I love a good airfare deal just as much as the next guy, but I take a pass—every time—if that deal is offered by low-cost carrier Allegiant Air. As a follower of aviation and airline industry news, I have read countless stories of inflight mechanical failures affecting Allegiant aircraft, leading me to conclude that Allegiant Air is too dangerous to fly. Last night’s 60 Minutes report on the airline’s safety woes confirmed my decision to avoid the carrier, and I now feel compelled to warn you against flying Allegiant as well.
The Allegiant Air safety record is dismal
60 Minutes investigators uncovered more than 100 serious mechanical failures that affected Allegiant aircraft from January 2016 through October 2017. In comparing Allegiant’s safety record with those of other carriers including American Airlines, Delta, United and Spirit, 60 Minutes found that midair mechanical failures were nearly 3.5 times more likely on Allegiant.
Allegiant’s emergencies have included midair engine failures (here, here, here and here), toxic smoke in the cabin, smoke “billowing” from the cockpit, issues with cabin pressurization, total loss of hydraulics and operating a flight without enough fuel. In 2016, an Allegiant airplane performed two emergency landings on back-to-back days.
In a 2016 report that set the stage for yesterday’s 60 Minutes investigation, the Tampa Bay Times revealed that 42 of Allegiant’s fleet of 86 aircraft “broke down in mid-flight at least once in 2015.” That’s nearly half! The Times also reported that when “Allegiant planes fail, the company repairs them and puts the planes back in service, only to see the same systems fail again.”
I’m not willing to take these unnecessary risks as a passenger, certainly not to save a few bucks on the cost of a ticket.
Allegiant pressures pilots NOT to report mechanical issues
Pilots of Allegiant Air feel pressured not to report mechanical issues with aircraft, 60 Minutes found. Daniel Wells, the president of a union which represents pilots from 10 airlines including Allegiant, told Steve Kroft that pilots understand the airline “is discouraging you from– recording maintenance deficiencies.” Asked specifically what he hears from the pilots he represents, Wells said, “the management of Allegiant seems to denigrate the pursuit of safety.”
While no pilots currently employed by Allegiant were interviewed for the story, Wells insisted it wasn’t for lack of interest. “They can’t because they know that they would be terminated,” he said.
If one of Allegiant’s own pilots were to speak out about the company, that would likely further damage the carrier’s reputation. And pilots’ fear of retribution doesn’t seem unwarranted, since Allegiant fired a pilot in 2015 for ordering an passengers to evacuate with smoke in the cabin and coming from one of the engines. Wells said that every pilot would have made the same decision.
In the letter terminating that pilot, Allegiant’s primary criticism was that he had allegedly failed to “preserve the company’s assets”. Was the airline seeking to punish the pilot for costing them both financially and in the press? That seems a fairly reasonable conclusion, with so much evidence pointing to Allegiant’s attempt “to gain a competitive cost advantage by softening safety standards”.
FAA is turning a blind eye to Allegiant’s safety concerns
The 60 Minutes report was very critical of the FAA and its response to the Allegiant Air safety record. As early as December 2016, the Tampa Bay Times charged the FAA with a “breakdown in oversight,” pointing out that the agency “didn’t order a single corrective action,” despite extensive evidence of the airline’s lack of safety and a history of failed maintenance.
The FAA is a child of the U.S. Department of Transportation, a federal agency that I accused in January 2016 of failing to enforce regulations that are supposed to protect travelers with disabilities. The DOT’s tendency to neglect its enforcement responsibility now seems to extend much farther than I had ever imaged – beyond disability rights issues and into the very safety of aircraft. We should all be alarmed.
Investigations by 60 Minutes and the Tampa Bay Times have exposed Allegiant Air as having one of the worst safety records in commercial aviation. Allegiant’s cost-cutting and FAA inaction have created a potentially deadly situation for passengers.
I have long felt that the trade-off between savings and safety at Allegiant Air was a bad deal, and I am even more determined to avoid the airline after these revelations. Even as Allegiant welcomes new airplanes into its fleet, the cost-cutting on aircraft maintenance is unlikely to abate. We can only hope that the U.S. government will step in to protect passengers and enforce FAA regulations.
Fly safe, my friends!
Have you taken a flight on Allegiant Air?
If so, were you aware of their poor safety record?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Feature image courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel.