Is Allegiant Air Unsafe?

Allegiant Air is a US ultra low cost carrier, which operates primarily between leisure destinations within the southern part of the US.

The airline operates a fleet of roughly 80 planes, including about 30 Airbus A319/A320 aircraft, five Boeing 757 aircraft, and about 45 MD-80 aircraft. Their MD-80s are an average of over 26 years old. Generally speaking there’s a very low correlation between the age of a plane and its safety. The key is that the plane has to be well maintained. A well maintained old plane is significantly safer than a poorly maintained new plane. A plane that’s both old and poorly maintained is a bad combination.

In May I wrote about how Allegiant’s pilots raised alarming concerns about the airline’s safety practices. For example, nearly half of Allegiant pilots said they wouldn’t feel safe having their family fly Allegiant. That’s pretty shocking.

Now, the one thing to keep in mind is that the pilots were trying to negotiate a better contract around this time, so some might argue this was a bargaining technique.

Well, if anyone had any doubts about Allegiant’s safety situation, yesterday the Washington Post published a scathing article about Allegiant. In the article they do a side-by-side comparison of the number of incidents that Allegiant and Delta had for the same plane types over a 15 month period, based on FAA reports. They compare emergency descents, unscheduled landings, and aborted takeoffs, noting that Delta flies more than twice as many MD-80s as Allegiant, and almost four times as many Airbus planes as Allegiant.

Here’s what they found:

Allegiant told the FAA that its 50 McDonnell Douglas planes — including DC-9s and MD-80s — had 50 unscheduled landings, five emergency descents and eight aborted takeoffs. From Jan. 1, 2015, through the end of March 2016, Delta reported that its 117 MD-88 aircraft had six unscheduled landings, one emergency descent and no aborted takeoffs.

For its 30 Airbus jetliners, Allegiant reported five unscheduled landings, two aborted takeoffs and one emergency descent. Delta reported that its 126 Airbus planes had one unscheduled landing, no aborted takeoffs and no emergency descents.

In less than a year, a single Allegiant MD-88 had almost as many incidents as the entire Delta fleet of MD-88s, FAA records show.

Yow!!

What does the airline’s CEO have to say about their safety situation?

Gallagher said the findings of this year’s FAA inspection were “minor or less than minor.”

“So when you send 30 people around for 90 days in any organization, they’re going to find stuff, as well they should. And we’ll respond and adjust it,” Gallagher said in a July 29 conference call with securities analysts. But he said “there’s nothing that operationally we’re going to do substantially different.”

Meanwhile the airline’s COO makes equally lame excuses:

“I don’t think there’s a safety problem,” Allegiant’s chief operating officer, Jude Bricker, said in an interview. “Our unscheduled landings in particular are a result primarily of an abundance of caution, and our pilots are entitled to put their planes into landing anytime they feel unsafe.”

Allegiant’s Bricker said that “the reporting criteria [to the FAA] is open to interpretation and therefore is vastly different from fleet to fleet.”

On one hand I tend to think that maybe Allegiant is slowly turning over a new leaf. In July it was announced that Allegiant would buy new planes for the first time ever, rather than used ones at a steep discount.

Allegiant-A320

At the same time, Allegiant executives don’t at all seem to be taking any responsibility for the current situation. I guess on one hand they wouldn’t publicly want to say “yeah we’re not doing well safety-wise, and we’ll improve.” On the other hand, if they don’t acknowledge it, should we really assume that they’ll do anything in that regard to improve?

Regardless, the entire Washington Post article is a good read.

Would I feel safe flying Allegiant? A couple of months back I wrote a post about why I don’t choose airlines based on safety, with the basic premise being that flying even the “least safe” airline is significantly safer than most other things I do on a day-to-day basis. Choosing an airline based on safety would be more extreme than only getting into taxis that are a certain make & model based on their safety ratings, which I’m guessing most people don’t do.

So I probably wouldn’t fly them on principle, though I wouldn’t actually be scared to get on an Allegiant plane.

