Customers stranded as Direct Air suspends flights
Published Wednesday, March 14, 2012 12:53PM EDT
Many Canadians vacationing in the U.S. this week are scrambling for another way to get home after Direct Air abruptly suspended flights for at least two months.
Operations at the charter airline came to a halt on Monday afternoon reportedly because the company couldn't pay its fuel bills. A message posted to Direct Air's website says planes will be grounded until May. 15.
"This decision was made to address operational matters," the message reads.
The cancellations come at a particularly inopportune time for many Canadians who used the airline to fly down south for spring break. Since public charter airlines aren't subject to the same rules as regularly scheduled ones -- ex. schedules aren't always guaranteed -- many customers have found themselves without options.
Meredith Roberts, who used Direct Air to fly from Toronto to Florida this week, found out about her dropped flight at 11 p.m. on Tuesday.
"I guess I've got to find another way to get my two daughters and myself home," she told CTV's Canada AM in a Wednesday phone interview.
Stranded without options in Sanibel, Fla., Roberts said the stress of having no contingency plan has soured the latter half of her trip.
"(The kids) were rather restless all night and worried as well, trying to figure out a way to get home," she said.
Direct Air's marketing manager Ed Warneck told a newspaper in Myrtle Beach that the company had missed a fuel payment and the supplier cut them off, forcing them to suspend operations.
Stranded passengers aren't likely to receive compensation from the airline right away, insurance expert Robin Ingle told CTV News Channel on Wednesday. Instead, customers will have to seek out other avenues.
"If your payment was made with your credit card and the service is not provided then the credit card company will reimburse you but that's after the fact," said Ingle, the chairman of Ingle International.
Booking another flight should be at the top of every passenger's priority list, he noted. Those who flew into smaller regions may even have to travel to larger urban centres to get a plane back to Canada.
"They'll have to act very quickly because there may be quite a few people trying to find alternate transportation," said Ingle.
Customers who didn't book their trips with a credit card may have a more difficult time getting immediate assistance. There are still places travellers can turn to for general support such as TICO, the Travel Industry Council of Ontario.
Once back home, Ingle suggests customers keep all of their original receipts and then consult with travel agents, tour operators and insurance providers about further action.
Direct Air serves 17 cities in the U.S. Midwest, East and South and typically does business in smaller markets where larger carriers such as American or United don't go.
Pressure from competitors has been mounting on Direct Air since the discount carrier opened operations in March 2007. Rising oil prices have exacerbated the financial strain many smaller airlines are feeling.
Roberts said she chose Direct Air for her trip after having a positive experience with the airline on a vacation to Florida several years ago.
"We booked months ago hoping to have an easy flight," she said. "I probably should have known better. You get what you pay for."
With files from The Associated Press