Monday, March 26, 2012

The Direct Air Nightmare Continues

March 21, 2012

Dear Courtney,

We're sorry to say it's been a very bad week for customers of Direct Air. Even if stranded passengers get full refunds, many have been stuck paying high last-minute fares on other carriers just to get home. Callers to our hotline at 1 (877) FLYERS6 say they've had to rent cars and travel to unexpected airports, and have incurred those added trip costs before any refund from Direct Air.

03/20/12 Direct Air Myrtle Beach SCNews Reports & Video

We have a variety of related video and other links to share. It's not clear Direct Air has the money to refund passengers' fares. The Department of Transportationconfirms it has begun an investigation of the charter provider's compliance with regulations, including escrow account provisions. (Springfield, IL State Journal-Register story here.)

What About Upcoming Flights?

Also not clear is whether there's any real hope that Direct Air can resume service, as it claims it will do May 15. The DOT says a restart will require regulatory approval. The company behind the Direct Air brand name, and the entity which has actually made the bankruptcy filing, is Southern Sky Air and Tours, LLC. If that company does re-enter the market, there's no guarantee it would keep the Direct Air product will be watching to see how this unfolds.

WIVB-TV Direct Air BankruptcyWIVB-TV in Buffalo, NY aired this report, including comments from Founder and Executive Director Kate Hanni, and adds that Direct Air may be as much as $50 million underwater, including rent and landing fees owed to airports.

Two video reports on show how passengers stranded in Myrtle Beach, SC have been left to fend for themselves with little or no help from Direct Air, and reveal that Direct Air has furloughed its employees there.

And WPDE-TV reports on stranded Canadian passenger Janet Fowler, and looks at the likelihood of a class-action suit against Direct Air.

Passenger Precautions

Many unfortunate customers are also learning the hard way that booking tickets with a debit card leaves you vulnerable in these cases. When tickets are booked using a credit card, you can seek a refund from the card company, which then goes to battle with the airline or charter company. Use a debit card, and you're often on your own.

Customer Experiences

As you might expect, our hotline at 1 (877) FLYERS6 has been busy this week with calls from stranded passengers, and others concerned that flights they have booked over spring break will never happen. We're grateful to our donors and volunteers for enabling us to keep the lines open. We've also had lots of email. Here is a sampling:

I purchased six tickets to Punta Gorda, FL for our nephew's wedding April 14. I also talked all the bridesmaids and the groom to fly Direct Air. I bought my tickets 10 months in advance for the good rate ($1,518) knowing Easter time would be a bad time to get a good fare. I paid with my debit card...The first week in March I tried calling them three-to-four times a day at all different times, even at 3am. No answer. I finally called their public relations lady. She told me to wait until two days before my flight to check status. Two days after that they closed down. I have called my bank and they filed a dispute but I'm very angry and would like to know my rights...(Kim)

We were unfortunate enough to have purchased Direct Air last July for friends and family. We flew March 2, and were to return March 16. We incurred additional expense because we had to fly out too soon to get good rates. We had to pay $438 for flight and $85 for luggage, (versus) $209 to Direct Air for flight and luggage. Not sure how to proceed...(Judy)

Kate, I am one of the many effected by direct air. We had to spend $1,200 to get out of Orlando on Air Tran since our flight was canceled. Local news quoted you to be contacted if additional expenses were incurred. Any advice would be appreciated...(Tara)

My family consisting of 12 people are now not only out airfare ($2,040) which we paid in May 2011, but also divided as some can make the drive and others can't. This is such a domino effect that keeps dropping problems as it continues on and on...(Karen)

My boyfriend and I spent a ridiculous amount for one-way tickets home, had to pay extra charges for the rental car, were forced to fly home to a different location (Boston) and find a way back to our car in Worcester, MA, in addition to cutting our vacation a day short and spending a full day while we were there looking on for internet (service) to search for new tickets...(Kelli)

