial air service.

"There's been a long downturn in the industry," Wayne Shank, deputy executive director of the airport, said. "Most airlines are looking to cut back on services and capacity."

Peter G. Decker Jr., chairman of the Norfolk Airport Authority, wrote the US Airways chairman asking him to reconsider eliminating skycaps.

"It's as upsetting as anything I can think of right now," Decker said. "I don't care about taking away potato chips and peanuts but taking away skycaps and curbside service will be a real burden for people who are older or who have disabilities or who are traveling alone."

Airport officials are hoping that the move will be reversed.

"Curbside check-in and assistance with bags is a traditional service most air travelers have come to expect and depend on from the airlines," Shank said.

Shank said that American stopped offering help at baggage claim earlier this year in Norfolk, but reinstated the service after only a few days because of customer complaints.

Frustrated travelers don't know what to expect from airlines anymore, he said. "As airlines continue to try to address the financial bleeding, they resort to all kinds of fees and service issues that confound the public."

Also beginning July 9, US Airways is joining several other airlines in charging passengers for checked bags and in August will start charging for sodas and juice.

US Airways did not return phone calls Wednesday. The airline's Web site states that skycap service will still be available at "many airports."

Despite the Business Travel Coalition's gloomy predictions, Shank said the Norfolk airport is faring relatively well.

The number of average seats per day out of Norfolk increased by 187 from June to July, to 7,509 seats.

It's down slightly from last July's 7,666 seats but it's more than the 6,691 seats offered two years ago out of Norfolk.

New direct service to Nashville and Memphis was added recently, Shank said. Meanwhile, some flights to Cleveland and Boston were recently cut.

"So far, when I look at the number of seats we've got out here, we're absolutely doing well. And when you look at the carriers serving us, we don't see a marked decrease by any of them."

The coalition's report, "Oil Prices and the Looming U.S. Aviation Industry Catastrophe," identifies 50 large airports and 100 small ones that could have service cuts because "multiple U.S. airlines are likely to default and fail in the coming months while other airlines retrench."

Richmond and Newport News/Williamsburg airports are also on the list.

"The fuel crisis is having an impact beyond the gas pump and is now likely to cause irreparable harm to businesses large and small through a significant reduction in air service," coalition chairman Kevin Mitchell said.

The organization launched a Web site, www.savemy-air port.com, to engage citizens.

Debbie Messina, (757) 446-2588, [email protected]


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