Interview With ATA Insider On Day His Airline Went Bankrupt

ATA airlines abruptly ceased to exist this morning, leaving travelers to scramble for refunds and alternate booking arrangements. An ATA insider took time out from looking for a new job to give The Consumerist the inside scoop:

ATAinsider: The airline lost an important contract [with Federal Express] that involved the AMC [Air Mobility Command] and became financially insolvent. As of this morning, they filed and we have essentially closed. With the prices of fuel, all the eggs are in the charter basket right now. So since we lost our bread and butter contract, we couldn’t afford to do scheduled service.
benpopken: Did you find about it before going to work today?
ATAinsider: I did not, but it was on the news, apparently the press release was at 0500.
benpopken: What was the mood like once people started finding out?
ATAinsider: Very sad. It seemed somewhat inevitable, but we all had hopes, you know? People had been there for 25 or more years and the worst part is, their loyalty paid off for nothing in the end. Seems to be the state of affairs anymore.
benpopken: They won’t be handing out any gold watches, that’s for sure.
ATAinsider: Nope, and the best anyone can hope for is unemployment.

For passengers seeking information on ATA refunds or rebooking, check out this post.

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  1. plustax says:

    I totally forgot about ATA, that’s sad they’re gone. I remember them as being a fairly basic airline which I had very few complaints. I used to fly them down to Florida all the time when I lived in Chicago. Who’s left flying out of Midway now beside Southwest?

  2. starrion says:

    Condolences to the ATA employees. I hope that they can find new airline jobs soon.

    ATA was also the last US based airline flying the L-1011 and the DC-10. Some of the last of those aircraft flying passenger service anywhere. The aircraft spotters are very sad.

  3. katylostherart says:

    i always find it pathetic that companies expect loyalty without providing basic things like health insurance, reasonable hours, reasonable pay, reasonable severence packages, paid training, or internship programs. when my parents were young you could get very good paid training or company sponsored schooling and you’d stick with the company for decades. now people change their jobs half a dozen times in the first ten years out of school. 25 years with the company and he got nothing when they went out of business. sad thing is even if the company hadn’t gone under he probably wouldn’t have gotten anything anyway.

  4. SisterHavana says:

    Per this site, AirTran, Continental, Delta, Frontier, and Northwest still fly out of Midway, besides Southwest.

    It is sad that ATA is gone now. They were good for cheap flights between Chicago and NYC or Boston – I took them to NYC quite a bit.

  5. missdona says:

    @SisterHavana: I used to fly them between Chicago and Newark all the time. The morning flights ran like clockwork, but the return flights in the evening, not so much. But I think the problem was more with Newark.

  6. homerjay says:

    Would be nice if American would step up and say “No! No! Take me instead!!” There are very few airlines out there that aren’t evil. ATA was one of them.

  7. Finder says:

    No big loss, IMO. The last time I flew ATA the plane looked like it was from 1975.

  8. @katylostherart: That stuff costs a lot of money and unless you are an oil company those aren’t always easy to come by.

  9. Fly Girl says:

    So, from the Bay Area, ATA is one of the main competitors for cheap tickets to Hawaii.

    I wonder how many people who were victim’s of Aloha’s bankruptcy were reaccommodated on ATA and are now screwed once again…

    This is a messy, nasty situation and there’s no easy solution. Consumers are really, really getting f***ed over.

  10. TPS Reporter says:

    We flew it quite a few times from Indy to Vegas. Decent airline with good prices. Round trip for about $150 each. This was in 97-01.

  11. BStu says:

    Honestly this is the first I’ve ever heard of ATA. I’m confused, though, about why FedEx has a contract for travel of military officers. Maybe its just me, but it seems out that armed forces officials are being shipped by FedEx.

  12. TechnoDestructo says:

    @katylostherart:

    Yeah, it just doesn’t make sense as an individual to have any loyalty to an employer. If they’re the best deal you can find at the moment, sure, stay with them. But that isn’t loyalty. Sticking with them through tough times, that’s loyalty, and it seems like a sure way to get burned.

  13. TechnoDestructo says:

    @BStu:
    It’s probably military cargo in that case. Maybe even mail (I’m not sure if the USPS handles military mail, or if the military does) Though the US military does charter passenger flights. (Those aren’t just for officers, BTW.) They use chartered planes on routes where they regularly have to move a lot of personnel, particularly to-and-from large overseas (including AK and HI, in the opinion of the US military, damn them). At least, as long as they figure it’s cheaper than having people fly commercial. And they don’t just charter small planes, either.

