Back in April Minneapolis-based Sun Country Airlines stranded hundreds of passengers in Mexico when the airline cancelled its last flights of the season. They offered customers refunds and told them to go buy walkup fares on other airlines.
They could have sent another plane for passengers. They could have chartered one. They could have paid another airline to take to their passengers, but it would have been costly because the only interline agreements they have with US airlines are with Hawaiian and Ravn Alaska, and they have no interline agreements with Mexican carriers.
When you fly on an airline without interline agreements, or many flights of your own, you incur some risk during irregular operations. I don’t worry too much about that myself, my worst case is always spending miles for a rulebuster-style award ticket to get where I’m going, and credit card trip delay coverage helps out too.
In June a Sun Country flight took off without realizing that no luggage was on board. At the time I suggested that since Spirit Airlines is adding inflight internet, Sun Country has a shot at becoming the world airline in America.
There’s another airline potentially in the mix though, and they have a significant presence at my home airport in Austin: Via Air. I’ve been meaning to fly them, if only to have an excuse to leave out of the airport’s new South Terminal (that’s nowhere near the main terminal) since only Via Air and Allegiant use it.
Via Air moved from public charter operations to running commercial Essential Air Service subsidized flights out of Beckley and Parkersburg, West Virginia to Charlotte in 2014. They also ran unsubsidized flights from Beckley and Parkersburg to St. Augustine, Florida.
The Florida-based carrier has since expanded operations and has a fleet of 6 fifty seat Embraer ERJ-145s and 4 thirty seat EMB-120 Brasilia turboprops.
Credit: Via Air
Frequencies are generally once a day and not all routes are daily. If I want to fly Austin – Oklahoma City at Noon on a Wednesday, though, they’ve got me covered.
From Austin I can fly:
Via Air allows one complimentary personal item (16x12x9 inches max) and charges for checked bags. They charge a $100 per segment change fee, but for that price they do allow name changes on tickets. Their call center fee is also per segment.
They appear to have an interline agreement with American, but their website only says they are “currently working towards interline partnerships with other carriers” and that they do not transfer checked bags to any other airline.
So what happens when Via Air cancels your flight? Based on a local news organization’s review of the airline’s correspondence with passengers and with a former customer service agent with the carrier, apparently they tell you they’ll reimburse whatever it costs to fly another airline, and then they just don’t send the check.
In February Via Air even authorized $5100 for a family of four to buy walkup tickets on United at the end of a holiday weekend,
“We said, ‘hey, is this okay? Do you need to talk to your manager about this, this is what we’re going to do’ and she put us on hold, went and talked to her supervisor and came back and said, ‘yes, that’s what they want you guys to do,’” Bryan Hassler recalled his conversation with Via Air’s customer service center.
Another solo passenger on a cancelled flight was authorized $770 for their walkup ticket home, since Via Air didn’t have another flight of its own for 3 days. Checks were promised in 30 days.
In April the airline confirmed the refund to the solo passenger and apologized for the delay in making payment,
There is currently a delay in the processing of the checks but I want to assure you that the reimbursement has been submitted and has been approved and is currently on our expense list for the next set of checks to be signed and mailed
In June — four months later — the airline responded about the $5100. They could have $800 and the rest in travel vouchers.
According to a former Via Air call center agent, “call takers were told by management to tell stranded customers the airline would fully reimburse ticket costs on a competing airline as well as rental car costs when Via Air would cancel a flight” but that this month they changed the policy to be travel vouchers only.
Via Air has an F-rating from the Better Business Bureau. 71% of their TripAdvisor reviews are poor or terrible, compared to 27% for Allegiant, 26% for United, and 25% for Sun Country. (Southwest and Alaska come in at 6% and 7%, respectively.)