How the Fyre Festival Burned Swift Air

A Swift Air Boeing 737-400 in the Fyre Festival special livery. (Photo: John Klos [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)])

On the week of Jan. 14, 2019, two documentaries by streaming companies Netflix and Hulu were released and the companies would outline the events of the Fyre Festival in the Bahamas. Both Fyre Fraud and Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened would dive deep into social media influences that would drive people to spends thousands of dollars on what ended up being a tropical nightmare.

For those unfamiliar with the Fyre Festival, the event was created by Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule to promote a startup called Fyre Media. The idea was to create an exotic beach vacation and music festival similar to Coachella that would bring fans and their favorite celebrities together. Fyre would pay influencers and musicians like Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Blink 182 to promote their event in hopes of drawing a crowd.

The event would sell out but Billy McFarland would bail on actually creating the event, leaving people to arrive on Exuma Island in the Bahamas with no entertainment, hurricane relief tents and an overcrowded humanitarian crisis. However, it was more than just people who would get caught up in the event, as charter airline Swift Air of Greensboro, N.C. would also see issues both during and after the event.

Swift Air was tapped by Fyre Media to handle flights from Miami International Airport to Exuma International Airport using a Boeing 737-400 charter aircraft. The airline is very familiar with leisure operations to the Caribbean as they have worked alongside companies such as Apple Vacations, VacationExpress, FunJet and also do one-time charters for fans to and from both pro and college sporting events and large concerts.

 

As part of the deal with Fyre, Swift would paint a Fyre-themed special livery on N458UW, an ex-US Airways Boeing 737-400. The livery was simply a white fuselage with the words “Fyre Festival” on the forward fuselage and the logo on the engine, much less extravagant than other special liveries in the industry. The basic paint scheme would also feature models on both the tail and fuselage and the hashtag #FyreFestival on the rear fuselage. The Swift Air name would only appear externally on the landing gear.

As a result of the crisis during the event, Swift Air would have to expedite their work to get people back off the island as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the long day and chaotic scenes in the Bahamas would lead to the airline having a miscount on the passenger manifest and an eventual crew timeout resulting in passengers having to overnight at Exuma. Swift Air later released a statement on Facebook thanking the passengers for their calm attitude in the face of the event and wanted people to understand they were working as fast as they could.

The airline would also mention they were not yet paid by Fyre Media for their involvement in the event. Swift would receive some praise on social media for their crew’s handling of Fyre and their ability to work without being paid to help get people off the island but criticism from others as the carrier saw some flights become delayed as a lack of paperwork would cause disruptions on getting event goers back into the United States.

After the event, Swift Air would return to working with their other leisure brands and charter operations the airline was known for. The Fyre Festival aircraft would be repainted into the company’s new blue and yellow livery after previously wearing a more simplistic orange and black scheme.

However, while news of the event slowly disappeared from the news cycle, the Fyre Festival drama was not over for Swift Air. Most notably for the company was a lawsuit Swift faced in Wake County, North Carolina after plaintiffs Seth Crossno, a.k.a. William Needham Finley IV, and Mark Thompson filed a complaint about the events that took place during Fyre Festival and named Billy McFarland, Ja Rule, Fyre Media and Swift Air, LLC as defendants in the case.

In the case, the airline would be accused of deceit since the Fyre Festival goers were originally promised a VIP aircraft that would later be changed to a high-density class Boeing 737. The airline would also be cited as part of the crisis of leaving the island with travelers being forced to spend hours in the airport or inside aircraft waiting to leave the island.

 

The court case would last from May till June 2018 with the court ruling that the accused McFarland would pay the men $5 million. However, Ja Rule and Swift Air would be absent from the final ruling with both parties either opting for an alternative deal with the plaintiffs or being dropped from the court case by the judge. Both the airline and the plaintiff’s lawyer declined to comment on Swift’s involvement and conclusion in the case.

The airline would further face court cases with the carrier being subpoenaed in New York by Fyre Trustee Gregory G. Messer over payments of $1.6 million made by Fyre to the carrier. Again, Swift Air declined to comment to AirlineGeeks on their involvement with both the Fyre Festival event and the proceeding subpoena.

While all parties involved were faced with backlash following the event, Billy McFarland rightfully is the only one to come out with the worst case. He is currently serving a six year prison sentence after being found guilty of wire fraud while also seeing millions of dollars of accusations come his way after the Fyre Festival.

Meanwhile, Ja Rule settled most of his court cases and is working on a new album alongside Ashanti. Finally, Swift Air would go on to become one of the United States’ largest charter airlines by acquiring Eastern Airlines of Miami and currently operates a fleet of 30 Boeing 737s which still includes N458UW.

Ian McMurtry

Although Ian McMurtry was never originally an avgeek, he did enjoy watching US Airways aircraft across western Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. He lived along the Pennsylvania Railroad and took a liking to trains but a change of scenery in the mid-2000s saw him shift more of an interest into aviation. He would eventually express this passion by taking flying lessons in mid-Missouri and joining AirlineGeeks in 2013. Now living in Wichita, Kansas, Ian is in college majoring in aerospace engineering and minoring in business administration at Wichita State University.
Ian McMurtry