Thumbs down: The status quo won’t fly with Allegiant Air customers in Sonoma County

BY THE EDITORIAL BOARD | September 7, 2016

We know it’s not easy running an airline. Consumers want it all — timely takeoffs and arrivals, good food, ample legroom, impeccable safety records and, most of all, rock-bottom prices.

But even with that in mind, recent reports about problems with Allegiant Air, which began serving Sonoma County in May with flights to Las Vegas and Phoenix, are disturbing. The Washington Post last week published a comprehensive investigation that found the low-budget airline had experienced a higher-than-average number of aborted takeoffs, emergency descents and emergency landings between Jan. 1, 2015 and March of this year. All the while, the company’s earnings soared 154 percent to $220.4 million.

Part of the issue, critics contend, is that Allegiant depends on a fleet of MD-80 planes that are comparatively old — averaging 26.5 years — by industry norms. But, the Post’s investigation of Federal Aviation Administration records found, Allegiant had nine times as many serious incidents as Delta Air Lines, which uses similar types of planes of similar age.

A company spokeswoman said the report was based on “outdated” material, but it’s worth noting that much of the information was less than a year old.

Meanwhile, Allegiant’s problems are nothing new to locals as indicated by our story Saturday (“Allegiant now faring well with Sonoma County fliers”) in which readers shared tales of diverted and delayed flights, mechanical breakdowns and poor customer service. The airline is serving Sonoma County on a month-to-month contract while work is under way on a five-year operating agreement. But the county would be wise to keep the company on a short contract — and a short leash — until these safety and reliability issues are addressed.