Given Allegiant’s current situation, would you feel comfortable booking a ticket on them?

Comments

  1. While they are probably less safe than other airlines, I still wouldn’t categorize them as “unsafe” as is evident by their no fatality record. My wife has flown them a few times with no issues.

  2. “…criteria [to the FAA] is open to interpretation and therefore is vastly different from fleet to fleet.”
    How many ways you can interpret unscheduled landings and aborted takeoffs? Black is Black, White is White. I don’t see Gray anywhere that needs interpretation, unless I’m color blind.
    Some people “high up” talk like every one around them are idiots and will not question explanation.

    Laughable. .

  3. There are 5 airlines/places that I wouldn’t feel safe flying to right now: Egypt, Allegiant, and Nepal Airlines, and airlines from Thailand and Indonesia besides Garuda and Thai.

  4. “I don’t think there’s a safety problem,” Allegiant’s chief operating officer, Jude Bricker, said in an interview. “Our unscheduled landings in particular are a result primarily of an abundance of caution, and our pilots are entitled to put their planes into landing anytime they feel unsafe.”

    So they say. However the WaPo article points out that they seemingly fire pilots for doing so:

    “Just over a year ago, Allegiant Air pilot Jason Kinzer was sitting in the cockpit of a 24-year-old McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft bound for Hagerstown, Md., having just taken off from St. Petersburg, Fla.

    As the plane climbed through 2,500 feet, a cabin attendant alerted Kinzer to a strong burning smell. Alarmed, Kinzer turned Allegiant Air Flight 864 back toward the airport. Fire and rescue crews met the plane on the runway as smoke wafted from an engine. Kinzer told the 144 passengers to disembark. He then helped a flight attendant carry a paraplegic passenger to the exit.

    It seemed to be model behavior. But Allegiant Air did not praise Kinzer. It fired him.

    In a dismissal letter, the airline called the evacuation of the plane “unwarranted” and faulted Kinzer as not ‘striving to preserve the Company’s assets, aircraft, ground equipment, fuel and the personal time of our employees and customers.’

  5. I might fly them on a 1 hour flight for 50$ and 500,000 miles if Allegiant let you transfer your miles to AS, SQ, or AA

  6. @TravelinWilly – I guess Allegiant pilots are not members of ALPA as such an occurrence would not happen under those circumstances at most other airlines. Of course we don’t know the whole story. With that said, I will be curious to read the comments as Allegiant flies out of Concord, NC near my house to some attractive destinations in Myrtle Beach, and Florida. They are certainly cheap enough I can fly round trip to Ft. Myers/Punta Gorda for $100. Of course I always adhere to the rule of “you get what you pay for” there are marginal differences in price and value but when you get above and below a certain level it makes you wonder. I can deal with a fairly uncomfortable seat from say Charlotte to Myrtle Beach its a 45 minute flight compared to about 4 hours in the car. We are thinking about buying a tiny house as a retirement/getaway and that would make it very practical. Safety is first however and it does bother me enough right now that I am inclined to not fly Allegiant until I get more comfortable. Does anyone know for sure if they subcontract out their maintenance and where and by whom it is performed?

  7. I’d be curious if the top execs , directors and managers of allegiant fly their own airline, for business and pleasure?

  8. That report won’t stop me from flying Allegiant when the price and schedule are right. Crashes would make me stop.

    The report could be spun to indicate that their system is working – those unscheduled landings, emergency descents, and aborted takeoffs indicate that the pilot is paying attention to the safety of the airplane…

  9. @anon… I don’t think they do. When Richard H. Anderson once flew on Delta commercial, there was a big fanfare about it, how much he likes to fly in Economy. I can be wrong, someone can chime in.

  10. Ben,

    I appreciate the article and it was very helpful. I actually would avoid Allegiant based on the earlier comment of the pilots. Even if it was a bit exaggerated, due to contract talks, that’s still shocking. The data from the Washington Post confirms their word.