Direct Air left my family stranded in Ft. Myers/Punta Gorda, FL. I was traveling with my husband and 10-year-old son. We did not get any information from the airline until late afternoon on March 15th, when they sent an email...We had to return our rental car to the Punta Gorda airport (Hertz was going to charge us a fee if we returned to Fort Myers airport instead). We then had to get transportation to Fort Myers Airport. We were able to find a flight on Jetblue Airlines leaving a day early from our trip and the three tickets ended up costing us a total of $1064.40. We left our car parked at the Worcester Airport and had to get transportation from Boston to Worcester to pick up our vehicle...I called my credit card company to start the process of getting a refund...(Peggy)

Help Us Help You! provides real-time help during incidents such as this, and helps victims respond afterward. Please visit our Donations page, decide what you can do, and click the appropriate button. If you donate to our new Flyers Rights Educational Fund, your contribution is even tax deductible.

Kate's Final Word... event.The Direct Air Debacle has taught us some valuable lessons. First, low cost air carriers are just that...low cost. Low cost air carriers don't invest in customer service and they don't save for a rainy day. They are working on razor thin margins and in the case of Direct Air apparently charging less than the cost to fly. So when something goes wrong, you really cannot count on them for help.

Charter airlines appear to operate under the radar and under a different set of rules. So before you book on a charter airline, unless it's your only option, consider the more expensive commercial service because you will have regulations that further protect you in the event of flight cancellations and delays.'s purpose is to inform the public of your rights, and to fight for further rights when deceptive practices rear their ugly heads. And with the airlines there appears to be no end in sight to the ugly/deceptive practices. We helped about 100 people (so far) on the Direct Air flights to weed through the mess. We provide 24/7 help through our toll free hotline and are committed to continuing this service so long as we can afford to!


Kathleen Hanni

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Direct Air: Information for Consumers Regarding the Cessation of Operations by Southern Sky Air Tours d/b/a Myrtle Beach Direct Air and Tours

Department of

Office of the Secretary

of Transportation



Information for Consumers Regarding the

Cessation of Operations by Southern Sky Air Tours

d/b/a Myrtle Beach Direct Air and Tours

(as of March 16, 2012)

On or about March 13, 2012, Southern Sky Air Tours, d/b/a Myrtle Beach Direct Air and Tours (Direct Air) ― a public charter operator ― ceased operations. Direct Air has subsequently filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts (Worcester)(Case no. 12-40944). Set forth below are certain alternatives available to Direct Air customers.

Air Transportation

Direct Air was authorized by the Department to operate public charter flights between numerous cities and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and points in Florida. Under Department regulations, Direct Air has in place an escrow account into which all charter participant funds were to be deposited until payment was made to the airline that was to perform their charter flights. The Department is investigating the handling of that escrow account. In addition, as required by Department rules, Direct Air has in place a surety bond in the amount of $200,000 protecting charter participant payments.

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.

At this time, it is unclear whether consumers who have completed the outbound portion of their trip and need to return home will be provided return transportation by Direct Air, but we have been advised that the company is working with the airlines involved with its charter program to provide return flights. Direct Air has established a toll-free number that should be operational at the time of publication of this fact sheet to provide consumers more information about this matter. That number is 1-855-888-8090.

Obtaining a Refund

Consumers affected by Direct Air’s cessation of service who are due a refund need to be able to prove to the escrow bank and surety bond company that they purchased charter air transportation or an air charter tour package from Direct Air. Acceptable proof might include a Direct Air receipt or invoice, or possibly the consumer’s credit card purchase record.

Under Department rules, consumers may request a refund from Direct Air by writing to the company at 1600 Oak Street, Suite B, Myrtle Beach, SC 29577, with a copy sent to the company’s escrow depository bank, Valley National Bank, at 1455 Valley Road, Wayne, NJ 07470. When we receive directions on how and where to file bankruptcy claims, we will revise this fact sheet.

Consumers may also be able to recover funds by making a claim under Direct Air’s surety bond. The bond number is 41060098. The holder of Direct Air’s surety bond is Platte Insurance Company. Platte River Insurance Company may be contacted via U.S. mail at P.O. Box 5900, Madison, WI 53705; via fax at 608-829-7451; or via email at In addition, Platte River Insurance Company has established a toll-free phone number to provide information regarding procedures for filing claims, 1-800-475-4450 ext. 4284. Claims made under the surety bond must be made within 60 days of the date of the originally-scheduled return air transportation. Claims are limited to the amount paid by the consumer for the charter air transportation or air charter tour package.

