FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 22, 2004
Schumer: First Major Breakthroughs For Southeast Airlines Ticket Refunds
Less than 2 weeks after launching probe into folded airline that left Stewart Airport ticket holders without refund recourse, Senator reports:
$600,000 found in account for ticket refunds purchased with cash
New court decision clears roadblock and opens up Southeast bookkeeping to independent receiver - key data so help may soon be on the way
Less than two weeks after he demanded a full public accounting of any money available for refunds for Southeast Airlines passengers, US Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced the first major breakthroughs for Stewart Airport passenger left holding the bag for unused tickets when Southeast Airlines abruptly folded this month - the identification of $600,000 in an escrow fund for refunds and the appointment of a new independent receiver to take control of Southeast’s records and speed passenger refunds.
"We’re not nearly out of the forest yet, but today we’re a huge step closer to getting Southeast passengers the refunds they are owed, ” Schumer said. “Opening up the books and sending in an independent receiver is the first big step to setting things straight and getting the checks in the mail. It’s real progress.”
Southeast has been serving Stewart International Airport for more than two years and most recently offered four flights per day out of the airport including flights to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando-Sanford, and St. Peterburg, Florida; Gary, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; and Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Early this month, Southeast ceased operations without notice, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at Stewart Airport. Passengers who booked their flights as long as two months in advance have gotten little or no help in receiving refunds. Since Southeast's closing, Stewart Airport has been flooded with phone calls from travelers seeking their reimbursements.
Less than two weeks ago, Schumer called on the two banks entrusted to hold Southeast’s ticket revenues in escrow to produce a full public accounting of any money available for refunds. Schumer also asked that former Southeast and bank executives cooperate with Department of Transportation (DOT) investigators to quickly determine when victimized customers will receive their refunds, how much they will receive, and who will be responsible for any shortfalls. Schumer also enlisted the help of US Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta and the Comptroller General of the United States, because he is concerned that this situation is not limited to Southeast Airlines.
Standing at Stewart Airport on December 10, Schumer also revealed that Valley National Bank and United Bank of St. Petersburg, the two banks entrusted to hold Southeast’s ticket revenues in escrow, had indeed created an account potentially available for refunds. Schumer then specifically demanded that the banks disclose how many passengers are holding unused tickets, how many deserve a refund, how much money is in the account, and whether or not there will be enough money to refund passengers in full.
Schumer today revealed that there is $600,000 in that refund account that can be used for refunds for people who purchased tickets with cash. And Schumer also announced that there was a federal court ruling last night in Florida in response to a legal motion by the United Bank of St. Petersburg and the US Department of Transportation that will appoint a receiver to take control of Southeast’s records and specifically have access to passenger records. Schumer said today that access to these records is the big step that was needed to increase the likelihood and speed of all refunds.
“Getting independent access to the passenger lists was one of the last pieces of the puzzle that we need for as far as ticket refunds go,” Schumer said.
At the time Southeast closed, Chuck Seliga, President of Stewart Airport, his staff along with Independence Air, Air Tran, US Airways and others accommodated passengers' immediate needs. Seliga and his staff provided taxi service to John F. Kennedy and La Guardia Airports, breakfast, free overnight parking, and arranged travel both to and from Stewart for stranded passengers. Independence Air, AirTran, USAir, and others offered special fares for passengers so they could get to their destinations.