NEW YORK – Up to 1,000 passengers in Greece and other European countries remain stranded after discount airline Sky Greece declared on August 27 that it must “temporarily cease all operations” after abrupt flight cancellations – thousands more will be affected as flight cancellations mount.
Customers’ best source of information about the fiasco – and their ally in efforts to return home and be compensated for their losses – is Gabor Lukacs, a Canadian air passenger rights advocate who filed an application with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) requesting $8.7 million be set aside as securities against potential claims.
Gabor requested the process be expedited – he is concerned the company will try to sell it major asset, the one place it owns – but CTA responded by September 2 that it will not formally expedite the process, disappointing by not surprising Gabor.
“They said they would abbreviate some of the timeline involved,” he told TNH, adding that he immediately filed a new request for an interim order and protect stranded passengers.
Although customers will still have to buy their return tickets for other airlines, they can seek reimbursement from SkyGreece when they return home.
The National Herald has attempted to communicate with the airline’s principals, including major investor Ken Stathakis. During a call to the Octagon Restaurant in Toronto, owned by Stathakis, TNH was told he was not there and that no one at the establishment had any dealings with the airline.
One of the best-known figures in the Father Nikos Alexandris, who is listed as a member of the Council of the Metropolis of Canada on its website.
“He is unreachable,” Lukacs said, who has been trying to track Alexandris down since July.
Gabor said that when he spoke to the Metropolis of Toronto, they provided him with Fr. Alexandris’ cell phone number in Greece, but he has gotten no response.
“He is claiming he is no longer involved but according to Greek corporate registry he is still the president of the Board,” Gabor told TNH.
He became involved with air passenger advocacy as a result of personal incidents. “As an academic I travel a lot and I have had many disturbing experiences.”
Travel agent Jimmy Georgiadis, based in Montreal, also sold SkyGreece tickets. He says people should check with their travel agencies about insurance coverage and that “Anyone who bought tickets using a credit card directly from the airline is advised to call their credit card company to see if they’re covered. In Quebec, those who bought their tickets through a travel agency are automatically protected by a provincial fund that exists to protect travelers,” noted CTV.
Aris Sideratos, the owner of SkyWay Tours Ltd. a travel agency that sold some of the SkyGreece tickets, told the Toronto Star, “It’s…beyond my control… I cannot help it, I couldn’t do anything. I’m very, very sorry.”
CTV conveyed that the Canadian Transport Ministry urged passengers to write directly to SkyGreece and that if they did not receive satisfaction, that they should contact the Canadian Transportation Agency at 1-888-222-2592.
If passengers booked their flights using a registered travel agent they may be eligible for compensation from the Travel Industry Council of Ontario.
SkyGreece, which has been in operation for about a year, owns only one plane, which is based in Toronto, and leases a second one that is based in New York.
One of those planes has been grounded at Pearson for the last couple of days.
Frustrated passengers created a Facebook group called “SkyGreece Troubles,” where one person reported that the Pearson grounding is the result of the airline’s having failed to pay landing fees for the airport.
Lukacs doubts the significance of that possibility. “We are talking about only a few thousand dollars,” he told TNH, and the airline’s problems are more fundamental than that. CTV reported that SkyGreece itself has declared that they are dealing with “system-wide, multiday delay” as a result of recent technical issues, but they appear to be of a financial nature. The Toronto Star reports “The airline was founded in 2012 and started operations in 2014 with one plane. A 2013 report from airline publication Flight Global said SkyGreece entered into a lease-purchase arrangement through a U.S. bank on behalf of an American investor.”
Lukacs said “It is disturbing that an airline started up with one aircraft” no contingency arrangements, so that they can claim “one mechanical problem can ground a whole airline.” The airline claims it suffered “financial setbacks” shortly after launching its international service in May due to the Greek economic crisis that caused an “immediate and dramatic reduction” in ticket sales. Lukacs told TNH that explanation “rings hollow.”
“People are still flying in and out of Greece…what we are seeing here is an attempt to find a scapegoat,” noting that it appears they are “very quickly shutting down the business when they saw there is not enough money to refund and compensate people.”
Lukacs told TNH it appears that the airline began with the best of intentions but things did not pan out business-wise as they had hoped.
He can only speculate about the difficulties that hit SkyGreece. “It’s beyond gambling. They may have been financing the travel of passengers in June or July with what they were collecting from passengers who were supposed to be travelling in August and September.
Told he appears to be the only person trying to help those people, Lukacs replied “Sadly that appears to be the case and it’s very troubling.” He wants to ensure that no money was inappropriately taken out of the company through the payment of dividends or transfer of assets. “What I want to make sure is that if there is any money for anybody involved in this, that money goes to passengers,” Lukacs said from his Halifax home.
He is in communication with a Toronto insolvency and bankruptcy lawyer, Max Starnino, who is doing work for SkyGreece.
“SkyGreece does not support proceeding on an expedited basis,” Starnino told Global News, adding that SkyGreece is “in the process of consulting with its stakeholders with a view to restructuring…SkyGreece wishes to resolve these issues as quickly as possible, but it will “require careful analysis, consultation with all of its stakeholders.”
TNH’s call to his office was not returned at press time.
“Stakeholders” is a euphemism for shareholders, Lukacs said, adding, “In my view these owners have used money from the public to run their business so their owners should be completely secondary to the interest of passengers to be reimbursed,” he said.
Lukacs agrees that what is most disturbing is that SkyGreece is a budget airline is catering to cost-conscious customers for whom additional expenses could be catastrophic.