ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Allegiant Airlines is the largest carrier at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, which is why long before Sunday’s “60 Minutes” story, 10News did a series of investigations citing safety concerns with the low-cost airline.
Within hours of Sunday's piece, the Allegiant Airlines ticket counter at St. Pete-Clearwater was packed.
Some passengers’ top concerns?
“Mainly the prices,” said one woman.
Some saw the scathing report. Others were unaware.
“I’m more nervous now. Thank you,” said one passenger after seeing the TV cameras at the terminal.
60 Minutes found that Allegiant, the target of a 2015 FAA investigation, was 3.5 times more likely to have midair breakdowns than other carriers.
Allegiant says the incidents cited were outdated, although the news magazine did examine an additional 100 incidents between early 2016 and late 2017.
“They did cover, however, that a lot of the issues with maintenance in the past where with the older aircraft. And they noted that most of the aircraft have been updated,” 10News aviation expert Mark Weinkrantz said.
Allegiant, in letters to employees and passengers, called the report “negative,” “outdated,” and “instigated by a terminated employee.”
The low-cost airline’s safety record is improving. There have been fewer incidents, which Weinkrantz attributes to Allegiant replacing much its aging and less reliable MD-80 fleet with new Airbus jets.
"The Airbuses are state of the art," he said. "They analyze themselves. They catch the smallest minutia of errant engine behavior, hydraulic issues, and they send that stuff back by telemetry to the company before the pilot ever sees it."
There’s also been a sharp - some might say less-than-coincidental - decline in problems being reported by Allegiant pilots since the union got its new contract.
“One of the best ways to get attention for your cause as an airline pilot, is to talk about issues that might threaten safety and how the pilots are the only ones that are there protect you and how they need to be compensated as professionals,” said Weinkrantz.
If St. Pete-Clearwater is any indication, the effects from Sunday's story may not be long-lasting.
Tampa Bay passengers have known about the airline's problems, yet passenger loads in 2017 were up 12 percent.
In addition, the airport surpassed the two-million passenger mark for the first time last year.
Passengers shouldn't worry too much if they fly one of Allegiant's newer planes, Weinkrantz said.
If not, then Weinkrantz suggests looking for something more reliable.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 10 News app now.