- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

Consumers spent as little as $29 for a seat on an Independence Air flight, and the airline paid the price.

Independence Air is scheduled to make its final flight today, a victim of an unsustainable business plan to offer dirt-cheap flights amid brutal competition and skyrocketing fuel costs.

The airline’s quick death, just 18 months after beginning service, leaves thousands of workers without jobs and creates a vacuum at Washington Dulles International Airport’s Concourse A, the 36-gate facility used by Independence Air’s fleet of regional jets.

Independence Air’s final flight — a 7:26 p.m. departure from White Plains, N.Y. — is scheduled to land at Dulles Airport at 8:30 p.m.

The airline’s legacy may be its quick demise, but Independence Air spokesman Rick DeLisi said it also will be remembered for its high customer satisfaction.

“The thing people will remember the most is the enthusiasm of employees and the excellent service they received,” he said.

A Market Metrix survey last summer ranked the airline second in customer satisfaction, but the cost of doing business led to constant cutbacks. Independence Air steadily reduced service to save money after shooting out of the gate June 16, 2004.

The airline began service to Detroit with eight flights a day in August 2004, but cut back to three flights a day. It began six flights a day to Lansing, Mich., in July 2004, but ended service there a year ago. It began eight flights a day to Charlotte, N.C., in October 2004, then reduced its schedule to three flights a day last summer.

Independence Air’s final days will be determined in bankruptcy court. A bankruptcy judge could decide today if the airline can auction off its assets. An auction could take place as soon as the week of Jan. 16.

The airline’s prized possession is Concourse A at Dulles, a $21 million, 70,000-square-foot facility built in 1999 for Independence Air’s predecessor, Atlantic Coast Airlines.

The group operating Dulles Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport expects the concourse to be taken over by another carrier, but it could be awhile before a change of ownership occurs, said James Bennett, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

Yesterday, the airports authority urged U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware to arrange for the quick sale of the concourse so it doesn’t sit empty.

The federal government also expressed concern yesterday that Independence Air hasn’t paid fees collected on ticket sales to the Transportation Security Administration. Independence Air paid about $800,000 in fees collected in October, but it forwarded none of the fees collected in November.

Flight attendants yesterday chastised the company’s proposal to pay $3.2 million in bonuses to Independence Air’s “wind-down” team of 180 workers who will close down the airline once flights operations cease today.

“This request for executive bonuses is ludicrous,” said Kenneth Kindred, a union official representing Independence Air’s flight attendants. “It does not make sense that this bankrupt company has an extra several million dollars lying around to divvy up among a select group while the rest of the work force is suddenly out of a job.”

The airline’s proposal also requests authority to pay $11.2 million in wages and severance to the rest of its workers, who will be unemployed after today.

Mr. Kindred complained that company officials want to give a hand-picked group of executives millions of dollars, while they gave workers just two weeks’ notice that they would lose their jobs.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide