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US Airways pilots stage picket at McCarran

With less than a month before US Airways slashes its flight schedule and closes its local crew base, pilots and flight attendants demonstrated Wednesday at McCarran International Airport to try to pressure airline management to rescind its plan.

About 30 of the employees, walking in an unusually precise picket line, hoped that media exposure will spur others to assist their cause.

“We want to heighten local awareness of the impacts,” said James Ray, a Charlotte-based captain acting as a spokesman, “If local citizens care about this, if business leaders care about this, if elected officials care about this, we believe they can push US Airways management to reconsider.”

In particular, they hope to find support among the leaders of the gaming industry, who need air service to fill their hotel rooms. To make it easier, the pilots have set up a Web site with sample letters and suggested courses of action.

In October, the Mesa, Ariz.-based airline announced it would cut its number of daily departures from McCarran from 64 to 36 by Jan. 31, to finish dismantling its once-bustling hub, and eliminate the crew base. During the first 11 months of last year, US Airways was still the second-largest carrier at McCarran at 4.4 million passengers, down 34 percent from 2008.

The move will lead to the layoff of 300 US Airways ground crews and force 150 others to transfer to other bases. Employees stationed at a designated base can start and finish their trips in that city instead of commuting somewhere else first.

The company said it made the move in response to high fuel prices, weak passenger demand in Las Vegas and a strategic decision to focus on four other cities.

But Mike Blake, a Las Vegas-based captain, called the timing poor because visitor traffic has recently shown hints of bottoming out and starting to recover.

None of the pilots could cite an example of where public demonstrations have prompted an airline management to do an about-face on cutbacks. Still, said Mike Cleary, president of the US Airline Pilots Association, a union with 5,200 members, “We are optimistic that these are not immovable objects.”

As part of a lobbying effort, Blake said he had approached McCarran management about granting financial concessions on such things such as gate rentals, hoping for savings that would equal those from the cutbacks. He said airport managers declined because they would have to give the same deal to all of the other carriers.

Airport spokesman Chris Jones said he could not confirm the account.

A US Airways spokesman declined to comment.

Prior to the picket, which lasted for two hours starting at 11 a.m., the pilots union held two classes on how to walk a picket properly. All the signs were professionally printed, with the top corner held by a picket’s left hand and the lower corner with the right. The picket was walked in a rectangle, with even spacing between each pilot and the corners turned by spinning on a foot, military-style. People left or entered the line at one designated corner, followed a full-uniform dress code and did not chant.

“A lot of us are former military,” Gray said. “We wanted to look professional.”

 

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at toreiley@lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5290.

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