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What US Airways is Doing for The Passengers of Flight 1549

It’s somewhat surprising, but you rarely hear about how people and their families are treated after an accident. What actually happens? US Airways is opening up the kimono a bit here to show us how they’re dealing with it this week. So far, they’re getting praise from passengers on flight 1549, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

A spokesperson sent me a copy of the letter they sent to every passenger on that flight. This letter was accompanied by a check for $5,000 to cover the cost of replacing belongings (above the legal requirement, I believe) and another check reimbursing the cost of the ticket.

Here’s the full text of the letter. Then come back for a little more discussion at the end.

On behalf of all of us at US Airways, we hope that you have returned home and are resting and recovering following the evacuation of Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009. We are extremely grateful that our crew used their combined experience and training to safely land and evacuate all of the passengers onboard this flight. We also thank you, as many of you also played a role in ensuring a quick and safe exit.

We know you have many questions, and that one of your immediate needs is to obtain the items that you had on the aircraft. The purpose of this letter is to tell you what happens next with those items, and also to provide some immediate assistance so that you can begin replacing them. Throughout this experience, you have our commitment that we will do our absolute best to explain all we can about what is happening and why, and with that, we want you to know the status of your belongings and next steps.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has now begun their investigation of this accident, and we are offering our full participation and cooperation. Investigatory protocol requires that the aircraft and all of its contents must be examined and weighed prior to releasing any items onboard in order to verify the weight and balance on the aircraft. This is an important part of their work to understand the reason for the emergency water landing. Unfortunately, this includes all of the personal effects that were in the aircraft’s cabin and cargo hold. The process is to weigh all items in their current state, dry them for eight weeks, and then weigh them again. This means we cannot return your items to you until the NTSB recovers and releases them, a process that will likely take several months. It is also possible that some items may be unrecoverable.

We anticipate that the delay the investigation causes may present an inconvenience and expense for you. We want to do our best to ensure that you do not incur personal expense or hardship while the investigation continues. To assist you with your immediate needs, we have enclosed a check for $5,000. In addition, we are also including a separate check to reimburse you for the cost of your ticket. This is an obvious reimbursement that we wanted to make quickly to each of you.

US Airways is committed to working with you to address any needs you have as a result of this experience. In the initial period following the accident, our employees worked to contact and support you on the ground in New York as well as from our Family Support Center in our Tempe, Arizona headquarters. Your Family Support Center representative will remain engaged with you, and we’ll make every effort to do that in a way that best suits your individual needs. Please let us know if your needs are not being met in any way.

I am truly sorry for what you experienced on Flight 1549. We were all amazed by the actions of our crew, the first responders, and our customers, and we were humbled by the grace displayed by all in the time that followed. Please do not hesitate to let me know how my colleagues at US Airways and I can continue to assist you.

Sincerely,

Kerry F. Hester

If there’s one thing US Airways deserves credit for here, it’s acting very quickly. The answers may be anything BUT what a passenger would want to hear, but at least they’re not mincing words and promising things that won’t happen. (How many friggin’ weeks does the bag have to dry?!?) So far, people seem to be happy with what they’re hearing.

Barry Leonard, a guy who actually cracked his sternum in the accident, said the airline has “bent over backwards” so far. That certainly puts a nice extra warm fuzzy feeling on what so far has been a great story.

I’m sure that once the final reports are in, some people will try to sue for more money after having gone through the experience. Depending upon what the report says, they may even have a case, but we know that doesn’t matter. The sleezy ambulance chasers are circling like sharks, and they’ll convince some people to sue no matter what. But these early measures by US Airways can only help, and it certainly is proving to be welcome by the passengers onboard.

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