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Clearwater start-up JetAmerica halts flights and ticket sales, promises refunds

Call JetAmerica the start-up that couldn't.

The public charter operator based in Clearwater abruptly stopped sales Friday, canceled all future flights and promised refunds for some 4,000 ticket-holders.

JetAmerica executives still hope to start flying. But after canceling flights twice this month before getting the first plane off the ground, even supporters are skeptical.

"We don't even know if they're going to exist,'' said Carla Firestone, spokeswoman for Toledo (Ohio) Express Airport, planned as a "focus city'' for JetAmerica. "It's going to be a hard sell for our community."

The airline planned to connect "secondary markets'' — Toledo, Ohio; Lansing, Mich.; South Bend, Ind.; and Melbourne on Florida's east coast — to the New York metro area through Newark Liberty International Airport.

Officials at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International have been in touch with Pinellas resident Steven Schoen, JetAmerica's board chairman. Airport director Noah Lagos said the airline hasn't agreed to fly there.

"Seeing what they've done today doesn't raise your confidence they'll fly,'' Lagos said.

JetAmerica sells tickets mostly online and has about a dozen employees in an office across Roosevelt Boulevard from the airport. The company hired charter carrier Miami Air International to supply jets and crews. Contractors will supply workers to check in passengers and gas up the planes at airports.

JetAmerica caused a stir in May by offering to sell at least nine tickets on every flight for $9, plus taxes and fees. Within a week, the company claimed to have sold 20,000 tickets. The number actually represented one-way trips, Schoen said in an interview Friday.

On July 2, JetAmerica scratched its July 13 launch and canceled flights through Aug. 13 because officials hadn't obtained reservations, or "slots," to fly at Newark, among the most congested airports in the country.

Unable to buy slots from other carriers, JetAmerica halted ticket sales Friday and pledged to refund tickets within 7 to 14 days. Between 4,000 and 4,500 customers with tickets for Aug. 14 through the end of September will get back a total of about $400,000, Schoen said.

CEO John Weikle said in a statement JetAmerica would come up with a new schedule that won't include Newark as a destination.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Clearwater start-up JetAmerica halts flights and ticket sales, promises refunds 07/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 17, 2009 10:14pm]
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