As Allegiant Air went on the defense Monday in the wake of a national news report questioning its safety, travel experts and customers in two of its Illinois feeder markets — including the Quad-Cities — had mixed reactions.
In its broadcast Sunday night, "60 Minutes" reported the Las Vegas-based airline experienced more than 100 serious mechanical incidents, including aborted takeoffs, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, midair engine failures and emergency landings, between January 2016 and October 2017.
In Illinois, Allegiant is a low-fare carrier for regional airports such as the Quad-City International Airport and airports in Bloomington, Peoria and Springfield.
Tim Davis, the president of Suzi Davis Travel in Bloomington, who books travel through Bloomington's Central Illinois Regional Airport, said he believes air travel and travel on Allegiant remains safe despite the report. "They must adhere to FAA rules and regulations and it appears they continue to do that.”
But Davis, who watched most of the “60 Minutes” investigative report, admits "It was very disturbing."
For Travel Masters of Geneseo Inc. owner Diane Lowe, who has 25 years experience in the travel industry, the report does not change her mind about Allegiant.
"I've had absolutely no issues with them," said Lowe, who learned about the "60 Minutes" reports in online stories Monday. "I consistently sell Allegiant out of this office. Our clients are extremely happy and they come back for repeated bookings on Allegiant."
In fact, Lowe, a certified travel counselor, helped a client book a flight Monday on Allegiant to Florida next fall.
Sandra Bowden, community relations director for the Greater Quad-Cities for the Better Business Bureau of Greater Iowa, Quad-Cities and Siouxland Region, watched the report with her husband. "I was so surprised. I had not had any complaints come through the BBB office about the Moline service."
She since learned that the BBB office in Las Vegas has fielded 726 complaints to date about the airline. She added Allegiant is not an accredited BBB member.
More than a year's worth of Federal Aviation Administration reports for Allegiant and seven other airlines show that the carrier was on average nearly 3½ times more likely to have a midair breakdown than Delta, United, American, Spirit, or JetBlue. The report also aired a long-running accusation by the Teamsters union local representing Allegiant pilots that the airline discourages pilots from reporting mechanical problems with planes.
The “60 Minutes” report did not reference any flights out of Illinois.
Steve Perring of Clinton, Illinois, and his family take Allegiant from Springfield to Punta Gorda, Florida, several times each year. “For the price, it’s hard to beat; however, we have been experiencing a lot of delays lately, which is very annoying,” he said.
In a prepared statement Monday, Captain Eric Gust, Allegiant's vice president of operations, said that "60 Minutes" aired a "false narrative" about Allegiant and the FAA, which he said exercises "rigorous oversight" of the airline. Gust also said Allegiant complies with all FAA requirements and participates in numerous voluntary safety programs.
Lowe said she has no concerns about booking Allegiant for her customers. She added that she will leave the safety issues "up to the professionals at the corporate level at Allegiant and hope they are as concerned about safety as much as we are."
Davis added that he wouldn’t put any client on a flight to Allegiant if he thought the airline was incompetent or unsafe.
“I know that Allegiant has improved their safety issues over the years and are continuing to improve," he said. "I don’t believe people should go haywire over a report like this. I think they are as safe today as they were yesterday and the day before.”
Jim Bohnsack, the chairman of Rock Island County Metropolitan Airport Authority, said he worries what a report like that will do to the airline. "Allegiant is very important to us. Allegiant has been very good for the people in the area who want to take a vacation. It is so good about direct service (to vacation destinations)."
Bohnsack, who did not see the report himself, added that the low-fare carrier also helps provide competition to the other airlines. "All we can do is we can encourage Allegiant to do what's right," he said, adding he thinks it will overcome the controversy.
On its social media feed, Allegiant answered those who tweeted they were worried by asking them to send a private message. Some also received a comment from Allegiant indicating officials would be willing to discuss any concerns in a private forum.
(Kevin Barlow of The Pantagraph, Bloomington, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)