“60 Minutes” Exposes Allegiant Air Safety Issues

While almost everyone knows about airlines like Frontier and Spirit, Allegiant is a US ultra low cost carrier that often flies under the radar. They operate flights primarily to & from secondary cities, so it’s possible that you haven’t even seen one of their planes before at a major airport.

There’s one thing that makes Allegiant especially different from other US carriers, and that’s their alarming safety record. For a few years various media outlets have been covering this, though last night there was a “60 Minutes” segment on the airline, which is perhaps the most detailed exposé that we’ve seen of them. You can watch it here, if you’d like:

Unfortunately this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Not only does the airline operate an outdated fleet, but they apparently actively encourage pilots not to report maintenance issues, and also make them think twice about ordering the evacuation of a plane.

In a 2016 survey of Allegiant pilots, nearly half of them said that they wouldn’t let their families fly with Allegiant over safety concerns. That’s pretty shocking. While pilots at other airlines may have morale issues, I can’t imagine more than a tiny minority would suggest there are any legitimate safety concerns at their airline.

Just to give a sense of how many safety issues they had, in late 2016 The Washington Post did a story comparing the number of unscheduled landings that Allegiant had with the number of unscheduled landings that Delta had over the same 15 month period:

  • Allegiant had 50 MD-80s, and they had 50 unscheduled landings, five emergency descents, and eight aborted takeoffs
  • Delta had 117 MD-80s, and they had six unscheduled landings, one emergency descent, and no aborted takeoffs

Of course stuff can always go wrong, but if that’s not indicative of some sort of systematic issue, than I don’t know what is.

Am I the only one who was shaking my head while watching this and listening to John Duncan’s interview (the guy who still works for the FAA)? I get he ultimately has to watch what he says, though at that point I feel like he would have been better off not participating in the interview, because he seems to basically excuse everything they’ve done.

Not surprisingly, Allegiant is completely denying any of these allegations, and their VP of Operations has written an open letter to customers who are concerned, saying that he’s “outraged and astounded,” calling the story “irresponsible and grossly misleading.” He also claims that the story was instigated by a “terminated employee currently involved in a lawsuit seeking money damages from the company.”

He writes that Allegiant had the second fewest cancelations of any US airline based on the most recent DOT statistics. No one is complaining that Allegiant cancels too many flights. Quite to the contrary, the “60 Minutes” story alleges that pilots are told not to deal with maintenance issues and to avoid canceling flights. So it’s telling that they use that as their defense, rather than citing statistics of reduced incidents.

It’s clear Allegiant cuts corners with maintenance, and based on many pilot reports, it sure seems like pilots are instructed not to raise issues or declare emergencies (like the captain who was fired after ordering an evacuation). I guess all of this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that Allegiant’s CEO used to work for ValuJet, which never fully recovered after a fatal crash.

As you’d expect, Allegiant stock is down nearly 10% this morning following the story.

What do you make of the “60 Minutes” show on Allegiant? Would you fly with them?

(Featured image courtesy of Eddie Maloney)

Comments

  1. I saw Allegiant planes at both London Stansted and Shannon airports. Not at a gate but close to a terminal in both locations. Any idea what they were doing there?

  2. @ Dan – I also saw an Allegiant plane at London Stansted airport a few weeks ago and thought it was very odd to see it there.

  3. Dan- are you sure it was allegiant… There is a ULCC in Europe with similar livery. Forgot the name though

  4. I saw an allegiant plane parked in the grass at Amman Jordan airport few months back. What a random sighting.

  5. Valujet actually did not go out of business – they merged with AirTran and took the latter’s name.

  6. @James, @Dan

    After doing some digging, I found out there was an Allegiant A319 (N316NV / G-EZIK) at Stanstead at the end of March which was on a delivery flight from there to the US. It was ex easyJet plane; apparently they do the conversions at Stansted, after moving from Cambridge.

