Soon, no free drinks if you fly US Airways

The Baltimore Sun

Talk about taking the fizz out of air travel.

US Airways will become the first major U.S. airline in August to charge domestic coach passengers for soft drinks, juices, coffee and bottled water as part of a shift to what it calls a "pay-for-what-you-use" business model.

The $2-a-pop beverage charge is the latest in a raft of new charges airlines have been imposing to help pay for record fuel costs.

Free nonalcoholic beverages have been one of the last freebies handed out by domestic airlines, which already charge for alcoholic beverages and - except for Continental - for meals and even snacks on domestic flights.

Among other new or higher charges US Airways is imposing :

* A $2 increase in the cost of alcoholic beverages, to $7.

* $15 for a first checked bag, making it the third major U.S. airline to start charging for a single piece of stowed luggage. It already charges $25 for a second checked bag.

* Fees of $25 to $50 for booking frequent-flier award tickets after Aug. 6.

* A $25 service fee for domestic tickets and a $35 service fee for international tickets purchased by phone, up from $15.

At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, US Airways also is shuttering its exclusive club for elite travelers, in addition to its one in Raleigh, N.C., due to "insufficient demand."

Five employees currently work at the BWI club, US Airways spokesman Morgan Durant said.

Once the dominant carrier at BWI, US Airways now accounts for slightly more than 6 percent of the market share there.

"Our operation at BWI is a fraction of what it was in the '90s," Durant said. "Unfortunately it was one portion of our club network that was identified as an area where we could save some costs."

The Tempe, Ariz.-based carrier also is cutting flights, shrinking its fleet and slashing 1,700 jobs.

"We must write a new playbook for running a profitable airline in this new and challenging environment," US Airways Chairman and Chief Executive Officer William D. Parker said in a statement.

US Airways created the new cuts and fees to help pay for soaring fuel bills this year. Jet fuel has jumped to almost $4 per gallon from $2.72 at the end of 2007, and US Airways' fuel costs are up almost $2 billion this year.

Parker said the airline now needs to make about $650 to $700 per round-trip passenger just to break even. Independent airline consultant Robert Mann said it's unlikely that the charges and fees announced yesterday will bring in that much revenue.

"They're just grasping at straws," Mann said. "The industry has to fundamentally reprice its services."

Mann said the industry needs to cut the number of available seats by 20 percent before airlines will have the power to boost fares and keep up with the price of fuel.

US Airways said free drinks would continue to be served to unaccompanied minors and passengers in first class on US Airways Shuttle and on trans-Atlantic flights.

Passengers who suffer from dehydration or other medical issues will be served complimentary bottled water at the flight attendant's discretion, US Airways spokesman Durant said. When weather delays hold a plane on the tarmac for hours, passengers also will be given free beverages, he said.

Kate Hanni, who heads a grass-roots group called the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, said the new US Airways fees went too far and could even jeopardize the health of its passengers. "All of the airlines are unbundling to the point where it's unsafe," Hanni said. "Are they going to charge for oxygen when the masks fall?"

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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