By Timothy Chipp
NIAGARA FALLS —
The parent company of Direct Air, the discount airline which has flown out of Niagara Falls International Airport since 2007, has filed for bankruptcy protection.
Southern Sky Air & Tours LLC on Thursday filed for Chapter 11 protection in Massachusetts. Court documents show the company has between $10 million and $50 million in debt and just $500,000 to $1 million in assets, according to reports.
Direct Air abruptly halted flights to each of the 17 cities it serves Monday, claiming it couldn’t make its fuel payments. The company is expected to resume flights May 15.
When the airline made its announcement, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority immediately posted whatever information it had in the airport and on its website, www.nfta.com.
“It’s awful,” NFTA Director of Public Affairs C. Douglas Hartmayer said. “We feel very badly for these people affected by Direct Air, which is why we wanted to make the information available as readily as possible.”
Hartmayer said the airport is also working with its other carriers, Spirit Airlines and Allegiant, to bring more flights to the area.
But John Percy, president and chief executive officer of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., said the loss of the airline, even in the short term, is difficult for the area.
“When you have one of three airlines flying into Niagara Falls, one we’re trying to build a presence with, stop, it’s going to have an impact,” Percy said. “We’re trying to build a presence ... to showcase Niagara Falls. It’s unfortunate, when you’re trying to build a brand and an airline leaves. It impacts negatively that market place.”
Direct Air’s handling of the situation has been disappointing, Percy added, saying directing customers to contact credit card companies for refunds and leaving them stranded without alternate arrangements is negatively impacting potential customers once flights resume again.
“I just wish they were out in the forefront with explanations,” Percy said. “They could be better dealing with their customers so there’s less of a negative impact when they begin service again.”
Direct Air’s cancellations come at the height of the spring break season, which has left plenty of travelers scrambling to find ways to get to their destination. While some have been able to book alternative flights, others, including travel agent Patty Geist, haven’t.
Geist, of Landmark Travel Tours, 10158 Niagara Falls Blvd., said she was left in the dark after her travel plans to Florida were suddenly halted when Direct Air stopped its service.
As a travel agent, she said she has the ability to help herself. But she said she’s concerned for those out there unable to find alternate means of transportation.
“I’m actually surprised no one’s called me to see what they can do,” she said. “This is spring break coming up. I don’t know what we can do for anybody, since most of the tickets between now and Easter are gone. But I feel bad for everybody who’s out there.”