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Fluff no longer flies at American
No. 1 airline pulls pillows off planes in troubled industry's latest cost-cutting effort.
February 9, 2005: 2:29 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Pillows are the latest victim of the financial woes at the world's largest airline.

American Airlines confirms that as of Feb. 15, it is pulling the pillows off most of its domestic routes other than the trans-continental flights and those to Hawaii. Flights to the Caribbean and Latin America will also go without the pillows. The planes will still have blankets available for customers.

American first pulled the pillows on its MD-80 fleet in November, and saved $300,000 from that move. The expansion of the pillow cost-cutting should save another $375,000, according to American spokesman Tim Wagner. Even the first-class cabin on the shorter flights will go without pillows, Wagner said.

"Initially we got some complaints. After a couple of weeks, they started to taper off," said Wagner. "The customers have told us the most important thing to them is low air fares. Part of the way to provide low air fares is to reduce costs."

American had about 91 million customers last year, so the pillow savings works out to less than a cent a passenger. Wagner said the relatively small size of the cut does not lessen the benefits to the airline and customers.

"It illustrates we're uncovering every stone," he said.

American parent AMR Corp. (Research) has continued to lose money since winning deep labor cost savings from its unions in April 2003, which allowed it to narrowly avoiding filing for bankruptcy court protections. Wagner said the airline has found $100 million in annual cost savings from a broad range of other measures since that time.

Major competitors contacted have yet to follow American's lead on pillows.

"We're always looking at ways to lower our cost but as of now we still have pillows," said Robin Urbanski, spokeswoman for No. 2 United Airlines. No. 4 Northwest Airlines (Research) and No. 5 Continental Airlines (Research) also still have pillows.

Southwest Airlines (Research), the leading low-cost, low fare airline, has always had pillows on its flights and still does, according to spokesman Ed Stewart, and JetBlue Airways (Research), another leading low cost carrier, also offers pillows.

No. 3 carrier Delta Air Lines (Research) is not cutting back on its pillows, but starting last week it moved the pillows to the back of the planes from the overhead storage bins where they formerly were stored on flights to and from its Atlanta hub.

Spokesman Anthony Black said the move saves time loading and unloading the planes and improves on-time performance.

"We found one of the biggest holdups was people having troubles with the pillows and the blankets as they tried to store their possessions," he said. "This is one of the steps to allow us to save money by better utilization of the planes. But we continue to have pillows and blankets for those who want them."

Wagner said American's savings comes from eliminating the costs of cleaning and replacement of the pillows, as well as labor savings. He agreed that cutting the pillows could also improve the turnaround time when a plane is at the gate, allowing for better on-time performance.  Top of page


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