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DirectAir suspends operations

Nationwide move affects toledo express

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DirectAir employees Sherry Andrews, second from right, and colleague Drew Schmalzreid, right, check passengers in for the first DirectAir flight from Toledo Express Airport in November, 2008. The airline said Tuesday it missed a payment to a fuel supplier and the firm cut it off.

Associated Press Enlarge

DirectAir, the scheduled-charter discount airline that has flown between Toledo Express Airport and southwest Florida for several winter seasons, has suspended operations nationwide until mid-May.

The carrier posted this message Tuesday afternoon on its Web site:

"DirectAir finds it necessary to suspend flight operation from Tuesday, March 13, 2012, until May 15, 2012. This decision was made to address operational matters. We are currently evaluating strategic alternatives for DirectAir."

Direct Air, which began flying in March, 2007, serves 17 cities in the Midwest, East, and South -- mostly smaller markets where big airlines don't fly.

DirectAir directed passengers holding reservations for the cancelled flights "to contact their credit card company to arrange for a refund."

Company officials were unavailable for further comment.

DirectAir canceled many of its flights Monday, although its round trip between Toledo and Punta Gorda, Fla., near Fort Myers, flew as scheduled. The airline had no flights scheduled for Tuesday.

DirectAir had flown two round trip flights a week between Toledo and Punta Gorda -- on Mondays and Fridays. Its local service was scheduled to end for the season on April 30, having resumed on Nov. 11 after a similar hiatus last year.

Ed Warneck, Direct Air's marketing manager, told The Sun News newspaper in Myrtle Beach that the airline missed a fuel payment and the supplier cut it off.

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, which manages Toledo Express, announced it would provide free travel-agent services, through Ottawa Hills Travel, to Toledo passengers affected by DirectAir's suspension of operations to assist them with re-booking trips.

The port authority is "incredibly disappointed" by DirectAir's action, port spokesman Carla Firestone Nowak said.

"In the past three seasons that DirectAir has been flying from Toledo Express, the popularity of the Punta Gorda/Fort Myers market has grown, with most flights being completely full. This proves Toledo Express and the Punta Gorda/Fort Myers destination to be strong, viable markets for both regions."

Last year, 12,506 passengers flew to or from Toledo Express on DirectAir. That was up from 9,814 in 2010, a 27.4 percent increase. In January, it carried 2,314 passengers, filling 85.7 percent of its seats.

DirectAir began service to Toledo in November, 2008. During the following winter, it announced a second route, between Toledo and Myrtle Beach, S.C., but scrapped that because of weak advance ticket sales.

The port authority said it would cover travel-agency fees for anyone holding a ticket for a DirectAir itinerary originating from Toledo Express through April 30 who rebooks through Ottawa Hills Travel. Passengers will remain responsible for their new flights' airfare.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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