US Airways Takes To Streets In Battle For Philly

In an effort to defend its hub and return to profitability, US Airways has taken to the streets of Philadelphia with a guerrilla campaign aimed at beating back-market newcomer Southwest Airlines.

The Arlington, Va.-based carrier is touting its restructured pricing, which includes low fares—not something it’s known for—as it seeks to counter Southwest’s May 9 arrival at Philadelphia International Airport. The campaign was coordinated by Eisner Communications in Baltimore and Do It Outdoors in York, Pa.

As part of the effort, which began late last week, teams of US Airways employees are converging in downtown Philadelphia, committing what Eisner evp, director of client services Peter Gladstone called “unbelievable acts of kindness.” These include handing out pizza to office workers at lunch and delivering flowers to top frequent-flier customers. To back US Airways’ $29 one-way fares, teams were slated to set up 29 massage chairs in a city park for masseurs to work on office employees.

The street efforts, which include mobile billboards, will continue daily through mid-May, then once a week or so through the summer.

TV, print and outdoor from Eisner touts the airline’s new “unbelievably low” GoFares offering while poking fun at the airline’s reputation for higher fares. In one radio spot, a grandfather tells a boy and girl about a cab ride they took to the airport, during which Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy hitched a ride. The kids believe the story until grandpa tells them it cost just $29 each way for the flight. “Grandma was right—you are full of it,” the little boy declares.

US Airways managing director of marketing Barry Biffle said the airline—which posted losses of $174 million last year and $1.6 billion in 2002, according to Hoover’s Online—is betting that a combination of lower prices, brand recognition and full-fare services (such as assigned seating, preboarding for preferred customers and in-flight entertainment) will help the ailing airline hang onto the city’s business. “Everyone in Philadelphia knows a lot about us,” Biffle said.

US Airways also is capping last-minute walk-up fares at $499. “The perception is that we have high fares,” Biffle said. “We have a lot of low fares, but there comes a time when you need to go tomorrow, and it’s going to cost you $1,499.”

“It is clearly a Southwest response,” said Henry Hartevelt, a travel analyst with Forrester Research in San Francisco. “They are trying to keep US Airways’ coffin from being nailed shut.”

Southwest’s Philadelphia entry has been backed since January by TV spots from Omnicom Group’s GSD&M in Austin, Texas. These feature city residents and Philadelphia 76ers cheerleaders saying things such as, “You are now free to fly to Chicago without spending an arm and a leg.”

Gladstone said previous work for US Airways focused on retail efforts, as opposed to branding.

US Airways operates 375 flights from Philadelphia each day. Southwest will begin with 14 flights a day to six cities, adding seven more on July 6. Immediately prior to 9/11, US Airways flew 149 planes daily from Baltimore, compared with Southwest, which flew 127 flights a day from the city, according to the airlines. Today, Southwest flies about 160 flights a day, compared with US Airways’ two dozen.