ATA Airlines customers left hanging

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If you've got a ticket to anywhere on ATA Airlines, you're going nowhere. The airline canceled all flights yesterday, and is essentially out of business for good. Most of the Indianapolis-based airline's flights were between Hawaii and a handful of west cost cities or Chicago Midway.

What do you do if you've got a ticket for an ATA flight? Use it as scrap paper, because that's about all it's worth. The airline is saying "too bad, so sad" to customers, who will be forced to buy tickets on other airlines if they want to complete their travels. If you paid for your ticket with a credit card, however, you have a pretty good chance of getting a refund. If you paid with cash or a check, don't count on getting much (if anything) after the airline is liquidated in bankruptcy.

ATA officials said they're trying to see if other airlines will help their (now screwed) customers. But I don't think much help will be coming. Rumor has it that Southwest Airlines might be honoring some of the tickets for flights that were codeshared, but the availability is sketchy. Other than that, about the best you can hope for is a small discount if ATA is able to get other airlines to agree. But I wouldn't even count on that, as the airlines are all struggling lately with the massive increases in fuel costs.This shutdown comes less than two years after ATA successfully came out of bankruptcy, and it leaves about 2,200 employees out of work. And I don't think this will be the only airline that will succumb to rising costs. I expect that more airlines will have severe financial troubles, and only time will tell if they will ultimately file for bankruptcy, shut down, or be acquired by another airline.

Sadly, consumers suffer as the airlines struggle to stay in business. The airlines have basically slashed all "extras" and have added fees for everything under the sun. Don't look for things to get better anytime soon. And just be glad if your airline is still in business on the day you have to fly.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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