New Worst Airline in the Country? Meet Via Air

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.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] Via Air reviewing policy after stranded passengers claim promises broken – KXAN I’ve heard of Via Air and seen their airplanes around, but I don’t know much about the airline. It sounds like at best they’re having growing problems. At worst, there could be some seriously shady business practices going on here. Let’s hope it’s the former and this gets fixed before it kills the airline. (via View from the Wing) […]

Comments

  1. Having flown Via once and never again after cancelation with no help offered, AA has long way to go to reach the new bottom. It will be hard to dethrone Via from the worst airline.

  2. Wow you found an airline that actually rates lower than United. Didn’t think that was possible.

  3. These were subsidized flights? Is there any recourse there, except calling on DOT to cancel their EAS program participation? I’m very suspicious about airlines who rely on EAS subsidies in the first place.

  4. Via has been booted from CKB, LWB & SHD on the EAS contracts. Skywest replaced them with UA codeshares to IAD and ORD.

    Just this week, both PKB and BKW came out and asked for Via to be replaced when the EAS contracts expire on 12/1/18.

    Being in the BKW market, they were attractive to CLT at $49 or less OW fares. they have now raised them to the $105 range, and are more expensive than PKB-CLT at $60 OW, and has a BKW-PKB $30 fare that has a connection with a layover in CLT (hidden city fare anyone?).

  5. Only experience I had with them was trying to get an FA friend home to CRW. She was stuck in CLT with all CRW and HTS flights full. Walk up $36 fare at the time got her to BKW. But I’ve heard lots of operational issues since they started flying in WV.

  6. Avoid Via Air. Flight canceled after waiting hours at airport. Called customer service and had nothing but trouble getting checked luggage back! Forget talking to ANYONE in management, they don’t take calls. One vacation a year, and hosed over by this joke of an airline.

  7. This is a joke of an airline. . . Do not fly on them!!! I was a pilot with them, and it is appalling the way they run their operations. They don’t think twice about canceling a flight. Often times, they cancel the flight in order to fly a more lucrative sports charter flight, leaving passengers stranded with no ability to get help. And, they often know about the cancellation days in advance, and don’t bother to tell the passengers. Or they wont have a flight crew available, so they just delay the flight so that passengers cancel and they end up not loosing as much money (again, they know it would happen, sometimes the day or even two before), then after several hours, they will finally cancel the flight (sometimes 8 hours later).
    The pilot group and FA group are all very professional (for the most part) and go to work everyday to fly these poor passengers safely from point A to B, but are often sabotaged by upper management lack of integrity.
    The aircraft are also, old, tired and prone to maintenance issues. The hardworking maintenance professionals’ hands are tied because Via has no money (or doesn’t want to release it) in order to replace old parts, provide replacement parts to common items that need replacement that end up grounding the aircraft for simple matters.
    We (as Pilots) often wonder why ANYONE would buy a ticket with this airline after seeing the ratings on ANY travel website. Folks are playing Russian roulette with their travel plans if you book a cheap ticket. So as we say, “if you have time to spare, fly Via Air”!

  8. Absolute nonsense. This airline cancelled my flight from SFB (orlando) to BTR(baton rouge) 10 days prior to my flight plans. The reason I was given was that it’s a seasonal flight and the “last flight” of the season was 7 days before the one I had booked and was confirmed. I was given no booking on a new flight as they have no affiliates and although I had flight insurance I was only granted a refund of my original flight amount. Rebooking a last minute of my own costed me $400. NEVER AGAIN WILL I FLY THIS AIRLINES.

  9. Was due to fly out of SC this morning to go to Fla..revved email informing me flight was cancelled and l could rebook just call customer service..sister had past away and was going to be with family..they are refunding me my monies, but to get another last minute flight is going to be expensive..I WILL positively NOT use or recommend this airline…all the bad reviews came up after…thanks VIA AIRLINES for being a very poorly managed airline..don’t see you lasting 6 myths in Columbia, SC..We have no use for incompetently run business.

  10. This airline Via suck, they have done the same to us as everyone else on this site. Don’t know why CAE has not kicked them out of Columbia SC. How has the FAA not got involved with this outfit.

  11. This airline Via suck, they have done the same to us as everyone else on this site. Don’t know why CAE has not kicked them out of Columbia SC. How has the FAA not got involved with this outfit.

  12. Still waiting on refund from flight cancelled 5 Mar 19…has been 15 business days and they keep saying its my banks fault..am going to my bank in the morning!!!

  13. My flight from Jackson Ms to Sanford Fl was canceled the night before the morning with no reason. I still haven’t been able to contact anyone. They aren’t answering their phones or emails. Never again!!

  14. This horrible air line stranded me and a group of cheerleaders in Orlando on a return cancelled flight, no partial refund or help with return travel

  15. I got stranded in Texas on Sunday morning. I had already checked into my flight and about 7 hours prior received and email that my flight was cancelled. No explanation at all. When I try to call them I get AN ANSWERING MACHINE!!!! Additionally because I booked through Expedia they need to communicate with them to get me a refund. It cost me $477 just to get home!!! Terrible airline. I thought I was on American for both flights. I hope this airline goes down in flames and based on what I’ve read it sounds like they will.

  16. I feel your pain, but honestly. . how in the world did you think you were on American Airlines for both you legs? And ANY airline you book through 3rd party like Expedia or Priceline or any of those, the airline (or hotel, or car rental) will make you go through that 3rd party. Good travelers know to NEVER EVER book through those types of services. . . you have 0 protection. So sorry happened to you, I always tell folks to look up reviews for services you dont normally use . . a quick google search would have saved you all this headache.

  17. I was originally supposed to take the trip in January and my father became ill so I was unable to go. Lost all my money on that trip even though I was his durable medical proxy and power of attorney and they deemed him mentally incompetent so I had to sign off on everything – including the surgery to amputate his leg. After he passed away I made a last minute decision to treat myself to a vacation. I learned a very big lesson. I wasn’t even paying attention when I booked. I have traveled all over the world and I should have been paying more attention. I almost always fly JetBlue.

  18. My sister was traveling from Branson to Austin and got an email three days before the flight stating it was cancelled. No explanation and now I am worried about getting my reimbursement. It caused major headache to reschedule.

  19. From what I have been told, Via has shut down (which is why your sister’s flight was canceled), I”m pretty sure she will NEVER see a reimbursement.

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