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Skybus glitches won’t ground low-cost airline

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Jan 02, 2008

(TVLW) - Skybus Airlines is still on track for a happy new year despite its recent bleak Christmas, analysts say.

The airline, which will soon roll out expanded service at Piedmont Triad International Airport, left some passengers with nothing but coal and switches on Christmas Day when it canceled eight flights in and out of Columbus, Ohio, because of mechanical trouble.

The discount airline canceled 10 flights, about one-fourth of its daily schedule, again the next day. The daily flight to Piedmont Triad International Airport was not affected.

Two of the airline's seven planes were damaged in two unrelated instances. One suffered door damage after stairs were rolled up to the back of the fuselage. Another had fuselage damage, but no cause has been found.

Both were out of service nearly two days, said Bob Tenenbaum, a Skybus spokesman, affecting 1,000 to 1,200 passengers out of about 4,000.

"Clearly it was a very regrettable situation and made more regrettable by the fact that it was Christmas Day," Tenenbaum said. "The airplane doesn't know it's Christmas Day, but the people do. Safety is the first consideration."

Several hundred passengers were stranded — and angry. But Skybus clearly spells out in its fine print that it does not have cooperative agreements with other airlines to find flights for passengers, but it will try to book later Skybus flights or give refunds.

The airline does not have a customer service telephone number, and company representatives can offer only limited service at airports other than self-service kiosks.

Amber Ankowski's Burbank-to-Columbus flight was canceled, according to a report in The Columbus Dispatch. But she got a flight on JetBlue because of a family connection.

Still, she told the newspaper, "We'll never fly Skybus again. Things happen, but they have to have a backup plan. It's unacceptable putting all those people out."

It's not necessarily unacceptable, said Anthony Tangorra, an airline consultant and chief executive officer of Latitude Transport Advisory.

"I don't think it's a PR disaster," Tangorra said. "I think it's a step on the learning curve for the public about Skybus and low-cost airlines like them and their service."

In the 1990s, passengers in Europe learned to deal with the inconveniences of deep-discount airline Ryanair for the low fares. And if history holds true, they should adapt to Skybus, he said.

Still, the airline must fly to destinations where passengers want to go, it should keep its new planes up to date and reliable, and it should always keep its prices low, Tangorra said.

Skybus is frank about its position, saying passengers should be well-informed of its policies.

"It's incumbent upon the airline to make sure that information's available," Tenenbaum said. "And frankly I think it's incumbent upon passengers to know what they're buying. Skybus may not be for everybody. But people who are uncomfortable with that probably need to look elsewhere."

PTI has a lot riding on the airline. If its hub is a success this year, Skybus could pull the airport out of declining passenger numbers that have started improving only recently after three years.

Skybus said in October it would open a hub in Greensboro, its first outside its Columbus base. The first expansion will add a second round trip to Columbus on Sunday.

Taking on the untested airline doesn't keep Ted Johnson up at night, though. The airport's executive director said, "This is (an airline) culture we're talking about that they have in Europe. Whether Americans are willing to work that culture I just don't know. Ryanair has these glitches and they overcome them."

Skybus glitches won’t ground low-cost airline

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