Local Allegiant passengers rethink using airline
Eddie Fisher and his wife have long used Allegiant Air to fly to Hagerstown, Md., from Orlando Sanford International Airport to visit their families because of the airline’s low-cost fares and the direct flights into the smaller airports.
But after a scathing “60 Minutes” report that aired Sunday blasting the discount carrier’s safety record, Fisher said it’s unlikely he or his family will ever use the airline again.
“No. Absolutely not,” said Fisher, 60, of Apopka. “It’s not worth the stress of knowing something might go wrong with the plane. When they see smoke in the cabin or wiring problems, it’s just not worth the cheap tickets anymore.”
Fisher is among a growing number of fliers — both in Central Florida, where Allegiant is the dominant airline at the Sanford airport, and across the country — who are thinking twice about boarding an Allegiant plane after the CBS News investigation showed more than 100 serious
mechanical incidents or failures between January 2016 and last October.
That’s three times as many mechanical problems with flights when compared with six other major airlines — including Delta, American and United — over the same time period, according to the report.
Capt. Eric Gust, Allegiant vice president of operations, criticized the segment in a statement after the broadcast.
“This unoriginal and outdated story bears no resemblance to Allegiant’s operations today, and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of FAA compliance practice and history,” Gust said. “It focused primarily on events of several years past, prior to the FAA’s most recent comprehensive audit of Allegiant Air, which revealed no systemic or regulatory deficiencies.”
He added that the CBS story “was instigated by a terminated employee, currently engaged in a lawsuit seeking monetary damages from the company.”
Allegiant flies to 78 destinations in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico out of Sanford. Airport spokeswoman Lauren Rowe released a statement that noted the Federal Aviation Administration’s “mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. The Sanford Airport Authority has total confidence in the FAA.”
Other airport officials wouldn’t comment further.
The blistering report comes as the airport is about to begin a $60.6 million expansion project at the Sanford airport that will add new gates, baggage carousels and garage entrances. That expansion, airport officials say, is to handle the more than 2.6 million passengers, a nearly three-fold increase from 901,862 passengers in 2012, at the fast-growing air facility.
The expansion project will be paid for with funds from the state Department of Transportation and revenue from passenger facility charges, a $4 fee tacked onto every ticket into and out of the airport.
Other airlines at the airport include Via Air, which flies to eight destinations in the U.S., and Surinam Air, which travels to Aruba, Guyana and Surinam.
While the long-term impact of the adverse publicity is unclear, Allegiant’s stock price Monday plummeted 4.65 percent to $146.40 a share.
Some Allegiant customers were weighing their options.
Gus Bobes, 55, of Maitland, has flown several times a year on Allegiant between Sanford and the Tri-Cities Airport in eastern Tennessee to spend time at a mountain cabin.
He likes the available parking, less-crowded atmosphere and faster security lines at the Sanford airport. Also favorable is that he can fly Allegiant directly into Tennessee, rather than having the hassle of waiting for a connecting flight at another airport if he flew on a different airline.
But after watching the “60 Minutes” report, Bobes said he is struggling about whether to keep flying Allegiant. He joked that he wants to see his son finish law school.
“I hate flying because I’m a nervous flier, and this just made it worse,” said Bobes, 55. “I’m going to write a letter to Allegiant and say that my attraction to Allegiant is not the cost. It is the airports that you are flying into. So charge a little more and make your airline safer. People don’t mind paying more for safety.”
In February, Allegiant spokeswoman Krysta Levy said the company is phasing out its older twin-engine McDonnell Douglas MD-80 planes — which require more maintenance because of their ages — with the new Airbus A319 and A320. Company officials say Allegiant will remove 37 MD-80s and replace them with up to 40 new Airbus planes by December.
Gus Ambler, 67, of Orlando, flies two or three times a year to Louisville, Ky., on Allegiant jets from the Sanford airport. Although he did not see the “60 Minutes” report, he has heard about the airline’s engine and mechanical problems.
That’s why when he boards an Allegiant plane he’s relieved to learn it’s an A319 instead of a MD-80.
The report didn’t spook Camille Piering, 70, of Orlando, who often flies on Allegiant to Fort Wayne, Ind., to visit her daughter.
“Overall, my feelings will not change,” she said. “I feel that with government regulations there is a level of safety that they have to meet.”
But Judith DeNunzio, of Beech Mountain, N.C., said it’s unlikely she will fly Allegiant again. She is now urging her 35-year-old son in Fort Lauderdale — who purchased Allegiant tickets to fly Thursday to North Carolina — to seek a refund and take a Delta flight instead.
“When you compare safety to the money,” she said, “I would rather pay more to fly with the bigger airlines.”
Allegiant’s stock price Monday plummeted 4.65 percent to $146.40 a share following a “60 Minutes” investigation that expressed serious safety concerns about the airline.