PhotoThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is fining Vision Airlines $50,000 for violating rules that protect passengers when their public charter flights are suddenly canceled.

Vision Airlines was one of several carriers operating flights for Direct Air, a charter operator also known as Myrtle Beach Direct Air & Tours, which ceased operating in March. Direct Air arranged charters from a number of cities in the Midwest and Northeast to Myrtle Beach, S.C. and cities in Florida.

Charter versus scheduled

Public charters differ from scheduled flights in that they operate only for a specific time period and are usually sold by a charter operator rather than an airline. DOT has specific rules applying to public charters, including a requirement that the charter operator have a security arrangement, such as a bond or letter of credit and an escrow account to protect consumers’ money if a flight is canceled. There is also a ban on canceling flights less than 10 days before departure unless it is physically impossible to operate the flight.

“Airline passengers should be able to book their trips without having to worry about a last-minute cancellation or being stranded away from home,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “DOT will continue to take enforcement action against airlines and charter operators when they violate our airline consumer protection rules.”

Cessation of flights

Vision Airlines stopped flying charters for Direct Air on March 13, 2012, when Direct Air ceased operations. Numerous passengers did not receive the service for which they paid Direct Air when Vision Airlines cancelled the remaining flights it was scheduled to operate for Direct Air.

In assessing its fine against Vision Airlines, the Department’s Aviation Enforcement Office found the carrier violated rules prohibiting the cancellation of public charter flights less than 10 days before their scheduled departure. In addition, Vision failed to ensure return flights for all round-trip passengers who used it for the outbound leg of their trips.

This is the third penalty issued by the Department related to the Direct Air program. On October 2, the Department assessed a $300,000 penalty against Xtra Airways, and on July 27, the Department assessed a $180,000 penalty against World Atlantic Airlines, other carriers operating flights for Direct Air. The Department is continuing to investigate Direct Air’s shutdown.

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