Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

It was always going to be an uncomfortable ride.

As soon as CBS's 60 Minutes announced it was presenting two segments on Allegiant Air--the budget airline that was said two years ago to have four times the mid-air breakdowns of any other airline--it seemed sure the portrayal wouldn't be flattering.

The suggestion made in the program was that Allegiant cut corners on safety, in order to garner greater profits. It contrasted the fact that the airline is one of the most profitable in the U.S. with the notion that "it may also be the most dangerous." 

"Between January 1st, 2016 and the end of last October, we found more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks, and aborted takeoffs," said 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft.

There were intimations that pilots were allegedly being discouraged from reporting mechanical issues with their planes.

There was a suggestion that a pilot, Jason Kinzer, had been fired for evacuating a plane after its cockpit was filled with smoke--the airline had allegedly deemed the evacuation unnecessary.

Of Allegiant's 99 planes, 25 had experienced engine failure in two years, said CBS.

There were tales from passengers who said they'd been forced to sit in a fume-filled cabin for 12-15 minutes and been told by the captain to "breathe through their shirts."

There was Teamsters 1224 Union leader Captain Daniel Wells, who represents Allegiant's pilots among those of other airlines, saying: "What I hear from hundreds of conversations with Allegiant pilots, is the management of Allegiant seems to denigrate the pursuit of safety."

Yet there was also John Duncan, the executive director of flight standards at the Federal Aviation Administration, saying that each of Allegiant's 100 mechanical incidents had been dealt with on an individual basis and giving the impression that everything was fine. 

This is, apparently, in line with the FAA's new approach of working with the airlines, rather than fining them and holding them up to public scrutiny.

There was Kroft telling the story of an Allegiant pilot who aborted takeoff at a Las Vegas airport because something didn't feel right. 

Subsequently, an FAA investigator found that a vital component had not been maintained.

Said 60 Minutes

Allegiant and its maintenance contractor, AAR, failed to perform procedures that would have caught the error no less than five times. The report called it "a deliberate and systemic act of non-compliance" that had endangered thousands of passengers on more than 200 subsequent Allegiant flights.

All of this made me feel queasy.

So I asked Allegiant for its view.

I received a statement attributed to Captain Eric Gust, vice-president of operations.

He said the program offered "a false narrative."

With respect to Kinzer, for example, he said--quoting his company's revised motion for summary judgment in the case: 

Kinzer was terminated because he unnecessarily evacuated a plane "at great risk to the crew and passengers" even though there "was no smoke, fire, or an aircraft malfunction," and, during a post-flight investigation, he refused to "acknowledge his mistakes or demonstrate that he was capable of learning and growing from the event going forward."

He added: 

To suggest that Allegiant would engage in the practice of asking team members to violate company and regulatory obligations is offensive and defamatory.

But it's the little gestures that, perhaps, make all the difference in the end.

The report on the Las Vegas incident only came out because the FAA sent it to the Tampa Bay Times by mistake.

Several passengers told 60 Minutes they were asked to take their carry-ons with them, as another plane was evacuated. They believe that this was to suggest nothing abnormal had happened at all.

Then there's this.

When 60 Minutes made a Freedom of Information Act request for mechanical interruption summary reports, it says it got them from seven U.S. airlines. 

One objected. 

It was, indeed, Allegiant.

It may be that, as the years go by, Allegiant will continue to modernize its fleet, as it phases out its oldest MD-80 planes.

But for now, I'm going to maintain my 100 percent record of never having flown on Allegiant.

True, it hasn't endured a fatal accident. 

But the CBS program offered just enough to warrant a little caution. 

I'm fond of a little caution when it comes to flying.

Published on: Apr 16, 2018