Newport News, Va. - PEOPLExpress started off on a wing and a prayer last June in Newport News non- stop to multiple markets. For some travelers, it was a dream come true.
Then came the September nightmare.
“I think any airline that has a truck run into the side of an airplane is going to have a problem,” says Mike Morisi, PEOPLExpress founder.
With only two planes in rotation, it was a house of cards that fell apart. When the second plane developed mechanical issues, the little airline that could, could do no more and suspended operations.
“There were a lot of tears and a lot of anguish in this building over this decision simply because we knew the impact it was going to have on so many people,” says Morisi.
Suddenly the favorable comments on the company Facebook page turned critical.
Pete Hernandez, a small business owner, was in New Orleans when PEOPLExpress stopped flying. He was on his anniversary trip.
“I just feel aggravated. They messed up my vacation. I had to drive 18 hours. I lost money the next day here,” says Pete Hernandez, a frustrated traveler.
“Personally, I’m truly sorry for that, and I think that it is a really painful thing for me to think about that happening personally,” says Morisi.
In the days that followed the shutdown, the company posted responses to customers on Facebook and email and issued refunds; Pete Hernandez was one of them.
But money apparently isn't flowing into the fledgling offices of PEOPLExpress. Touring the facility, Morisi says most of the staff is working without pay until they re-launch.
As they work their plan, the Peninsula Airport Commission kicked them out of Newport News Williamsburg airport, saying the airline failed to pay approximately $100,000 in passenger facility charges.
Of the multiple airports PEOPLExpress services, according to Morisi, Newport News is the only airport so far to take this action.
“It's our full intent to pay the bill, Barbara obviously we have a lack of funds right now,” says Morisi.
Morisi says an insurance claim as a result of the September accident as well as deposits due from other partner airports will enable PEOPLExpress to clear the slate.
“The airport is aware they are at the top of the list of getting paid as soon as those funds come in,” says Morisi.
While he waits for the funds to come in, apparently a new ship has come in with new investors, a new airline with three guaranteed planes, and a new game plan.
Morisi says the breaking news is PEOPLExpress is coming back.
“We are on schedule to make an announcement early January, open reservations at that time and fly in March,” says Morisi. “We have a good plan, a solid plan, a good solid group of investors , a great airline to fly with so we're really excited about it.”
Morisi declined to reveal the name of the new airline partner citing a non-disclosure agreement, and he sidestepped the question when we asked if they would be returning to Newport News/Williamsburg Airport.
“There's no question whatsoever. We're going to serve the Hampton Roads market. This is a great market starving for low fares,” says Morisi.
But if you re-build it, will they come?
“In the world of the consumer, how do you gain their trust back,” says Morisi.
“A lot people feel once you've burned me, are you going to trust me again? I just hope they will recognize we did everything we possibly could,” says Morisi.