Friday, 13 January 2006

Controlled flight into terrain

Independence Air shut down its flight operations last week. Its planes, which were leased, have been repossessed by their owners, and its remaining assets are being liquidated under the supervision of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

As I’ve noted previously:

Independence Air had a business plan as hopeless as the worst of dot-com’s: “Let’s charge lower fares than our competitors, while using the most fuel-inefficient planes with the highest possible operating costs per available seat mile (small “regional” jets).”

Independence Air is the largest USA-based airline to go out of business since 1992, but other much larger airlines in the USA are already bankrupt, are continuing to lose money, and could follow suit.

Caveat emptor.

Independence Air’s shutdown is being praised as a model of “orderly” liquidation, but even in the best such cases, its ordinary travellers, and ordinary airline ex-employees, who are left holding the bag. (Perhaps an inappropriate figure of speech, as I’ve learned.)

Indpendence Air asked for, and got, an order from the bankruptcy court authorizing — but not requiring — refunds to customers holding unusable tickets, if there is money available and if the airline’s managers chose to do so. So if you have tickets on Independence Air for future travel, and it’s too late (more than 60 days after the purchase) for a credit card chargeback, run — do not walk — to request a refund, before the money runs out.

A few Independence Air employees have been kept on to carry out the liquidation, and to protect the value of the assets in its possession — such as leased airplanes — until their sale or return to their owners.

Not surprisingly, given that passengers weren’t represented at the bankruptcy hearing, no such concern was shown for passegenrs’ property, such as misdirected and delayed baggage, in the airline’s possession after its final flights.

A reader sent this account of the scene at Independence Air’s erstwhile hub, Dulles Airport near Washington, DC, the day after its final flight:

After FLYi misplaced five pieces of our luggage on Thursday (shutdown day) I returned to Dulles yesterday (Friday, 6 Jan.) to get it. I found a locked baggage office, no one available at FLYi terminals or check-in counters, and piles of luggage in front of the United Airlines baggage office. Other airline baggage personnel told me they had collectively stacked this luggage when Independence people left their jobs, and piles of unattended luggage, Thursday evening.

Risking arrest, I eventually got one of the FLYi shutdown staff from a back office to let me into their luggage room. I found a pile of FedEx forms on the desk, but the FLYi employee told me the baggage people worked only a couple hours in the morning, shipped (only) SEVEN pieces by FedEx, and would not ship more. There were perhaps 20 more pieces in the room (including a few of mine). He said these would be “returned to headquarters.”

I searched thru the piles at United without finding mine but saw pieces with Independence tags.

Bottom line is that people’s luggage stranded at Dulles will probably go to the dump (certainly after being scavenged) unless owners go there and get it. This could be true at other FlyI destinations as well.

BTW, the FLYi employee who FedEx’d the seven bags said he kept no receipts…. Also, FLYi’s hardcopies of luggage claims were collected alongside other things headed for the dumpster.

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 13 January 2006, 07:14 ( 7:14 AM)

Shame... The reviews posted for this airline weren't that bad - compared to some of the 'big hitters' that still manage to keep afloat!

Posted by: John Borden, 16 January 2006, 09:37 ( 9:37 AM)
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