  14. KleineFrau says:

    How unfortunate. They had such good rates for non-stops between LAX and IND, and pretty decent service for mid-haul flight.

    I think that many of us really wish that we could have the sort of loyalty to employers that existed 20 years ago in this country, but employers are now more willing than ever to screw loyal employees before taking a hit, and people know that.

    In some countries, the constant bouncing that I had to do early in my career looks extremely bad, but I had to explain to them that this is how it is here. I probably would have stayed at some of those contracts until getting married, but the powers-that-be wanted to buy a new house and my salary was the down payment.

    To some, it’s an unbelievable story.

  15. Booji_Boy says:

    It stinks that the employees were given no notice nor severence. The real question is: was there enough money left over for the execs to give themselves nice parting gifts? In situations like this it’s always interesting to see what the people at the top did in the days and weeks leading up to the announcement. Stock transactions, bonuses, things like that.

  16. @KleineFrau: Your resume probably looks like mine. I have had 4 jobs in the last 3 years. However my salary has double where if I stayed “loyal” and stuck around I would have only reacieved 2% to 4% increases or maybe 10% in a year due to a promotion.

    As Booji said, what did the execs get? If the the employees get nothign than neither should the execs. But we all know thats not how it works.

  17. Anks329 says:

    @Booji_Boy: Unfortunately, ATA Airlines is not public, and their parent company (Global Aero Logistics) is private as well. So, it makes it much harder to see if top management gave themselves any bonuses in the days leading up to this. At least we know there was no insider trading leading up to today…

  18. MercuryPDX says:

    “their loyalty paid off for nothing in the end”

    I’ve seen this happen a lot in my industry (Marketing/Web Development). You’re asked to sacrifice your off hours or weekends and get nothing back for it in return. I understand that occasional odd hours are the nature of the biz, but it’s a slap in the face when you do three or for 12 hours days over a weekend, then get “disciplined” for coming in 30 minutes late the following week.

    The ATA Employees have my most sincere condolences.

  19. BStu says:

    @TechnoDestructo: Every time its mentioned, though, its clear that its about military personnel, not cargo. I don’t think that distinction keeps getting made in error, though its possible. But all the stories are clear about FedEx contacting with ATA for travel for military personnel.

  20. girly says:

    My parents had blue collar careers and I remember back in college on my way to a white-collar career I naively thought “I’ll never have to worry about layoffs like my parents did.”

    I definitely think salesmanship and entrepreneurship are the solutions to our economic woes. Education is great, but it will only do so much for you.

  21. WraithSama says:

    I used to fly them from Indianapolis to Ft. Lauderdale when I was younger as they were the cheapest means to visit my father. Even though they were a basic, low-fare airline, I remember their customer service being terrible and many of the flight attendants rude, even when I was a minor traveling alone.

    Once when my flight to Florida had a layover in Chicago, we ran low on fuel waiting for clearance to land and had to go back to an airport in Indiana. By the time we arrived back at Chicago, the last connecting flight of the night was gone (it was about 11pm), and we were just dumped off at Chicago O’Hare. The ATA employees behind the counter, 2 very rude women, made it absolutely clear that they didn’t give a damn that I was a 15-year old stranded in Chicago by myself. Right after telling them I only had $36 on me, they offered to give me a night at the Hilton for $100. When I told them I couldn’t afford that, they shrugged and basically said that it wasn’t their problem.

    So I was 15, stranded at Chicago O’Hare with 2 women from ATA that didn’t care, huddled with my luggage by a bank of payphones at midnight, frantically trying to get a hold of family memmbers. Eventually, I was able to contact my grandmother, who then notified other family members and got a hold of my mother (who had just gotten home from her 2nd shift nursing job). Out of nowhere, the 2 ATA women came over, huge smiles on their faces, offering me free soda, asking if there’s anything they can do for me, and explaining they were booking me for a free night at the Hilton in a Presidential suite. Moments later, my mom called me back asking if they were taking care of me now. Surprised, I said they were, and she explained that she had called corporate and threatened to sue if they didn’t take care of me. I like to imagine those two bitches behind the counter got reamed by their manager for treating me so callously and threatened with their jobs if they didn’t make everything right.

  22. CaliforniaCajun says:

    @Finder: ATA the plane looked like it was from 1975.

    Well, many of their larger jets were from that period, but still maintained well.

    Lemme guess: you want new airplanes and cheap tickets, even though the cost of jet fuel is up 300% over 2001?