  7. @Dan You probably saw a Jet2holidays plane which has an almost identical livery. It would make sense as they have a hub at Stansted.

  8. Hopefully the 60 Minutes report will shake things up. If their safety record improves, that would be the minimum for me to even consider flying them – but there are lots of other problems that come with flying a minor carrier with infrequent flights and few planes, so I’d probably still avoid them.

  9. So bad press about an airline? You can always count on a.net to whip the blame game on pilots, faa, fake news, etc. Took a quick perusal of it and its precisely what they’re doing. Brushing off this blatant disregard for pax safety is really insane. Aviation industry employees not letting their family and friends fly Allegiant is all you need to know. That airline has serious issues that needed to be bought to light. Problem is, their target market probably wont have watched it and may not care that much. This would thing is symptom of the race to the bottom, though

    We, as customers, have let a service industry become one where the worst service wins because of low fares(even though you pay thriugh the nose for everything else). Wall Street is to blame as well.

  10. I happened to have 60 Minutes on when this report came on. Overall scary and I have to say the lack of serious concern from the FAA was almost as concerning as the airlines safety record. Have never flown them and definitely will never after this report.

  11. I used to fly Allegiant quite a bit between SFB and various endpoints. Never had any safety issues. On time performance was their biggest perceived shortcoming.

    This idea that the airline is unsafe has been around since the Tampa Bay Times did an in-depth investigative report on this subject a couple years ago. It was a huge report, ended up nationally syndicated, and really succeeded in placing the issue into the public forum. Despite this, the stock still went up and the airline has continued expanding.

    I can’t say that I think G4 is as safe as the majors. The stats don’t bear that out. But they’ve been in biz since 98 and they’ve never had a fatal incident. I will fly them if the price and schedule is advantageous.

    The relationship between the airline and its employees is so acrimonious that it looks tough to get straight answers from either side.

  12. Ben,

    Flown Allegiant many times since I live in fly over country and like the convenience of a direct to Vegas in Sioux Falls. It will be interesting to see if the FAA cracks down on them, which is honestly my hope, as that will do a lot of good in forcing them to improve, and hopefully they can then continue to service under served markets (why they are so successful). I am terrified if they dont, well have a valuejet situation which will kill them and all aboard.

    For hackers, they also can be convenient for positioning flights, particularly for Vegas and Korean Air.

  13. As an old fart, US business has gone from doing what’s right to doing what’s the bare minimum to doing what they can get away with on a cost benefit ratio. Banks for example while not directly endangering lives regularly do the illegal knowing the fines they will have to pay will be worth it. Allegiant will carry on its merry ways until it cannot and by then management will have cashed out

  14. @James—thanks for your digging! Had I not been in an aisle seat, I would have taken a photo as proof. As for the aircraft I saw in Shannon, I would wager that Allegiant is ferrying it across the Atlantic as SNN is 392nm closer to the US than STN.

  15. Since the 2016 report I have advised everyone to avoid Allegiant, this validates my position on them. The FAA response was incredible, they just don’t seem to care. Having gone through the certification process on a new plane, I’m always surprised at how strict the FAA is on new certs, yet so laid back on Allegiant and many regional airlines.

  16. I’m not a regular flyer. Just booked tickets and I am scared to death. Of course to cancel will be a total loss as they will only give me a total VOUCHER for $158 if I cancel.
    Seems like after this reporting consumers should have the right to cancel if they do not feel safe to fly this airline.

  17. Reports like this help to reinforce my respect for some journalists in the “mainstream media”. It was well researched, tried to give appropriate airtime to all stakeholders, and did not try to force a conclusion down the viewer’s throat but rather presented facts and allowed the viewer to draw their own conclusions.

    As someone who makes a living out of aviation compliance, I can state my professional opinion that there are definitely some red flags there, notably with regards to the punitive actions and reluctant transparency. I have always welcomed audits of my paperwork, if only to show off how much effort our team puts into safety and compliance.

