GeorgiaSkies, required to provide regular passenger flights between Middle Georgia Regional Airport and Atlanta, apparently hasnt done so in days.
Greg Kahlstorf, CEO of GeorgiaSkies parent company Pacific Wings, declined to comment on any issues related to canceled flights. But airport manager Doug Faour said Thursday that following a customer complaint, he contacted GeorgiaSkies and was told that the one plane assigned to Macon-Atlanta flights has been out of service with unspecified maintenance issues.
Theres no word on when it might be repaired, Faour said.
The lapse apparently goes back at least to Jan. 22, and probably a few days before that, said Richard Nadler of Warner Robins, the customer who alerted Faour.
Thats when Nadler arrived at the main Macon airport for the first leg of a flight to Minneapolis to visit his mother on her 97th birthday.
He bought his tickets Jan. 8 through a travel website called CheapOair.com. That itinerary put him on a 10:45 a.m. Pacific Wings/Georgia Skies flight to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where he was to catch a United Airlines plane at 1:31 p.m. But when he arrived at Middle Georgia Regional Airport about 8 a.m., they told me (the flight) might be a little bit late, Nadler said.
At 12:10 p.m. he was told the plane was in maintenance and lacked parts. The ticket agent suggested he drive to Groome Transportation and take its van to Atlanta -- but the airline didnt offer to cover the cost, Nadler said.
In any case, hed still have missed his connecting flight, so he refused, he said. Nadler asked for a refund or voucher for future travel, but was only offered about $100 on a $457.45 total fare, he said.
I think that they are selling tickets for the airplanes without an attempt to provide the service, Nadler said.
A later call to Pacific Wings got him an offer of $110, he said. United Airlines disclaimed any liability, but offered his wife a $150 credit toward a future ticket -- after charging him a cancellation fee, Nadler said.
I didnt cancel the flight. There was no flight available, he said.
Nadler said he learned from workers at the airports concession and car-rental counters that this wasnt a new problem.
They said we havent seen anybody catch a plane here in the last week, he said.
Faour said last week he was unaware of an unusual number of flight cancellations; hed seen GeorgiaSkies plane at the airport, and everything appeared normal. But after hearing from Nadler, he contacted the airline and found out differently.
They told me that the aircraft assigned to run the Macon-Atlanta route is down for maintenance right now, he said Thursday. GeorgiaSkies said they plan to resume flights as soon as their maintenance issue is resolved, Faour said. But thats already caused several days of flight cancellations, and GeorgiaSkies hasnt told him specifics of the maintenance problem, he said.
Kahlstorf, reached by e-mail, said company policy prohibits discussing any specific passenger or flight.
GeorgiaSkies does not address customer concerns or complaints through the media, he wrote. Nor would he say how many GeorgiaSkies flights have been canceled.
Kahlstorf referred questions on refunds to company policies posted online. Those say if flights are late or canceled, passengers will be put on another GeorgiaSkies flight at no extra charge, have the unused portion of the fare refunded, or receive credit for that amount for future travel.
As for getting Nadler to Atlanta by other means, the policies say GeorgiaSkies does not assume responsibility for the ground transportation of any passenger or his or her baggage between any airport used by (GeorgiaSkies) and any other location. Ground transportation is at the passengers expense.
GeorgiaSkies has provided passenger flights between Macon and Atlanta since 2008, contracting to provide 24 flights per week in return for $1.4 million a year in federal Essential Air Service subsidy. But passenger numbers have dropped steadily since a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines held the contract, hiking the federal payment given to the airline for each passenger well above levels acceptable to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Officials have repeatedly thrown that contract open for bids again, but one such effort ended in December 2011 when GeorgiaSkies gambled on offering Macon flights without the subsidy -- substantially increasing the ticket price. Soon afterward ticket sales plunged, according to monthly statistics the airline provided to the Department of Transportation.
Total arrivals and departures at the airport went from 552 in January 2012 to just 127 in February. They stayed low all year. In October, the last month listed on a federal database, there were 136 passenger arrivals and departures.
In late April, GeorgiaSkies gave up and announced it wanted to leave the Macon market but was required to keep flying until a replacement was found. Once that order went into effect, however, GeorgiaSkies began getting subsidy payments again. Another airline, Sun Air International, won the contract last fall but backed out before beginning service. That kept GeorgiaSkies flying from the Macon airport under the federal mandate.
The Department of Transportation held a new round of bidding for subsidized service in Macon, and those bids were due in by midnight Thursday. They should be publicly released sometime Friday, said Bill Mosley, Department of Transportation spokesman.
Mosley said that as of Thursday, federal officials hadnt heard about GeorgiaSkies stopping its Macon-Atlanta flights, though he knew the company is planning to leave as soon as possible. GeorgiaSkies has to report its flights in order to get its subsidy payments, he said.
One thing to note is they get paid only for flights they operate, Mosley said.
Nadler, a consumer-affairs attorney, said companies often fail to provide services and gamble that they wont get caught, since many people dont have the resources or knowledge to effectively complain. Hed like to see a federal investigation of GeorgiaSkies practices, and hopes other would-be passengers come forward.
Nadler said he wants a full refund plus reasonable attorneys fees.
He contacted Macon City Councilman Rick Hutto, and Hutto said he in turn asked Faour to try pressuring GeorgiaSkies to make Mr. Nadler whole.
While it wasnt the city that left him high and dry after the purchase of his ticket, it was the airline that has already said it doesnt want to continue serving Macon, Hutto said via e-mail. Obviously that doesnt leave us with much influence with them.
Faour said that although airport management doesnt actually handle problems with airlines, he and airport staff are trying to resolve Nadlers dispute with GeorgiaSkies.
The effort may have paid off Thursday afternoon.
Weve worked out an offer that Mr. Nadler now has, and I hope this will clear up any misunderstandings, said Hutto, who did not disclose terms of the deal.
Nadler said he got an offer for a joint payment from Pacific Wings and TBI, the company that manages the airport for the city. No city money was involved, Nadler said.
But now hes deciding how much to ask for, since the recently approved federal Air Passenger Bill of Rights endorses payments up to $1,350, he said.
Whatever the result, Nadlers glad Faour and city officials took notice.
I really, really appreciated that, he said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.