Regional carrier ViaAir has cancelled four flights to Austin in the past three weeks, causing irritation among passengers and placing the spotlight on the Baton Rouge Metro Airport, which began offering the nonstop direct air service in September.
The airline has cancelled 20 of its 116 scheduled flights since Sept. 20, says Cynthia Melendez-Flynn, marketing manager for ViaAir. Ten of those cancellations were due to maintenance issues, while the other 10 were due to crewing shortages—an effect of a national industry-wide pilot shortage, she says.
But the recent spate of cancellations has been brought to light on Twitter, where passengers are complaining that not only were they not notified in advance, but also there was no customer service representatives available at the gate once it became clear there would be no flight. Also, customers are not happy about ViaAir opting not to rebook their flight, instead offering only a $50 voucher.
It’s a public relations nightmare for the airport, which is occasionally looped into problems via social media. When that happens, BTR requests the airline respond to the passenger, says airport spokesperson Jim Caldwell, adding that BTR has been meeting regularly with ViaAir to address mutual concerns regarding flight issues.
“It is always a concern for us when any passengers experience flight problems,” Caldwell says. “We conveyed these concerns to the airline and want them to be addressed. We are optimistic that they will improve going forward.”
The airport helped secure the ViaAir deal in partnership with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber by offering its standard airline incentive package, as well as a promise of advertising support and a commitment from BRAC to help with promotions and networking opportunities.
Since joining the market last year, the airline has already cut back on its Orlando service amid soft demand, offering aggressive one-day sales to fill flights.
Caldwell defends the airport, saying 84.4% of BTR flights last year were on time, with only 1.3% of flights cancelled. Furthermore, he says ViaAir represents less than 1% of the BTR passenger share.
ViaAir officials say they’re taking steps to improve the reliability of its service, such as bringing on a new class of pilots to fill the shortage and closing gaps in communication referenced in the Twitter complaints.
ViaAir is developing “reliable technology” to help get in contact with passengers when flights have been cancelled, Melendez-Flynn says, adding many travelers have aggressive email spam filters or avoid calls from unfamiliar phone numbers. She goes on to say the airline is planning to add more touchpoints of communication, such as text push notifications.