Monday, September 29, 2014

PEOPLExpress launch costs taxpayers $1.65M


NEWPORT NEWS -- Passengers are still fuming after PEOPLExpress airlines announced on Friday it is grounding all flights until October 16 because of maintenance issues. 

On Monday, the company reactivated its customer service line and live chat. Both were left unanswered since Friday, adding fuel to an already hot situation.

A growing number of people are even more upset about millions in taxpayer dollars that were used to help fund the airline's launch.

"As a taxpaying citizen, I'm very upset," January Serda said.

PEOPLExpress officials told 13News Now that $1.65 million in taxpayer dollars were pumped into the launch of the low-fare airline at Newport News Williamsburg International Airport. Three months later, all flights are grounded for three weeks. Passengers are now scrambling to make new plans. People say, that's money down the drain.

"Sadly, that's what happens to a lot of our taxpayer dollars -- they go to a lot of things they shouldn't be going to," Marguerite Montgomery said.

The money came in the form of federal and regional grants to service flights from Newport News to Newark and Boston for a full year. If PEOPLExpress can't figure out a way to restart its service, there are consequences.

"If they default from that, we will make sure that we recover any money. We believe we will be successful in working with other airlines to provide that service," Newport News city manager and chairman of the Peninsula Airport Commission Jim Bourey said.

Passengers like January Serda are now turning to other airports for more reliable service.

"I actually stopped going to Newport News airport and tend to take the drive to Richmond and fly out of Richmond," she said.

City officials say PEOPLExpress is going to have a big challenge to regain the trust of its customers, but notes that since the airline launched, there's been a 25 percent increase in passenger service at the airport.

"It showed that there is definitely a market for air service from Newport News to those other sites," Bourey said.

Since its launch, PEOPLExpress has serviced 55,000 customers on 817 flights.

The airline announced on its Facebook page today, that it will begin accepting reservations for flights starting October 16, very soon. Effective today, its call center will reopen daily from 8 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. to take calls at 844-435-9739, and live chat will be available on its website at

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