Via Air travelers to and from the Greenbrier Valley had a rude awakening this week when it was announced that their flights had been cancelled.
On Tuesday, Via Air began cancelling flights in and out of the Greenbrier Valley Airport (GVA). The only two flights in and out of GVA were cancelled Wednesday, and one was cancelled on Thursday. The remaining Thursday flight had been combined with another flight serving the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Virginia, meaning that passengers flying into GVA would have a layover at the Shenandoah airport instead of aboard the nonstop flight from Charlotte that they’d paid for.
Via Air provides Essential Air Service to GVA utilizing one 50-passenger jet. This week, said Greenbrier Valley Airport Director Stephen Snyder, Via opted to take that jet out of service at GVA in order to provide a charter flight from Colorado to Montana.
And, he said, this is not the first time. On the Monday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28, Via cancelled flights in and out of GVA. Snyder said he tracked the aircraft and discovered it was carrying a private charter from Nassau, Bahamas, to the United States.
Via just began providing air service to GVA in October after Snyder and the Greenbrier County Airport Authority opted out of a contract with Silver Airways. Snyder had campaigned to cancel Silver Airways’ contract with GVA due to a pattern of late and cancelled flights, lost luggage and generally poor customer service.
When the Essential Air Service contract was put up to bid, Via Air came back with a flight schedule that Snyder and the Greenbrier County Airport Authority found attractive – 12 nonstop flights to and from Charlotte per week with no lulls in service during the winter months.
When Via began flying out of GVA, it did so with much fanfare including a rollout deal where passengers could fly to Charlotte for under $10 for the month of October. But, the deal quickly soured as Via began cancelling flights during some of the heaviest travel times of the year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Snyder, like his GVA customers, is not happy about it.
“I’m downright angry about it,” Snyder said. “The owner (of Via Air) has clearly placed those other customers ahead of the Essential Air Service route.”
Snyder said he spent all day Wednesday fielding complaints from angry travelers and in conference calls to the Department of Transportation (DOT). He has also reached out to the offices of Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and Congressman Evan Jenkins.
“I will use every single tool at my disposal to make (Via Air) compliant, safe and on time,” Snyder said. “We will not be taken for granted.”
Not only are they not honoring their contract with the DOT, they are directly negatively affecting the local economy, Snyder said. Via Air has contracts with airport in Beckley, Parkersburg, Clarksburg and here, at the GVA.
“That’s half of the commercial service in West Virginia,” Snyder said. “Other airports have had this same problem. Some of them have pulled jets for maintenance – which I support – but there has been a general lack of availability.”
Via Air receives an annual subsidy of $4,731,866 to provide GVA with Essential Air Service. Snyder said that the subsidy is paid on a per-flight basis by the DOT. When they cancel their flights, they don’t get paid, Snyder said, but, he noted, they’re getting paid by their private charters instead.
“If Via performed what the Department of Transportation expected them to perform, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Snyder said he offers his deepest apologies to customers whose flights have been cancelled.
“I will not sleep until this problem is resolved. I promise this,” he said.
It is recommended that customers who are flying in and out of the GVA contact the airport directly at 304-986-4000 ext. 8905 for the most up-to-date flight information.
Snyder also recommends filing a complaint with the DOT if your flight has been cancelled by Via Air. The customer service phone number for the DOT is 202-366-2220 or you can go to www.transportation.gov/airconsumer to file online.
The Mountain Messenger reached out to Via Air for comment, but did not hear back from them as of press time.