Monday, March 26, 2012

The Direct Air Nightmare Continues

March 21, 2012

Dear Courtney,

We're sorry to say it's been a very bad week for customers of Direct Air. Even if stranded passengers get full refunds, many have been stuck paying high last-minute fares on other carriers just to get home. Callers to our hotline at 1 (877) FLYERS6 say they've had to rent cars and travel to unexpected airports, and have incurred those added trip costs before any refund from Direct Air.

03/20/12 Direct Air Myrtle Beach SCNews Reports & Video

We have a variety of related video and other links to share. It's not clear Direct Air has the money to refund passengers' fares. The Department of Transportationconfirms it has begun an investigation of the charter provider's compliance with regulations, including escrow account provisions. (Springfield, IL State Journal-Register story here.)

What About Upcoming Flights?

Also not clear is whether there's any real hope that Direct Air can resume service, as it claims it will do May 15. The DOT says a restart will require regulatory approval. The company behind the Direct Air brand name, and the entity which has actually made the bankruptcy filing, is Southern Sky Air and Tours, LLC. If that company does re-enter the market, there's no guarantee it would keep the Direct Air product will be watching to see how this unfolds.

WIVB-TV Direct Air BankruptcyWIVB-TV in Buffalo, NY aired this report, including comments from Founder and Executive Director Kate Hanni, and adds that Direct Air may be as much as $50 million underwater, including rent and landing fees owed to airports.

Two video reports on show how passengers stranded in Myrtle Beach, SC have been left to fend for themselves with little or no help from Direct Air, and reveal that Direct Air has furloughed its employees there.

And WPDE-TV reports on stranded Canadian passenger Janet Fowler, and looks at the likelihood of a class-action suit against Direct Air.

Passenger Precautions

Many unfortunate customers are also learning the hard way that booking tickets with a debit card leaves you vulnerable in these cases. When tickets are booked using a credit card, you can seek a refund from the card company, which then goes to battle with the airline or charter company. Use a debit card, and you're often on your own.

Customer Experiences

As you might expect, our hotline at 1 (877) FLYERS6 has been busy this week with calls from stranded passengers, and others concerned that flights they have booked over spring break will never happen. We're grateful to our donors and volunteers for enabling us to keep the lines open. We've also had lots of email. Here is a sampling:

I purchased six tickets to Punta Gorda, FL for our nephew's wedding April 14. I also talked all the bridesmaids and the groom to fly Direct Air. I bought my tickets 10 months in advance for the good rate ($1,518) knowing Easter time would be a bad time to get a good fare. I paid with my debit card...The first week in March I tried calling them three-to-four times a day at all different times, even at 3am. No answer. I finally called their public relations lady. She told me to wait until two days before my flight to check status. Two days after that they closed down. I have called my bank and they filed a dispute but I'm very angry and would like to know my rights...(Kim)

We were unfortunate enough to have purchased Direct Air last July for friends and family. We flew March 2, and were to return March 16. We incurred additional expense because we had to fly out too soon to get good rates. We had to pay $438 for flight and $85 for luggage, (versus) $209 to Direct Air for flight and luggage. Not sure how to proceed...(Judy)

Kate, I am one of the many effected by direct air. We had to spend $1,200 to get out of Orlando on Air Tran since our flight was canceled. Local news quoted you to be contacted if additional expenses were incurred. Any advice would be appreciated...(Tara)

My family consisting of 12 people are now not only out airfare ($2,040) which we paid in May 2011, but also divided as some can make the drive and others can't. This is such a domino effect that keeps dropping problems as it continues on and on...(Karen)

My boyfriend and I spent a ridiculous amount for one-way tickets home, had to pay extra charges for the rental car, were forced to fly home to a different location (Boston) and find a way back to our car in Worcester, MA, in addition to cutting our vacation a day short and spending a full day while we were there looking on for internet (service) to search for new tickets...(Kelli)

Direct Air left my family stranded in Ft. Myers/Punta Gorda, FL. I was traveling with my husband and 10-year-old son. We did not get any information from the airline until late afternoon on March 15th, when they sent an email...We had to return our rental car to the Punta Gorda airport (Hertz was going to charge us a fee if we returned to Fort Myers airport instead). We then had to get transportation to Fort Myers Airport. We were able to find a flight on Jetblue Airlines leaving a day early from our trip and the three tickets ended up costing us a total of $1064.40. We left our car parked at the Worcester Airport and had to get transportation from Boston to Worcester to pick up our vehicle...I called my credit card company to start the process of getting a refund...(Peggy)

Help Us Help You! provides real-time help during incidents such as this, and helps victims respond afterward. Please visit our Donations page, decide what you can do, and click the appropriate button. If you donate to our new Flyers Rights Educational Fund, your contribution is even tax deductible.

Kate's Final Word... event.The Direct Air Debacle has taught us some valuable lessons. First, low cost air carriers are just that...low cost. Low cost air carriers don't invest in customer service and they don't save for a rainy day. They are working on razor thin margins and in the case of Direct Air apparently charging less than the cost to fly. So when something goes wrong, you really cannot count on them for help.

Charter airlines appear to operate under the radar and under a different set of rules. So before you book on a charter airline, unless it's your only option, consider the more expensive commercial service because you will have regulations that further protect you in the event of flight cancellations and delays.'s purpose is to inform the public of your rights, and to fight for further rights when deceptive practices rear their ugly heads. And with the airlines there appears to be no end in sight to the ugly/deceptive practices. We helped about 100 people (so far) on the Direct Air flights to weed through the mess. We provide 24/7 help through our toll free hotline and are committed to continuing this service so long as we can afford to!


Kathleen Hanni