    Airplanes break. Especially old airplanes. That in itself is not particularly noteworthy or alarming. The role of management is to balance safety with commercial concerns to minimise operational disruptions while ensuring no compromise on either safety or the perception of safety. If your crew and your passengers think you are unsafe, you have already failed in your responsibility, regardless of the technicalities or your profitability.

    To summarise an old saying in the industry – if you think safety is expensive, consider the alternative.

  18. None of the Allegiant stuff is surprising given prior investigative reports. What is surprising is the lack of FAA response, and lack of enforcement.

  19. I believe Allegiant has been extremely lucky they haven’t had a major accident. And John Duncan, the FAA “compliance philosophy” guy needs a new career out of aviation. And no, I’d never fly them but worse, it doesn’t give me comfort knowing the FAA basically engages in a philosophy of encouraging compliance, rather than ensuring compliance. The absence of fines for the major flight system violation(s) cited in the report is enabling this scary practice of ignoring safety. And it could impact other carrier safety.

  20. @Dan – IIRC, Allegiant took an old Aer Lingus airbus last year, and it was repainted in Ireland prior to flying back to the US. It may have been that one you saw, as well.

  21. Just keep in mind, even if Allegiant is 3 times more dangerous than commercial aviation in general, driving to your destination is still 250 TIMES more dangerous than flying Allegiant.

    Given that they’re the only airline at many of the cities they serve, this is important information to consider. You’re still better off flying.

  22. “…But they’ve been in biz since 98 and they’ve never had a fatal incident.” Well, really don’t plan to be that first statistic with Allegiant then…

    My local Airport operates Allegiant flights to Vegas, PHX, and Tampa… never wanted to fly-em… and never will (knew that after seeing the mass of humanity board their MD-80s – ‘Walmart on a plane’)…

    The Delta vs Allegiant statistics provided above were telling. I think from now on I am not going to frown in disgust when my Delta captain announces there will be a delay due to maintenance… Thanks Captain, sounds good…you take as much time as you need to take care of it!

  23. @ smallmj — Were you viewing through Feedly? We don’t control the ads there, but there should never be autoplay videos on OMAAT directly.

  24. @Tiffany

    The autoplay video was the 60 Minutes clip. It also autoplays at OMAAT, but at least it is at near the top of the page.

  25. The autoplay is really obnoxious. I love this blog, but seriously, maybe just include a link (vs. an embed) to the 60 minutes piece and warn readers about it?

  26. Man, that player uses quite a bit of resources. Fans spinning at max speed!

    Oh, and Allegiant is a cr** airline. The last time I faced getting to a small regional airport, I picked flying via DFW (3 hours more just in flight time) rather than taking the non-stop Allegiant. Took a rental car oneway home.

  27. I fly to Grand Jinction, CO from Los Angeles to visit my elderly mother, so a direct flight on Allegiant is ideal. After hearing the expose on 60 minutes, I will change carriers immediately for our planned trip in June. How dare the FAA not be responsive to the many complaints! And how to get a refund?

  28. @Ian Mitchell. What a fantastic comparison. With all the remarks here about not flying Allegiant, I don’t think anyone will say that they will stop driving. That really puts things in perspective.

  29. This isn’t brand new news, this story has been in the news for a few years. 60 mins isn’t the first media outlet to do the story about them.
    You can find lots of similar stories about them on the web.
    People acting like this was never heard of and overreacting is pretty stupid. Calm down, it’s nothing like new story about allegiant. This has been lingering for years about them.

  30. Thanks Lucky for posting the full 60 minutes report. I’ve followed your own reporting on Allegiant for awhile, and I applaud you for routinely pointing out their lackadaisical safety standards. Some other big bloggers with their own view from the wing have sought to minimize Allegiant’s problems (as if new planes will fix everything), but these safety issues will only resurface if there is a poor safety culture. I can’t believe the FAA is just sitting around. Perhaps the 60 minutes report will spur some government action. The data you show side-by-side of how Delta takes great care of its MD80s and how Allegiant has all of these problems is another great comparison in this debate. There is clearly something wrong with Allegiant in many ways.