  23. CaliforniaCajun says:

    @BStu: Armed forces members have travelled by commercial air almost exclusively since the jet age. Vietnam vets remember the “Freedom Bird” Pan-Am charters that brought soldiers back to Hawaii and the mainland.

    It’s a lot cheaper for the government to ‘ship’ servicemen and women to the theatre on commercial jets, as no military transport is outfitted to carry large numbers of passengers safely and comfortably.

    While the MAC has many large aircraft like the C-5 and C-17 that can be configured to carry passengers, those fleets have their hands full carrying outsized cargo. The C-5B has accommodation for 73 passengers and two loadmasters, but ATA’s L-1011s and DC-10s carry upwards of 300 people at a time…or did.

  24. InsaneNewman says:

    Maybe Jet Blue can take over ATA’s gates at Midway at set up a nice little midwestern hub? A boy can dream, can’t he?

  25. Buran says:

    @CaliforniaCajun: Old aircraft are a sign of how much care the airline puts in its fleet. Aircraft do suffer from metal fatigue and that has miscellaneous safety problems, of course, as well as eventually forcing aircraft retirement. (It’s why, for example, the C-141 isn’t in service anymore).

    Southwest has the youngest fleet in the business and I quite often end up a very recently-built aircraft. Now, I know they missed some inspections but I’m not ready to give up on them yet given that combined with their excellent safety record.

  26. Buran says:

    @WraithSama: They should have. The airline turned you back for a reason other than a weather delay… and you were an unaccompanied minor.

  27. jamesdenver says:

    @Buran:

    By that logic we should scrap both Air Force Ones.

    Old aircraft run just fine.

  28. @jamesdenver: Because they’re from 1990? That’s pretty new by A/C standards. And they spared no expense on the cushy interior.

    Meanwhile, back in coach, I think keeping the furnishings up-to-date is more important to the customer than the age of the airplane. If the call button shows a woman with a flared skirt and a toothpick for legs, it’s time to modernize.

  29. lockdog says:

    @BStu: I’ve have no verification of this, but when I worked at SeaWorld Ohio the story goes that when the park first opened they did not have heated pools, which although the whales are perfectly comfortable in icy water, a completely iced over pool is more of a problem. Apparently it was a young FedEx that had the contract for shipping two killer whales from Ohio to SanDiego and back in the spring. The story says Shamu rode in the back of a semi-sized open top pool to the airport, and then rode the rest of the way in a C-10, accompanied by trainer in the water the whole way!

  30. dantsea says:

    A messy situation for stranded passengers, indeed. I hope everyone gets home safely.

    I’ve personally had a deep and abiding hate for ATA, having traveled them during the late 90s when their employees were known for being horribly rude and their aircraft legendary for being astoundingly filthy. Though many good people lost their jobs today, I’m hoping that at least a few of the crappy ones I encountered had their world yanked out from under them.

  31. Mykro says:

    I work at a company here in Indiana called Republic Airways (2008s Top Regional Airline). Over half of the people here in the parts room came from ATA a couple years ago. I heard about it easily 25 times yesterday. I dont know if it was just in Indy, or nationwide, but ATA laid off hundreds at a time over the years and everyone was saying here was how it was inevitable. Word from ex/current… well, ex now employees is that ATA has been telling them they have job security til the end of may.
    Go ATA!

  32. ColdNorth says:

    If you’re being told you have job security until the end of May, and the month is March, you may consider yourself amply warned.

  33. barty says:

    @katylostherart: That stuff ISN’T the norm outside of large corporations, which, by the way, only make up about 10-15% of all jobs in the US. FWIW, with the exception of one contract job I held, every job I’ve had has had decent benefits (I’m not expecting union style benefits where I’m not expected to cough up a single dollar for anything), some kind of tuition reimbursement and/or scholarship program when applicable and with one lone exception, I’ve never been laid off. I think the whole layoff issue has come about because of short sighted financial planning and people wanting unrealistic returns on investment, but that’s just the way it is and frankly there’s nothing that ANYONE can do to change that, including the government, until there is a widespread change in mindset.

    I understand we live in a “gimmie, gimmie” entitlement generation, where everyone expects for their necessities to be handed to them on a silver platter, so I’m going to excuse your comment as just being uninformed.

  34. Buran says:

    @jamesdenver: Those aren’t that old, as someone has already pointed out. They look old because the 747 has been in service since about 1969, but it does so well that it’s still produced. There will be a new version soon, in fact, that uses some of the technology (such as engines) from the 787 to increase efficiency.