Credit and Debit Card Refunds

Customers who paid Direct Air by credit card may be entitled to a credit from their credit card company under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Write to your credit card issuer, being sure to state your account number. Enclose a photocopy of your credit card statement, if you have received one, and a photocopy of your ticket, itinerary or receipt if possible, or indicate the price of the transportation and the date it was purchased. State that Direct Air has ceased operations, that you will not receive the product that you charged to your account (i.e., the comprehensive tour), and that you are requesting a credit pursuant to the Fair Credit Billing Act.

The credit card issuer must receive this notice no later than 60 days after the date that you received the first monthly statement that listed the Direct Air charge, although credit card companies sometimes waive this deadline for future transportation. If you have a paper ticket or other evidence of your transportation, some credit card issuers may ask for the original unused ticket or other documentation. If this is requested, keep a photocopy and send the original by certified mail. Do not send the original documentation unless it is requested. However, it would be a good idea to enclose a copy of any confirmation or itinerary sheet that you may have received.

There are no federal protections for debit card purchases of the type described above for credit cards. However, some debit card issuers voluntarily provide some or all of those protections. If you paid by debit card, consult your debit card issuer regarding your refund rights.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What if an FAA Drone crashes into an airplane or jet?

Police Drone
Crashes into Police

The Montgomery County (Texas) Sheriff's Office had a big day planned. After
becoming the first department in the country with its own aerial drone
($300,000!), they were ready for a nice photo op. And then the drone crashed
into a SWAT team.
Examiner reports
a painfully contrived police action-athon:
As the sheriff's SWAT team suited up with lots of firepower and their
armored vehicle known as the "Bearcat," a prototype drone from
Vanguard Defense Industries took off for pictures of all the police action. It
was basically a photo opportunity, according to those in attendance.
"Lots of firepower" and a "Bearcat" sure sounds like a
good photo op. OK, time to launch the $300,000 drone. Here we go. Launch the
"[The] prototype drone was flying about 18-feet off the ground when it
lost contact with the controller's console on the ground. It's designed to go
into an auto shutdown mode...but when it was coming down the drone crashed into
the SWAT team's armored vehicle."
Not only did the drone fail, and not only did it crash, it literally
crashed into the police. It's no wonder we're not able to find a video of
this spectacular publicity failure. Luckily, the SWAT boys were safe in their
This would be a fine one-off blooper story if it weren't for some upsetting
implications. This is exactly why we have reason to raise multiple eyebrows
at Congress, which wants to allow hundreds of similar drones to fly over US
airspace. These drones are still a relatively young technology, relatively
unproven, and relatively crash-prone. The odds of being hit by one are low, of
course, but should a Texas-style UAV plummet ever happen in, say, a dense urban
area, nobody would be laughing. Not all of us are driving around in Bearcats. [Examiner]


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 28, 2012
Amie Stepanovich
202.483.1140 x 120
WASHINGTON, D.C. – EPIC, joined by more than 100 organizations, experts, and
members of the public, has sent a petition to the Federal Aviation
Administration, urging the agency to address the privacy threats associated
with the increased use of drones in the United States.
Congress recently passed legislation requiring the Agency to assess the safety
of drones used by commercial and government operators.
The petition asserts that "The privacy threat posed by the deployment of
drone aircraft in the United States is great. The public should be given the
opportunity to comment on this development."
Over 100 organizations, experts, and members of the public signed on to support
EPIC’s petition, including Bob Barr and Ralph Nader, two former candidates for
President, widely known for their efforts to safeguard privacy.
Separately, EPIC is also encouraging the White House to require the FAA to
develop privacy standards. Individuals can support that effort.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is a non-profit, public
interest research organization, established in 1994, to focus public attention
on emerging privacy issues.
EPIC, Drones
EPIC, FAA Privacy Drone Petition
EPIC, White House Petition