June 23, 2007

U.S. Airways asked governor for help with liquor license battle

US Airways' flight attendants have asked New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to intervene in their behalf and grant the carrier a temporary liquor license for flights in and out of the state.

Union representative Gary Richardson met with the governor for 10 to 15 minutes Thursday and told him the state's denial of the temporary license has put the flight attendants and the airline "at an economic and competitive disadvantage."

The meeting was a follow-up to a letter the union sent earlier this week. In that document, Richardson said US Airways flight attendants are well trained in dealing with intoxicated passengers and are concerned their professionalism and that of their employer has been tainted over the situation.

"We're devastated by the tragic events that took place in New Mexico," said Richardson, who represents more than 2,700 flight attendants. "I told the governor that we get extensive initial training and annual training. The last thing we want is an intoxicated passenger."

Caitlin Kelleher, spokeswoman for Gov. Richardson, invited the union to testify at licensure hearings.

"Their input would be invaluable to the decision-making process, as would the input of any organization that would be impacted by the decision," she said.

In the past six months, the Tempe-based airline has been cited twice for serving alcohol to passengers who later were involved in drunken-driving accidents.

In November, a man crashed into another vehicle, killing himself and a family of five near Santa Fe, shortly after getting off a US Airways flight. This spring, the airline was cited again after another drunken-driving accident that also involved a male passenger. No one was hurt in that accident, but the resulting citation has not yet been resolved.

For the past week, US Airways has been engaging in an increasingly heated exchange of letters with the state's Licensing and Regulation Department, which denied the carrier an extension of its temporary liquor license.

As a result of the decision, the airline has been unable to serve alcohol on flights to and from New Mexico since June 15.

According to the state, the airline has not responded aggressively enough in training flight attendants, nor has it taken care of the second citation.

US Airways has said it has been unable to resolve the matter because the agency's instructions have been vague.

Union representative Richardson said Thursday that the airline did not ask the flight attendants to contact the governor in its behalf. But the workers decided to do so anyway because they were concerned about potential fallout from the situation and wanted to emphasize that they were performing their jobs properly.

He wrote the letter earlier this week and met with the governor Thursday afternoon.

The Federal Aviation Administration investigated the fatal crash and absolved US Airways of any wrongdoing, said Ian Gregor, the agency's regional spokesman.

Meanwhile, US Airways spokeswoman Andrea Rader said she didn't know if the airline was considering taking the case to court. "The first order of business is just to try and figure out what the Alcohol & Gaming Division wants."

By Christia Gibbons, The Arizona Republic
Source: Azcentral.com

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