Direct Air "deeply apologetic for the inconvenience"

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) Direct Air has released a statement Friday detailing the circumstances of their bankruptcy filing, and reassuring their dedication to passengers and employees.

In that statement, Direct Air said they are "deeply apologetic for the inconvenience" caused by the sudden cancellation on flights on Monday evening, stranding passengers in the Myrtle Beach area.

The office for a New York Congressman confirmed to WMBF News Friday that Direct Air's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy could have been as early as Thursday, March 15.

A spokesperson for New York Congressman Brian Higgins in Buffalo was told by a source from within Direct Air that the company filed for bankruptcy. He believed they may have even filed for bankruptcy on Thursday.

A copy of the bankruptcy filing shows that the airline filed under their corporate name, Southern Sky Air and Tours, LLC. The airline is better known to the public as Direct Air.

View Direct Air's bankruptcy filing (PDF)

View additional bankruptcy documents (PDF)

Nearly three days after Direct Air flights to and from Myrtle Beach vanished from flight monitors, the Department of Transportation has released a statement to assist stranded passengers and future travelers seeking a refund.

The statement is meant to offer alternates to Direct Air customers struggling to come to grips with the situation.

It reads:

The company has announced that it intends to restart operations as of May 15, 2012; however, the company currently does not have authority to do so and that announcement does not affect consumers who currently are in mid-trip or who had paid for but had not yet begun travel under the current program that has been canceled.

Hundreds of passengers were left without a way home when Myrtle Beach based carrier Direct Air canceled all its flights without any explanations Tuesday, the same day the airline settled a lawsuit with one its providers.

WMBF News obtained court documents that show a lawsuit between Direct Air and Falcon Air Express was settled on Tuesday, March 13, the same day that airline canceled all flights to and from the Myrtle Beach area.

The lawsuit lists Direct Air as the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit with Falcon Air Express over services not provided, meaning any ordered monetary settlement would be paid to Direct Air.

The documents to not disclose the exact details about the settlement, but say that settlement must be resolved within 30 days.

Direct Air released a statement Tuesday afternoon that all flight operations have been suspended until May 15.

Direct Air gave this statement to explain that decision:

Direct Air finds it necessary to suspend flight operations from Tuesday 13th, until May 15th. This decision was made to address operational matters, We are currently evaluating strategic alternatives for Direct Air. Direct Air is committed to our passengers, employees and communities we serve. Passengers holding reservations for direct air flights departing, between Tuesday March 13th and Tuesday May 15, are directed to contact their credit card company to arrange for a refund.

That statement was signed "Very truly yours, Direct Air."

Direct Air Statement on Flight Cancellations (PDF) 

Airport officials were puzzled by what exactly the situation is with Direct Air, but they do know that it will be a little quieter at the Myrtle Beach International Airport as no Direct Air flights will be taking off today.

WMBF News has learned this is affecting airports in several other different states-- from Florida, Illinois to New York.

Reports say the Myrtle Beach based airline has a unique situation in that they lease their airplanes from other carriers- and they don't have any planes of their own.

WMBF News called Direct Air's general line and checked its web site and there is no sign of the cancellations, but when you check Myrtle Beach Internationals flight schedule -- Direct Air isn't listed.

WMBF News called the customer line right when calls were accepted at 7 a.m. and we were placed on hold "due to a high call volume."

We spoke with several frustrated travelers who are stuck and looking for answers.

"I spent a lot of money on this vacation so to say that would be frustrating would be an understatement. Both monetary and just not knowing why exactly they canceled on us" says frustrated traveler, Dave Vishniac.

Brenda Killender described how she found out her flight was canceled. Killender said, "We checked in through security and waited until after the flight should have left, and then someone came down to the gate area and said flight was canceled."

Killender said she had to buy a ticket from U.S. Airways for $276 today to get home, but she had to drive to the Florence airport.

Others are shelling out cash to pay for a rental car to drive home.

Killender and many other passengers are most concerned about reimbursement. Killender said, "It's not just an inconvenience because things happen but more than anything people are out the money."

In the statement Direct Air issued Tuesday, passengers were told to contact their credit card company to arrange for a refund for those canceled flights. That information was posted on the airline's web site, but was removed later in the afternoon.

