Flight issues continue to be daily problem
Dec. 22, 2012 at 6:22 a.m.
Ben Price expected an easy flight that would land him home in Denver with no problems.
Like other Sun Air passengers, he, instead, faced an exhaustive journey filled with delays and issues that would try even the most experienced of flyers.
Price said he's lucky. Others flying out of Victoria have been given apologies and a taxi ride to Houston.
Price, who flies about 75 times a year, said his concern from his November flight was the ticketing process.
Price could not check-in to his Houston connection until the plane landed because Sun Air was not connected to "the system," he said.
The ordeal nearly caused him to miss his flight and lose his ticket because mechanical trouble delayed the flight from Victoria.
Victoria Regional Airport Manager Jason Milewski acknowledged the problems the airport has with its service with Sun Air.
He called it "disconcerting."
"We're working daily and, in most cases, hourly with the airline to have a resolution for these issues," Milewski said. "No one is happy about this."
The issues run the gamut, including baggage restrictions and luggage handling, maintenance trouble and weather obstacles, which are out of anyone's control.
However, Milewski said because Sun Air is a new airline - not just to Victoria, but overall - some hiccups are expected.
"We all wanted this to be strong right out of the box, everyone wants this to be flawless service," Milewski said. "Apparently and obviously, it's taken a little longer to get to that point."
Because Sun Air removed the spare plane to replace an aircraft at another airport, any mechanical problems in Victoria have a bigger impact on the schedule, Milewski said. He expects that spare plane to return soon.
County Judge Don Pozzi said he had "no personal knowledge" whether the airline used taxi cabs or limousine to transport passengers during mechanical problems, but knows problems exist.
"Every day the airport management continues to talk to Sun Air about some of the problems that have developed regarding the flights and schedules and luggage and you name it," Pozzi said.
Ultimately, Pozzi said the county is happy with the airline and pleased to have "any kind of service."
"We always believe that improvements can be made, and that's what we're trying to do with the baggage handling situation, the luggage load, and the type of aircraft," Pozzi said. "This is a brand new market for them, and I think they're experiencing some things they did not foresee in the beginning."
Pozzi would not comment about whether the county or airport was interested in opening a search for a new airline.
"If either party is not living up to the terms of the contract, -" Pozzi said, without finishing his sentence. "I don't anticipate any changes."
As long as Sun Air agrees to continue flying into Victoria, the airline will stay, Milewski said.
"We're working with them, and they're working with us to get this resolved," Milewski said. "This doesn't do anyone any good - passengers, airline or airport. They don't get paid unless they fly."
Sun Air International is on a two-year federally subsidized contract for essential air service. The contract requires Sun Air to fly a set number of passengers on a daily basis. Milewski said the "excessive maintenance cancellations" are not positive.
In the meantime, the airport continues to be marketed, he said.
"We're always open to any airline that wants to come into Victoria," Milewski said. "We're always marketing the airport for more options for our public. That's always the case, no matter whether the airline is doing really great or having difficulties."
Overall, Price remained positive about his flight with Sun Air and was pleased with the response from the airport's management.
"It's a new airline," he said. "They're still trying to get some of the kinks worked out."
The lesson he learned is to schedule a 90-minute layover in Houston or just purchase the tickets separately.
"It's inconvenient, but it's not terrible," Price said. "When I fly again, I intend to use Sun Air again."
He said the $56 flight made financial sense. Otherwise, he would need to rent a car or have an employee pick him up.
"These planes they're using are smaller, sure," he said. "But I love to fly, and I love being able to look out ... I never felt scared or unsafe. It was just a new experience."