TWA: NO COMFORT FOR OLDEST AIRLINE (BARELY) FLYING

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Attempts to revive the TWA brand have kept the airline flying, but not profitably.

Buffeted by financial losses over many years and a Chapter 11 federal bankruptcy protection filing, Trans World Airlines came up with an innovative marketing weapon called Comfort Class, designed to restore its former glory.

But after just 18 months, the airline is revamping Comfort Class. The challenge will be to make the revamped positioning viable on both the marketing and economic fronts.

Introduced in spring 1993 with some $20 million in advertising from Bates USA, Comfort Class was touted as "the most comfortable way to fly." For the price of a coach ticket, passengers got 50% more legroom.

A mere nine months later, TWA captured the top ranking for customer satisfaction on long flights in J.D. Powers & Associates' annual survey of business fliers. But aviation experts, skeptical from the beginning, warned that schedule and price determine airline choice. And, indeed, TWA has found itself squeezed between low-cost and full-service airlines. Comfort Class didn't produce the expected financial results-TWA reported an operating loss of $281.3 million for 1993.

Top management began to debate its program's economic wisdom early this year, and in April said it would add 34 seats to 10 of its Boeing 747s on the "most heavily demanded routes."

Now Comfort Class is in transition. A companywide task force has been directed to find ways of achieving lower seat mile costs and increased flexibility-to, in effect, re-engineer the entire company. As one of the oldest airline brands still around, TWA must remake itself quickly.

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