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Airline Strike Tips

(March 2000)

If you are scheduled to fly on US Airways on March 25 or soon thereafter, be forewarned. The carrier's flight attendants, who have gone four years without a raise, may walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. March 25.

The Association of Flight Attendants, which represents US Airways' 10,000 flight attendants, has threatened a series of unannounced job actions under the title of Create Havoc Around Our System, or CHAOS. Union officials said that CHAOS could take the form of a systemwide walkout, or of strikes against individual flights. US Airways has said it will shut down, rather than face such disruptions.

CHAOS Targets

This week, the union released its initial targeted routes, which included flights to and from major cities such as Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The union said it will focus on flights matched by US Airways' competitors, and all of the city pairings would give passengers alternate means of travel. The target city pairings are as follows:

Atlanta - Philadelphia
Jacksonville - Baltimore
Atlanta - Pittsburgh
Las Vegas - Philadelphia
Atlanta - Washington, Dulles
Los Angeles - Baltimore
Baltimore - Manchester
Los Angeles - Philadelphia
Baltimore - Providence
Miami - Baltimore
Boston - Orlando
Miami - Philadelphia
Boston - Philadelphia
New Orleans - Baltimore
Boston - Rochester
New York, LaGuardia - Orlando
Boston - Tampa
New York, LaGuardia - Raleigh/Durham
Boston - Washington, Dulles
New York, LaGuardia - Rochester
Boston - Washington, National
New York, LaGuardia - Tampa
Chicago, O'Hare - Philadelphia
New York, LaGuardia - West Palm Beach
Chicago, O'Hare - Pittsburgh
New York, Newark - Pittsburgh
Cleveland - Baltimore
Orlando - Albany, NY
Columbus - New York, LaGuardia
Orlando - Baltimore
Columbus - Philadelphia
Orlando - Philadelphia
Columbus - Washington, National
Orlando - Washington, Dulles
Dallas/Fort Worth - Philadelphia
Philadelphia - Phoenix
Detroit - Philadelphia
Philadelphia - Raleigh/Durham
Ft. Lauderdale - Baltimore
Philadelphia - San Francisco
Ft. Lauderdale - Hartford, CT/Springfield
Philadelphia - San Juan
Ft. Lauderdale - New York, LaGuardia
San Francisco - Baltimore
Ft. Lauderdale - Washington, National
Tampa - Baltimore
Hartford, CT/Springfield - Orlando
Tampa - Tallahassee
Houston - Philadelphia

Possible Scenarios

In case of a strike, intervention by President Clinton would enable the airline to keep flying for at least sixty days while a presidential emergency board seeks a contract resolution. If there is still no contract, Congress could intervene. The union opposes such intervention.

US Airways carries 40% of the traffic into and around the nation’s capitol, and a strike could wreak havoc on government operations. Clinton intervened once before, in 1997, when American Airlines' pilots were ordered back to work only four minutes after first going on strike. Also, in 1993, President Clinton stepped in to encourage an end to the American Airlines flight attendant strike that lasted five days over Thanksgiving.

What to Do If You Hold A Ticket

Since March is one of the busiest travel times of the year, options are few and far between. Keep expectations low, as there are no guarantees. Lucy Hirleman, Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) and President of Berkshire Travel, Inc., in Newfoundland, New Jersey, says "travel agents who have clients on striking carriers have knots in their stomachs." Hirleman adds, "At this point many agents are trying to work things out with tour operators and other carriers to accommodate their clients." She goes on to say, "People on cruise vacations that booked the air with the cruiselines are protected, because responsibility is with the cruiselines to get them to the ship. However, those who didn't purchase air with the cruiseline are really at a disadvantage with no protection and will have to really be creative to get to and from their ship."

So, what options do you have? You can try the following:

Switching airlines: Many airlines have agreements with the striking airline to accept tickets for travel if space is available. However, policies vary with each carrier. Some call for re-ticketing. Some will honor frequent-flier award tickets, but others will not. Your best bet is to call other airlines to see what options are available.

Re-booking: Most airlines will waive many of the usual rebooking restrictions and penalties for ticket-holding customers who are willing to reschedule their trip for another time later in the year.

Buying another ticket: Though expensive, another option is to buy a fully refundable backup ticket on another carrier. This way, if your original airline has a strike you will still be able to reach your destination. If not, you can cash in the backup ticket for a full refund. However, be aware that some airlines competing with a striking carrier will issue only non-refundable tickets during a strike, even full-fare ones, so this may not always be a viable backup option.

Paper Tickets: If you have an e-ticket, be sure to convert it into a paper ticket. E-tickets cannot be used on competing carriers.

If you are using a frequent flyer award ticket, a word of caution: you may find that other airlines will not accept such tickets during a strike. If this happens to you the striking airline will re-credit your frequent flier account with the unused mileage.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed that there is no strike and that a fair and equitable solution can be reached between US Airways and its flight attendants.

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