22 Allegiant flights delayed, canceled for inspections

Airline says rescheduling of flights will continue ‘over the next several days’

An Allegiant Air jet takes off from McCarran International Airport on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011.

Maintenance workers with Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air continued to get its MD-80 jet fleet back in the air today after delaying or canceling 22 flights to inspect emergency slide systems in 30 of the twin-engine jets.

Parent company Allegiant Travel announced late Thursday that it expected to complete the operation by the end of the month but would “delay, reschedule or cancel a number of flights over the next several days.”

Late today, an airline spokesman said 22 of the planes would be ready to fly Saturday.

Two flights between Oakland, Calif., and Reno were canceled and the airline rebooked those passengers on other airlines. Sixteen Friday flights were shifted to Saturday.

Allegiant spokesman Brian Davis said four other flights were delayed Friday. Based on historic Allegiant load factors, more than 3,500 passengers were likely inconvenienced by the airline’s decision to ground the workhorses of its fleet.

Allegiant has 106 flights a week to and from Las Vegas on its 166-passenger MD-80s. The airline serves 43 nonstop destinations from McCarran International Airport, most of them on MD-80s.

It’s the fifth busiest commercial carrier at McCarran.

Davis said the inspections of the emergency slides were triggered by an incident Monday in which one of Allegiant’s MD-80s bound for Peoria, Ill., was evacuated on a McCarran taxiway after a cockpit smoke-detector indicating smoke in the back of the aircraft was activated. Two people suffered minor injuries when 144 passengers and six crew members evacuated the jet.

When investigating that incident, the company discovered that slide manufacturers in 2007 began recommending an annual overhaul of any slide more than 15 years old. Allegiant’s inspection protocol required an inspection every three years. There are four emergency slides on each plane.

When the airline discovered the discrepancy, it opted to immediately pull all of that aircraft type from service to bring it into compliance with the slide manufacturer’s recommendation.

Since each jet has a different inspection cycle, Allegiant determined Friday morning that 15 of the company’s MD-80s could immediately be placed back in service.

For the rest of the jets, it meant piecing together four functioning slide packages per aircraft to put it back in service. Slides that hadn’t been checked in a year were shipped to Zodiac Aerospace for an overhaul. Slide packs have hazardous materials requiring them to be shipped by ground transport. The three-day overhaul process and two days of shipping mean that each slide pack would take five days to complete, which is why Allegiant officials say the matter won’t be resolved until the end of the month.

Davis said that because of the extraordinary nature of the delays, Allegiant “is going above and beyond our typical compensation matrix.”

He said any passenger delayed by two hours or more would receive a $100 credit on a future Allegiant flight, four hours or more, $150, and six hours or more, $200. Any passenger rescheduled from Friday to Saturday will get the cost of the ticket refunded in addition to a $200 credit.

Davis also said passengers stranded an extra night in resort destinations — Las Vegas, Orlando, Tampa Bay and Fort Myers, Fla., and Phoenix — would have their lodging paid for.

Four flights to and from Las Vegas were rescheduled — to Wichita, Kan.; Santa Maria, Calif.; Missoula, Mont.; and Reno.

Seven flights to and from Las Vegas were delayed — Fresno, Calif,; Shreveport, La.; Peoria, Ill.; Bentonville, Ark.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; two to and from Stockton, Calif. An inbound flight from Bellingham, Wash., also was delayed.

“We apologize for the disruption to our passengers and ask that they please remain patient as we work to correct the issue, reschedule affected flights and accommodate any passengers impacted,” Allegiant Travel President Andrew Levy said in a news release.

“Allegiant is committed, above all else, to the safety of our passengers and crew and we are dedicated to working around the clock to ensure that all of our fleet meets the highest standards,” Levy said.

The company said it has activated additional call center staff to contact affected passengers and reached out on social media with alerts. Passengers can check on their flight status or sign up for alerts online or by calling (702) 505-8888.