Beginning on March 1, coffee, tea, water, juice, and soda will once again be free for US Airways (NYSE:LCC) coach passengers. Great news, right? Sure -- just don't ask management to be happy about it.

"US Airways was the only large network carrier to charge for drinks, and that put us at a disadvantage," said CEO Doug Parker. Soda wars meets airline wars.

This positioning is astounding. Charging $2 for a Coke, if I'm reading Parker correctly, was like passing along a fare increase. Passengers noticed and, consequently, chose to fly Delta (NYSE:DAL), AMR's (NYSE:AMR) American, UAL's (NASDAQ:UAUA) United, or another carrier. Can you imagine?

Actually, I can. Bad press rained on US Airways after it announced that once-complimentary services -- including in-flight beverage service -- would be sold a la carte. As blogger Wayne Schultz described it, " US Airways introduces new free beverage service called bathroom sink."

Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) subsequently piled on by poking fun at its price-gouging peers in a series of TV ads. Apparently, the strategy worked.

And that should scare the beejeezus out of hopeful airline investors.

Yes, I know some analysts are touting these stocks as potential winners over the next six to 18 months. They may very well be right. Oil has recently dropped under $40 a barrel. If prices were to remain below $50 a barrel for the bulk of 2009, cash-crunched carriers could see a windfall.

What won't change are the broader implications of Parker's statement. He won't say so, but tacitly he's admitting that U.S. Airways has zero competitive advantage -- that it has nothing to learn from innovators like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). Its only viable strategy is to keep doing what everyone else does.

Yeah, that's comforting.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy doesn't understand how an airplane taxis. Shouldn't a taxi taxi?