Uncertainty continues over Direct Air flights

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Direct Air, a small discount airline, abruptly canceled all its flights at the peak of spring break, leaving stranded passengers wondering how and when they'll get home.

There was no word Tuesday on when flights might resume, but the company's website showed all flights listed on Thursday as on-time.

The airline apparently ran short on money to pay for fuel. Direct Air's marketing manager Ed Warneck told The Sun News newspaper in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that the airline missed a fuel payment and the fuel supplier cut it off. That left it no choice but to ground its fleet.

Lauren Morris, the marketing manager for the Myrtle Beach International Airport, where the airline is based, said airport officials were told Direct Air would be releasing a statement on its status later Tuesday. She said there are normally no Myrtle Beach flights on Tuesdays.

Morris said there were several flights Monday before the airline ceased operations late in the day. The airline schedule lists a number of flights Wednesday as on-time, while others were unavailable.

Airline consultant Robert Mann said that even if Direct Air resumes its flights, it will likely get increased government scrutiny after failing to provide its scheduled service.

"It just doesn't seem like it has the financial wherewithal to survive," he said.

Direct Air serves 17 cities in the Midwest, East and South. On its website, the airline says it offers "all-inclusive vacation, golf, and entertainment packages." It is unclear how many travelers were affected.

One of those waiting to hear about the airline's status was Doug Rendleman. His wife, Cathi, is stuck in Lakeland, Fla., after flying from Springfield, Ill. on Friday to see their daughter play in a college softball tournament.

Rendleman heard about Direct Air's troubles from news reports. He's trying to find another airline to fly his wife home.

Rendleman said he's frustrated by the fact that the airline isn't offering any alternatives for passengers.

"When you fold a business that so many people rely on, you have to help" get them home, he said. "If (a company) went belly up and they told me they can't sell me a couch or something — that's no big deal. But this is a nightmare."

When he asked about a refund, Rendleman says he was told that only flight vouchers were available.

Sean Davila of Lakeland, Fla., found out he was stranded Monday in Springfield, Ill., when an agent at the airport told him that his flight was cancelled "indefinitely." Davila was able to get a refund from Direct Air and used that money to get a flight home to Florida on another airline.

Calls by The Associated Press to both the company's corporate and reservation numbers during business hours were answered Tuesday by a recording stating all agents were busy and referring callers to the airline website.

Direct Air began flying in March of 2007.

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Bruce Smith in Charleston, S.C. and Jack Jones in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this story.

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