Discount air carrier Direct Air has suddenly canceled all flights for the next two months and possibly longer, leaving a trail of stranded travelers and angry ticketholders.
The airline, based in Myrtle Beach, S.C., released a statement on its website on Tuesday. Direct Air finds it necessary to suspend flight operation from Tuesday, March 13, 2012, until May 15, 2012, it said. This decision was made to address operational matters. We are currently evaluating strategic alternatives for Direct Air.
Myrtle Beach Online reports that the airline could not pay for skyrocketing fuel costs and was cut off by suppliers. After that, there was nothing Direct Air could do to get its planes off the ground.
This news implies serious financial problems for the small carrier, and airline consultant Robert Mann told AP that Direct Air may not survive. Even if it does reopen, it could be subject to stringent governmental oversights.
Many customers were mid-vacation when the airline shut down around 4 p.m. on Monday. One man stuck in Florida said that the airline did not offer travel alternatives to help him and his wife get home to Illinois. He asked for a refund, but said he was offered a flight voucher instead. Other customers have since reported receiving full refunds.
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The Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is doing its best to assist abandoned passengers with the help of local travel agents. Tourism there is still in full swing since the Myrtle Beach International Airport is currently served by a host of air carriers large and small, including Delta, US Airways, Allegiant and Porter.
Direct Air is primarily an indirect air carrier, offering public charter flights and some vacation packages. Their first scheduled public charter flight lifted off in 2007. The airline boasted a network of 17 cities, from Niagara Falls to Pittsburgh to Fort Myers. Until recently, it appeared things were moving full speed ahead into a busy vacation season. Myrtle Beach Online reported that the number of Direct Air passengers departing from Myrtle Beach alone rose from 65,043 to 95,502 last year. Last week, Direct Air announced that it would begin offering nonstop service three days a week from Pittsburgh to Lakeland, Florida, beginning in May. It also announced that it would resume nonstop service two days a week between Pittsburgh and Myrtle Beach beginning on March 18.
For now, it looks like those plans have been put on hold.