Local Family Split by ATA Bankruptcy

Owen Freeman
Owen Freeman
Tammie Phillips
Tammie Phillips
Rose, Desmond and Dennis Phillips
Rose, Desmond and Dennis Phillips

OAHU (KHNL) --  Thousands of people stranded; thousands of airline workers unemployed.  This week alone, two airlines flying out of Hawaii abruptly call it quits.

Iconic Hawaii-based Aloha Airlines shut down operations on Monday.  Thursday, Indianapolis-based, low-cost carrier ATA follows suit.  It was in business 35 years.

More than 2,200 ATA employees are now out of work, and according to the Hawaii Department of Labor,

One hundred fifty full-time and contract workers here in Hawaii.

The airline had 29 jets, many of them leased.

In addition to Hawaii service from four west coast cities, it flew three routes out of Chicago.  The airline says the cancellation of a key contract for its military charter business was the key factor for its abrupt bankruptcy filing.

Just as the backlog of stranded Aloha passengers was finally being cleared, the ATA announcement left thousands more stranded at Honolulu International Airport and on the mainland.

And those we talked to were caught completely off guard. They say the airline did not bother telling them what was going on.

Empty ATA counters greeted confused passengers across the country.  No employees, no flights, and no more ATA.  Stranded customers are shocked the airline closed up shop without any notice.

"I was pretty angry at first," said Owen Freeman, a displaced ATA customer and a U.S. Marine who is trying to see his family before he gets deployed to Iraq next month.  "Pretty much, I just want to go home and see my family one last time before I go and my family wants to see me as well.  But we don't have the money to fly me at the last minute like that so, if I can't go home to see my family, it's going to be devastating.

ATA passengers are left to fend for themselves.  No refunds and no partnerships with other carriers to honor ATA tickets.

And the sudden ATA shutdown has also separated families.  A local family separated by 3-thousand miles.

The Phillips family went to Las Vegas to celebrate a major milestone.  Half of them flew on Hawaiian Airlines; the other half on ATA.

And the choice of airlines meant the difference between whether they're home or stuck on the mainland.

The birth of baby Amelia brought the Phillips family to Las Vegas.  It's Michael and Cristina's first child, and Tammie Phillips' first grandchild.

"It was the first time in about four years, that we've all been together, the two boys and I," said Tammie Phillips, a Mililani resident.  "So it was very, very special."

Tammie and her husband Patrick flew on Hawaiian Airlines. Her older son Dennis and his family, Rose and Desmond, flew on ATA.

"We could've flown ATA, and we chose not to because we really like Hawaiian," said Tammie Phillips. "They're dependable; they're a reputable company."

So when it was time to come home, Dennis and his family's ATA tickets were worthless.

"What shocked me about it was not so much that they filed for bankruptcy, but that they hadn't given any notice whatsoever to their customers," said Dennis Phillips, who is stranded in Las Vegas with his family. "At least Aloha Airlines had the decency and the customer service sense to tell people a few days in advance that they would be closing shop."

Now Dennis and Rose have an unexpected major expense.

"There's basically nothing except either first class or coach rates that cost about a thousand dollars and up, one way from Las Vegas to Hawaii," said Dennis Phillips.

"And they have two teenage boys, one in private school, so they can't afford to pay $1,500 each or even $1,000 each and ATA is protected by Chapter 11 but my children aren't," said Tammie Phillips.

So Tammie waits for her family in Mililani, thumbing through photos of a joyous event that had a sad ending.

"This was a very, very special occasion for our family and it's turning sour," she said.  "It's just leaving a very sour taste in my mouth."

And ATA's demise leaves behind a wreckage of busted memories.

"We'll have the memories we had there but, we'll always remember too that ATA didn't follow through," said Tammie Phillips.  "They cheated my kids out of their money."

Dennis and his family hope to book flights back home by early next week. While they're stuck in Vegas, they're missing work and other important appointments.