  31. @ian Mitchelle and @KLKL, are you really going to make the benchmark of acceptable performance based on the safety of automobile driving? Allegiant is not an automobile manufacturer or service provider of the like. Would you let an architect or engineer off the hook for designing an unsafe building simply because it was better than a tent? Allegiant is an airline (by choice), and that is the standard for which they should be held. The fact that they are currently profitable, yet their pilots are clearly afraid to speak up and at least one was terminated for using his own judgement to evacuate a plane is a clear indicator of serious problem. The fact that a motorcycle or car is more dangerous is beside the point.

    @Stupid, you really think that just because some failures originated some time ago that we should somehow disregard it now? Sure, better fixed earlier, but I hardly think delay on the part of the FAA, news media, or any other source hardly justifies that we calm down and trivialize or forgive the issue.

  32. The FAA is in a difficult situation because there is a contradiction between its primary missions: Safety, and Industry Development. Just take a look at the FAA’s role in the making the DC-10 “safe” after the Windsor incident. Instead of revoking the aircraft’s airworthiness certificate, the FAA just released advisories because of pressure from the Douglas Aircraft Corporation and political concerns that Douglas would go under if the DC-10 was not a success. It took Ermenonville and the death of 346 people before the FAA could find its “balls” and do the right thing.

    Airlines and aircraft manufacturers have made the calculations about how many deaths are acceptable and that number is not zero. Remember Alaska’s cost cutting “profitability” showcasing for Wall Street that resulted in the death of 88 people?

  33. I live under their flight path (I live very close to good size airport)… they better not crush on me.

  34. Many of you will remember the Madoff case and the fact that the US financial services regulator was warned 2 years earlier that Madoffs investment fund was a scam and was an accident waiting to happen.
    Then it all blew up .
    It seems to me that Alliegiant is another accident waiting to happen because the FAA is not listening.

  35. Why aren’t we hearing from one of the more relevant perspectives: the flight crews and pilots that continue to board Allegiant planes everyday? Are we seriously to believe they put their lives at risk because they can’t get a job elsewhere? Or that they’re as ignorant as their passengers to the safety risks? Do their actions speak for themselves?

  36. Allegiant Air operates the MD-83 airliner which was designed and manufactured by McDonnell Douglas in the 1970s/1980s. McDonnell Douglas manufactured the DC-9 series, MD-80 series, the MD-90 series and the MD-95 series (now the Boeing 717). These aircraft are all some of the most well designed, well manufactured aircraft anywhere on earth. However, they, like all commercial aircraft must be maintained properly. Delta Airlines and American Airlines both operate versions of the aircraft listed above with minimal safety and dispatch issues because Delta and American both maintain these aircraft at or above FAA minimums.

    Allegiant Air has a history of minimal aircraft maintenance and even aircraft maintenance intentionally below FAA minimums. Allegiant Air is knowingly skirting the minimum aircraft maintenance requirements in order to provide a lower airfare to their customers, a higher profit margin for the company and better Allegiant Air stock performance to their shareholders.

    I have been flying commercial airlines since 1981 and have logged over 1400 flights since then. As many of you do, I frequent commercial aviation websites and blogs. I have been noticing the safety issues on Allegiant Air over the last few years.
    Over a year ago, before I uncovered many of these issues during my own investigation, my wife bought a round trip ticket on Allegiant from Appleton to Mesa, AZ to visit her sister. After I found out these issues, we tried to cancel the ticket for a refund (Allegiant does not issue refunds), and then decided to forgo the risk and accept the loss of the non-refundable $245 round trip ticket.

    I will not allow my immediate family to fly on Allegiant and have sternly warned my other relatives, friends and colleagues of these issues.

    Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous. But to and even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any CARELESSNESS, INCAPACITY or NEGLECT.

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