’60 Minutes’ Allegiant story creates buzz at Ford Airport

Kent County

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A day after “60 Minutes” aired a scathing report highlighting alleged safety shortcomings at Allegiant Air, passengers boarding the airline’s flights were aware of the news.

The segment aired Sunday night on CBS and called out Allegiant for what the show said was an aging fleet of poorly maintained planes. They said the maintenance problems caused numerous in-flight emergencies and put the public at risk. Those interviewed during the broadcast brought up concerns about the culture at Allegiant and said the company focused more on profits and less on public safety.

“What we found raised some disturbing questions about the performance of their fleet,” the “60 Minutes” reporter said on air.

While airline passengers in metro Grand Rapids were aware of the story, most of those interviewed by 24 Hour News 8 weren’t very concerned about its conclusions.

“Now that it’s been exposed, maybe they’ll be looking into it more and get a handle on it better,” said Angie Booker, who was returning to Grand Rapids on an Allegiant flight Monday.

She said the report gave her no pause before boarding the aircraft and that she would continue to book flights with the low-cost carrier.

“My chances of getting in a car accident driving here are much greater than what’s going to happen over the airline,” Randy Folkema said as he prepared to board a flight to Florida.

He said he felt some of the problems reported come with the territory of flying for cheap.

One passenger said she hadn’t heard about the “60 Minutes” report but wasn’t surprised once she was told about it. She said she has seen signs of poor maintenance on flights she has taken with Allegiant.

“I probably won’t fly no more,” Jamie Butler said after learning of the report’s allegations. “Not Allegiant.”

Management with Grand Rapids travel agency Breton Travel said the company would be closely monitoring the fallout following the report and consider whether to continue booking with the airline. Owner John Lovell said his agents already caution clients against the airline because of the struggles that often arise when a flight is missed or canceled.

Allegiant was among the first low-cost carriers to fly out of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport near Grand Rapids. In-flight incidents have made news.

In 2014, a flight headed from the Ford to Florida was forced to make an emergency landing in South Carolina after a loss of pressure in the cabin. In 2016, mechanical problems forced a plane headed to the Ford from Florida to turn back, starting a chain of events that delayed passengers more than 15 hours.

Allegiant’s stock price has fallen since word of the “60 Minutes” report surfaced last week. The stock price dipped further Monday, closing down nearly 5 percent at $146.40 per share.

The airline is swatting back at the “60 Minutes” report, criticizing the journalism in the report.

A “fact sheet” (PDF) released by the airline drew into question the credibility of an expert used in the story and called the story “salacious.”

“We know this 60 Minutes story is nothing more than a reckless attempt to damage our company and scare our passengers,” read a letter (PDF) that was purportedly sent to Allegiant pilots and signed by company leaders.

Allegiant Vice President of Operations Eric Gust wrote a letter (PDF) to customers expressing the company’s focus on safety and dismay about the “60 Minutes” report.

“I want to tell you personally that I am outraged and astounded by the irresponsible, grossly misleading story aired by CBS 60 Minutes,” Gust wrote. “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.” 

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