The community gathered last Thursday, Apr. 13, at the Greenbrier Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau at the second Via Air-hosted gathering, and things got tense as Greenbrier Valley Airport (GVA) Manager Stephen Snyder aired his grievances during the forum.
The meeting was the second one hosted by Via Air, which since taking over the Essential Air Service (EAS)for GVA, has hit some speed bumps in the community thanks to a series of cancelled and delayed flights last December which left holiday travelers stranded both here and away from home.
Via Air’s Matthew Macri told Thursday’s audience that since the last community meeting, where he had apologized for the chaos caused by his company’s flight cancelations, the airline has delivered 100 percent of its flights to the GVA with no reroutes and few delays.
Still, he said, Via Air is struggling to restore trust within the Greenbrier Valley, and he said the only way for the airline to do that is by “getting up every day and doing what we’re doing.”
Macri said that Via Air is continuing to finalize a ticketing and baggage agreement that will further streamline travel for people flying in and out of the area, and he hopes that, combined with some financial incentives to be rolled out soon, will tempt local fliers to use them again.
Via Air offers daily flights to and from Charlotte, NC.
While Macri was touting the success of the airline in the past several weeks, airport officials remained unconvinced.
Snyder decried Via Air’s lack of a ticketing and baggage agreement, stating that Via Air had promised that one would be in place upon the beginning of their EAS contract. Further, he said, the airport’s reputation has been seriously damaged since last winter’s flight cancellation debacle.
“The board is under pressure,” Snyder said of the Greenbrier County Airport Authority, “and I have to explain to people, to The Greenbrier, what happened. People are not knocking on your door. They’re knocking on mine.”
“I want to believe (in you),” Snyder continued. “We applaud the efforts in the last three weeks…”
“Six weeks,” Macri interjected.
Snyder continued a vague line of questioning, indicating that Via Air had fallen through on several other obligations to the airport, while saying that the details were not meant for such a public forum.
“Then what is your agenda?” Macri demanded. “This has nothing to do with the traveling public. It’s destructive.”
Finally, the subtext was revealed to meeting-goers when Snyder said, “We shouldn’t have to beg for something like getting paid,” indicating that Via Air owes the airport $45,000.
Macri tried to sooth the tempers in the room, stating to Snyder, “It’s not your fault. It’s our fault. I apologize for you losing face in the community.”
Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester managed to get the meeting back on track, acknowledging the “residual frustrations” felt by both companies, but urging Snyder and Macri to place their mutual focus, moving forward, on “getting those planes full.”
Manchester asked Macri if the company anticipates rolling out any “sweeteners or enticements,” to sell more tickets.
Macri responded that some fare discounts are set to be introduced in the near future.
“I encourage you to do that,” said Manchester. “Success breeds success.”
“We will continually improve,” said Macri. “We’re putting things in place to prevent a ‘cascade’ like last winter. I’m here to make it right.”
Snyder didn’t back down.
“We won’t relent when it comes to good service,” he said.