    I just wanted to point out to you that the description of Allegiant’s role was quite murky, when you said the airline “operates primarily between leisure destinations within the southern part of the US.”

    I think you’d find much better wording somewhere on the Web, but here’s mine: “Allegiant fills the niche of flying non-stop from smaller, underserved airports to several leisure destinations, such as Orlando, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.” I didn’t understand this until I moved to Northwest Arkansas, where Allegiant was the only way to fly nonstop in 2010 to those three destinations, without connecting through a larger city. That’s changed since then. In other words, they do fill a very important market niche left unclaimed by larger airlines.

  11. Good statement by @marcmsj . Should we state it is unsafe because there are no human injuries or death?
    If a Greyhound bus’ front wheel wobbles and makes the bus to control very hard, but the drivers are with long years of hundred thousands of miles experienced, they piss and moan, never less they keep the bus on road safely. Is it unsafe even there is no injury or death? I guess someone smarter than me can answer this because it raises a good point.

  12. My corporate travel policy prohibits travel on Allegiant but my understand is that its due to unreliability and excessive fees rather than their safety record. They also prohibit travel on Spirit and Frontier

  13. @Alex It is a very forward thinking policy. I like it. I’m not sure if Frontier is as unreliable as Alligean or Spririt, but Frontier definitely has high surcharges.

  14. “@TravelinWilly – I guess Allegiant pilots are not members of ALPA as such an occurrence would not happen under those circumstances at most other airlines. Of course we don’t know the whole story.”

    @Craig – You raise a couple of very good points regarding ALPA (I didn’t even think of that, and you’re right, it couldn’t have been that easy to fire had the pilot been a member), and true, we don’t know the whole story. However I can only presume Allegiant didn’t elaborate due to an “ongoing lawsuit.”

    In looking for additional information, I came across this image, which leads me to believe he may be a member of the teamsters(?): http://a.abcnews.com/images/US/HT_alegiant_04_jef_151112_4x3_992.jpg

    Their biggest mistake was to include the part where they said the reason for the firing was that Kinzer “had failed in his duty to “operat[e] each aircraft safely, smoothly and efficiently and striv[e] to preserve the company’s assets.” They probably should have left out “strive to preserve the company’s assets.” They basically said “Yeah, it’s about money.” And it certainly may have been retaliatory due to the ongoing salary negotiations.

    I’m eager to see what a judge has to say if the case goes to trial, and I hope it does.

  15. Just have a quick look at a website named avherald. Non for profit. Lot of professional comments. There you will easily find and compare incidents, accidents and crashes. You may easily sort out results of allegiant reported failures.
    And definitively you board another airline..

  16. I used to work for ValuJet when it was run by Gallagher. So this story doesn’t surprise me. Seems like he hasn’t changed over the years.

  17. I love Allegiant airlines. They are very convenient for me, and allowed me to get a consulting job in TN while I live in FLA, and I can commute once or twice a month. Direct flight, 1 hour 24 minutes, no hassles, big plan smooth flights, (usually) and my employer pays for it. Never had a problem and flew back to FLA yesterday and landed about 20-25 minutes ahead of schedule.
    As for the new credit card offer, they do mention it about 30 minutes before landing, and walk through the cabin, but only give you an application if you specifically ask for it. It is more like the pre-flight safety instructions, that no one pays attention to. I love my current Capital One Rewards card, but this one with the 3X points on Allegiant travel, may very well put me ahead of my current card, only due to the number of work related flights I take and have to book them myself and then get reimbursed.

  18. I just booked for a flight from NC to New Orleans in March.
    After reading this I have safety concerns and want to cancel. It looks like I will still be charged . Can I get some feedback from a piolet?
    Thank you

  19. I’ve flown this air airline quite a few time. From St Pete to Roanoke, Va and return. Only had a problem one time. We were supposed to leave St Pete at 3:50 PM. After two failed attempts finally took off almost 9PM. Got to Ronoake at midnight instead of 8:30PM. Return trip was uneventful.

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