Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The price of flying cheap



CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- We all want a good deal-– especially when it comes to the ever increasing cost of flying. But what if that good deal came with another price?

The FAA is now investigating Allegiant airlines after repeated mechanical issues and problems in the air. And the airline may soon be adding more flights in our area. 

South Charlotte mom Jennifer Branham recently booked a flight to see her grandparents in Tampa and brought her 8-year-old daughter with her.

“Roundtrip price was almost half what it was gonna cost on other airlines,” she said.

That’s because she flew out of Concord Regional Airport on Allegiant, a low cost airline looking to add flights to our area that more as more Charlotteans are travelling.

“I booked Allegiant because Concord seemed like it would be [easy to get] in and out of, and then of course the price.”

The flight was fine, but when she got to Tampa, she refused to fly Allegiant to get back home to Charlotte.

“There was a front page story on Allegiant about all the issues they’re having. I went ahead and re-booked immediately."

"It wasn’t worth taking the chance. I felt like we were lucky that we made it down there safely.”

NBC Charlotte went to the airport to shoot video of an Allegiant plane, but it was delayed an hour-and-a-half-- and that’s been happening across the country with Allegiant flights: mechanical issues, delays, even emergency landings.

The Teamsters Aviation Mechanics union, a group working with the pilots union, published a report detailing what they call 98 separate and preventable issues from September 2015 to January of this year, including smoke in the cabin and pressurization issues.

NBC Charlotte asked Allegiant for a response. In an email a spokeswoman said, “The Teamsters Aviation Mechanics Coalition has never inspected a single Allegiant aircraft and has no firsthand knowledge of our operation. The Teamsters currently represent our pilots and have a history of manipulating the media to attempt to exert pressure on contract negotiations. Allegiant is a safe airline."

But just a few days ago, the FAA got involved, bumping up a planned evaluation of the airline from 2018, and instead launching an immediate investigation into Allegiant's practices.

Airline industry analyst Seth Kaplan said, "They’ve had some issues over the past few years, mechanical issues that in some cases go a little bit beyond the usual things that happen at all airlines, so the federal government stepped in. The FAA is watching them very closely, they have a  program there that you don’t have at most airlines where they really have to dot their i’s and cross their t’s.”

In a statement, the FAA said:

“The purpose of these reviews is to verify a company is complying with the applicable regulations; determine whether it is operating at the highest possible degree of safety; and identify and address any operational/safety issues.”

Allegiant is well aware of the public scrutiny-- even taking out a full page ad in several cities where they fly, saying, in part, “There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our passengers.”

And still,  Concord’s airport director Rick Cloutier says they’re making major improvements at the airport, spending 13 million, mostly federal tax dollars, on a new parking deck and a new terminal, in part to help convince Allegiant to add flights.

When Allegiant first landed in Concord in 2013 they only had two flights a week, now there are 12, and the airport director says there will be more soon-– even with all the scrutiny the airline is facing.

“It hasn’t impacted Concord yet so it really has nothing to do with us and we have no control over it,” he said.

Jennifer Branham says the convenience and cost saving isn’t worth the stress.

“That’s the first thing that you think about is, 'I'm flying with my child; I want to be on the safest airline as possible.'”

In an emailed response to NBC Charlotte about the FAA investigation, a spokeswoman from Allegiant said in part, “We welcome the FAA’s review and feedback. We have every confidence in our operation.”

That review is expected to be done by the end of next month.

Story and video:  http://www.wcnc.com

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