Aiming to save jobs, Reid seeks meeting with US Airways chief

WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid is seeking to meet with the chairman of US Airways after urging the airline on Thursday to reconsider cuts in its Las Vegas service and personnel.

Reid, D-Nev., told US Airways Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Douglas Parker that a decision to reduce the airline’s presence at McCarran International Airport was shortsighted.

“We are beginning to see the beginning signs of an economic recovery in Nevada,” he said in a letter. “When passenger traffic returns your airline will be well-positioned to take advantage of the Las Vegas market.”

Parker was traveling Thursday and had not seen the letter, airline spokeswoman Valerie Wunder said. She said she expected a meeting to take place as Parker “is always happy to meet with Senator Reid.”

US Airways, based in Tempe, Ariz., has been the second-busiest carrier at McCarran International Airport. But its passenger counts to and from Las Vegas dropped by about 30 percent in 2009 amid rising fuel costs that have affected all airlines.

Reid said 400 airline-related jobs will be lost in Las Vegas as US Airways carries out a broad retrenchment announced in October. The airline is making a number of realignments in the first half of 2010 to concentrate on its hubs in Philadelphia, Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C., along with Reagan National Airport in Washington.

Wunder could not confirm the number of jobs at risk in Las Vegas.

The company is reducing its daily departures at McCarran from 64 to 36. Further, the Las Vegas crew base for 133 pilots and a dozen flight attendants will close on Jan. 31, Wunder said, adding that those employees are being offered transfers to Phoenix.

Reid’s letter was written a day after members of the U.S. Airline Pilots Association picketed outside McCarran International Airport in protest and said they hoped Nevada leaders would step up to support them.

In October, Parker announced the reorganization that would shrink US Airways by about 1,000 positions, including 600 mechanics, ticket-counter agents, baggage handlers and gate attendants, 200 pilots and 150 flight attendants.

Besides Las Vegas, the crew base at LaGuardia Airport in New York is schedule to close this month, and the one in Boston will close in May.

In December, US Airways discontinued nonstop flights between Las Vegas and Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Jose, Calif., and Sacramento Calif.

This month the airline is discontinuing direct service to San Diego. By the end of February, flights will be discontinued to Orlando, Fla., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Chicago and Santa Ana, Calif., according to airline officials.

“Las Vegas has been hit harder economically than other regions and was particularly impacted by rising fuel prices,” Wunder said. “Because it is primarily a leisure destination it is difficult to raise fares to cover the high cost of fuel especially where there is as much competition as there is.

“These are not easy decisions to make but the reality is we have to make these changes to make us profitable again,” she said.

In summoning Parker to a meeting, Reid reminded the executive that he has supported US Airways in the past, backing its merger with America West Airlines in 2005 and backing its effort to obtain additional land slots at East Coast airports.

“I hope that we will be able to have a positive discussion about ways in which we can work together to address your continued service in my state,” Reid said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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