Independence Air's message to its frequent fliers: "Our flights will continue to fly as scheduled." Its attorney's message to the judge overseeing its bankruptcy case: "We expect to close potentially a couple more airports."
Flyi Inc., the parent of Independence, isn't the first company -- or the first airline -- faced with the tough job of reassuring nervous customers while delivering grim news in a bankruptcy reorganization case.
The Dulles-based carrier delivered both messages on Nov. 7, the day it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
"Basically, the sun will come up tomorrow," the airline said in an e-mail to frequent fliers whose loyalty it needs to retain. "We look forward to taking you where you need to go this holiday season. It will be 'business as usual' at Independence Air."
According to a transcript released last week of a hearing before the U.S. Bankruptcy Court's chief judge in Wilmington, Del., an attorney for Flyi seemed to be preparing for another possibility.
Brad B. Erens asked Chief Judge Mary F. Walrath for permission to pay "retention bonuses" to encourage Independence Air employees to continue working at airport facilities if the carrier announced plans to drop service to those cities.
"The retention payments are really a function of future reductions and operations that we expect to occur," Erens told Walrath, although he didn't specify whether any such cutbacks would be delayed until after the holiday season.
"The second you announce the closing, of course, people know that their job with the airline, at least in that city, has probably got a two- or three-week window," Erens said, according to the transcript. "So traditionally it's been found that you have to incentivize people to stay, and you pay them a retention bonus." He suggested bonuses of "$500, $750, maybe $1,000."
Walrath granted Erens's request, calling the bonuses "necessary given the possibility that employees will feel some unsettling morale."
Erens, of the Jones Day law firm in Chicago, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
So is Independence Air looking to pull out of any of the 35 cities it serves from its hub at Washington Dulles International Airport?
"There is no part of the current plan which includes changing our schedule or discontinuing service to any cities," said Rick DeLisi, the spokesman for Flyi.
-- Bill Brubaker