Allegiant Air is refusing to take the criticism.
Since the prime-time news program “60 Minutes” reported on the airline’s safety and maintenance record, the airline has fought back.
Allegiant Air is a small, ultra-low-cost carrier based in Las Vegas, that happens to be one of the country’s most profitable airlines. But, according to federal aviation records and interviews with pilots, mechanics and industry experts, it may also be the most dangerous.
The airline flew 12 million passengers last year on its 99 planes to 120 destinations from California to Florida. But it’s had persistent problems since at least the summer of 2015 when it experienced a rash of mid-air breakdowns, including five on a single day. It was not a fluke.
Public documents show an alarming number of aborted takeoffs, cabin pressure loss, emergency descents, and unscheduled landings. Yet for the most part, Allegiant’s difficulties have managed to stay under the radar of the flying public.
When “60 Minutes” reached out to the airline before running its story, Allegiant offered a general statement touting its adherence to FAA regulations.
CBS published the full note, which reads in part:
All of us at Allegiant are proud of our strong safety record, as noted in the most current, comprehensive FAA audit. We not only comply with all mandatory safety regulations and guidelines, but also participate in numerous voluntary safety programs. Simply stated, safety is at the forefront of our minds and the core of our operations. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the FAA, the worldwide recognized gold standard with regard to aviation safety, the airline industry has never been safer.
However, once the airline’s leaders learned about the nature of the investigation, they took a different tack.
A response was posted, along with an internal memo leaked online, which characterized the “60 Minutes” investigation as “grossly misleading.” Written by Allegiant’s VP of operations, the note says, in part:
I want to tell you personally that I am outraged and astounded by the irresponsible, grossly misleading story aired by CBS 60 Minutes. The story is outdated, bears no resemblance to the Allegiant I know, and shows a real and troubling misunderstanding of the FAA’s rigorous oversight of Allegiant and all US airlines, which is truly the worldwide gold standard in transportation safety.
The response attempts to discredit the report by stating that the insights reported by “60 Minutes” are not news and that the entire investigation was brought on by a disgruntled former employee.
The letter continued:
It has come to our attention that the 60 Minutes story was instigated by a terminated employee currently involved in a lawsuit seeking money damages from the company. Incidents referenced are years old, and took place before our most recent, comprehensive FAA audit. The story breaks no news.
If 60 Minutes had been interested in current information, they would have reported that today, according to just-released Department of Transportation data, Allegiant is a leader in reliability, with the second-lowest cancelation rate among all US airlines.
The internal memo pledging to fight back against the “60 Minutes” report found its way to Twitter, proving once again that all communication is external in the digital age.
— AirlineGeeks.com (@AirlineGeeks) April 16, 2018
CBS rejected the airline’s claims that a disgruntled employee was the source of its report.
It’s unclear who employee Allegiant is referring to. The “60 Minutes” piece details an incident involving Captain Jason Kinzer, who was fired in 2015 six weeks after turning around shortly after takeoff due to smoke in the cabin. Loretta Alkalay, who spent 30 years as an FAA lawyer, said she has “never ever heard of an airline firing a pilot for an emergency evacuation.”
But Kinzer’s story is just one of the incidents detailed in the report. “60 Minutes” quoted air safety experts and passengers, and public documents show an alarming number of aborted takeoffs, cases of cabin pressure loss, emergency descents, and unscheduled landings.
The Federal Aviation Association also went on the defensive after many questioned why it hadn’t done more to police the airline. It tweeted a letter it sent to CBS affirming its zero-tolerance policy for flagrant airline misdeeds.
The #FAA has zero tolerance for intentional, reckless behavior, flagrant violations, or refusal to cooperate in corrective action by air carriers. We take legal enforcement action when warranted. Read our letter sent to @CBSNews and @60Minutes on April 11. https://t.co/4DPxMPlyVC pic.twitter.com/PBGLqocvnx
— The FAA (@FAANews) April 16, 2018
The report prompted Allegiant Air’s critics to vent their anger. Some said the airline has a long history of poor performance.
FINALLY! 60 Minutes is profiling Allegiant Airlines, a complete disaster in the making, whose cavalier attitude towards maintenance is going to kill a bunch of people. DO NOT FLY THIS AIRLINE.
— Gary McLean (@garydmclean) April 15, 2018
Others promised never to patronize the carrier:
Today I learned I will never fly Allegiant Air
— Amy Berman (@amyrberman) April 15, 2018
Some lauded the investigation:
Chilling @60Minutes tonight. It was an old fashioned expose on @Allegiant Airlines. TLDR is: do not fly Allegiant. Unsafe planes. Systematic/systemic disinterest in safety. Pilots discouraged from reporting issues. Terrifying report. Great reporting.
— Brian Koppelman (@briankoppelman) April 15, 2018
Others expressed their feelings with GIFS:
if you’re an Allegiant flyer and a 60 Minutes watcher: pic.twitter.com/W0wUItNEft
— @GrantRamey (@GrantRamey) April 16, 2018
Live look at Allegiant Air headquarters: pic.twitter.com/SWSc584JNg
— Molly Beck (@MollyBeck) April 15, 2018
— Mike Nissan (@mnissan22) April 15, 2018
Though some passengers expressed a desire to switch airlines, the cost and hassle make that unlikely.
— Christopher Miller (@mosaleah219) April 16, 2018
Others noted that TV news has less power to bring down a company than it once had.
For starters, many – likely most – of Monday’s Allegiant passengers didn’t watch the report Sunday night, and many of those especially those who had morning flights, likely hadn’t heard about the 60 Minutes story on Allegiant before they boarded. 60 Minutes is a highly rated TV show, but in these days 200-plus cable channels, cord-cutting, video games and social media it’s rare that any one program can have immediate impact that that, say, a 1970s blockbuster episode of 60 Minutes once had.
What do you think about this high-profile war of words? How did both parties—Allegiant and “60 Minutes”—help or hurt themselves?