Startup airline PeoplExpress suspends flights

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Start-up airline PeoplExpress says it is suspending flights because of problems including a shortage of crews and only one plane, but it hopes to resume flying next month.

The airline based in Newport News, Virginia, said Friday that it was processing refunds for passengers holding tickets through Oct. 15. The company said travelers booked on later flights will get an email once plans for resuming service on or about Oct. 16 are complete.

PeoplExpress, which took its name from another airline that operated in the 1980s, started flying on June 30 and offered flights to seven destinations from Newport News on Boeing 737 jets operated by Vision Airlines.

PeoplExpress said that it struggled to operate a full schedule due to aircraft, crew-availability and maintenance issues. One plane was damaged by a vendor's truck on Sept. 19, leaving just one aircraft because the airline lacked a planned spare.

Last month, the airline's founder, Mike Morisi, apologized to passengers after delays that he blamed on a "perfect storm" of setbacks, including an eye injury to the plane's captain and an accident that left the co-pilot's wife hospitalized. He also scolded passengers who "believe that screaming and cursing a 25 year-old customer service representative" is acceptable behavior.

PeoplExpress sought to capitalize on consolidation in the airline industry, which has reduced service for travelers in smaller cities such as Newport News. The airline charged low base fares but added fees for items that are free on many airlines, such as non-alcoholic beverages and putting a carry-on bag in the overhead bin.

The original PeoplExpress operated from 1981 to 1987 and grew rapidly by offering rock-bottom fares. It was briefly the nation's fifth largest airline before falling victim to costly overexpansion. It was bought by Continental Airlines, which dropped the name.