The site now encourages people to come back later for more details. People said the flights being canceled has created chaos and confusion here along the Grand Strand.

These sudden cancellations come as Direct Air has been adding new services to its flights this Spring season.

We've looked through some of Direct Air's policies to see how this will affect passengers and it does give out courtesy vouchers.

According to their web site, these courtesy vouchers are not cash and they have to be used with the airline within 365 days of the date their flight was canceled.

Brad Dean, President and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, released the following statement in response to the suspension of Direct Air flights Tuesday morning:

Currently, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce staff members are working in support of both in-market visitors trying to get home, and those visitors who were scheduled to fly into the Myrtle Beach area by helping to address their immediate travel needs.

We have informed various local travel agents of Direct Air flight cancellations and suspensions and are working with them to assist any visitor who may have experienced a canceled or suspended flight. We are offering various local travel agents' contact information to anyone calling our visitors center for assistance, in addition to providing them the contact information of both the airport and Direct Air's corporate headquarters.

Lastly, the chamber's Myrtle Beach area welcome kiosk at the airport is also acting as a customer service desk to assist those visitors with either canceled or suspended flights. The MBACC is dedicated to making sure all visitors affected are provided the services they need until their flight issues are resolved, and we're working with local hotels and businesses to accommodate those in-market visitors to the best of our abilities.

Tuesday afternoon, Brad Dean provided another statement concerning the matter:

"While the loss of air service is never a good thing, we're encouraged by the fact that it's early in the year, potentially allowing for the current operator to reemerge or another airline to pick up service to some of the dropped routes before the start of the summer travel season. Several of the markets Direct Air has been servicing are also serviced by a competing airline, and we're hopeful that visitors in those destinations will continue to travel to the area on one of the other carriers.

We have worked in partnership with Direct Air to advertise the availability of direct flights to the Myrtle Beach area in the past, but have a strategic and flexible marketing plan that allows us to adapt messaging quickly. We plan to maintain our advertising presence and continue to highlight the Myrtle Beach area as a family-friendly, affordable destination in all current markets with direct service but without specific mention of Direct Air's service.

Through our collaboration with the airport and Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce/CVB is continually committed to growing air service to the destination knowing it's a crucial element of increasing first time visitation. We remain hopeful that an airline may resurface in the future that will provide our visitors with additional affordable, direct flights, but for the moment, we're focused on making sure that those visitors affected by a Direct Air suspended flight receive the attention they deserve and assistance they need with their immediate travel plans."

Horry County Airports spokeswoman Lauren Morris said Tuesday Direct Air's decision to halt all flight services was due to an issue related to fuel, but did not elaborate on what the fuel issue was related to. Morris said other airlines at the Myrtle Beach International were working to assist passengers find alternate flights to their destinations.

"We're doing everything we can to get passengers where they need to go," Morris said.

Sharon Gouin, a Worcester, Massachusetts resident who often spends the winter months in Myrtle Beach with her Husband Louis, said the Direct Air cancellations forced them to purchase a ticket with another airline at nearly twice the price of their original ticket.

"We booked this 3 to 4 months," Gouin explained. "It's awful."

Louis Gouin walked to the Direct Air baggage check desk Tuesday, and remarked at how the desk was empty, and provided on information for stranded travelers.

"[There's] no signs saying flights are canceled, who to get in touch, what to do," Gouin said. "You'd think they would have someone here to explain it to the public."

The Gouins said they have not heard any word from Direct Air regarding a potential refund.

Another Direct Air customer, Myrtle Beach Native Stacey Riebesell, said she purchased tickets through Direct Air just three days before they halted all flight service, and now worries she could lose more than 500 dollars on the purchase.

"It's just not fair, it's not right," Riebesell said. "Not fair to those stranded, to those who bought that can't fly and to those of use that are stuck now with tickets we can't even use."

Thursday night, Niagara Falls International Airport officials also confirmed Direct Air owes the airport $88,000 in past due rent and terminal fees.

NFTA officials said the charges have been accruing since at least September of 2011, and Direct Air made their last payment in the beginning of March.

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