LAS VEGAS (AP) — Allegiant Air officials said Friday that delays and cancelations could continue for several days as more than half of the airline's MD-80s remain grounded for overhauls of emergency slides like the ones deployed in an evacuation this week.
The inflatable chutes worked properly Monday when smoke was reported in the cabin of an Allegiant MD-80 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, company officials said. An incident review, however, found that fleetwide maintenance hadn't complied with the slide manufacturer's recommendations.
Taking the company's MD-80 aircraft out of service for inspections led to delays on at least 20 of Allegiant's 121 scheduled Friday flights, spokesman Brian Davis told reporters. Sixteen flights were rescheduled for Saturday and two Friday flights between Oakland, Calif., and Reno were canceled outright.
Allegiant returned 18 aircraft to service, leaving most of its 52 MD-80s grounded, the company said in a statement Friday afternoon. Davis said the airline expected that passengers delayed Friday would reach their destinations by Saturday, a normally slow travel day. But travel on traditionally busy Sunday and Monday flights would be "operationally challenging."
Allegiant expected to increase the number of MD-80 aircraft in service to 22 on Saturday, but that's still less than half its fleet. It also had six Boeing 757s and two Airbus A320s aircraft in the air, and chartered seven other aircraft to fill some scheduled routes.
Disruptions could continue through the end of the month, Davis said. Davis didn't provide a tally of how many passengers were affected but said most would be compensated with discounts on future travel. Allegiant would also make hotel arrangements for travelers stranded overnight, he said.
"We want our customers to know we take disruption of their travel plans very seriously," said Davis, spokesman for the airline and its parent company, Allegiant Travel Co. But he said safety of passengers and crew members was the company's top priority.
No injuries were reported among the 144 passengers and six crew members on the MD-80 that was evacuated Monday before takeoff for Peoria, Ill. The Federal Aviation Administration learned about the maintenance issue while investigating the evacuation of Flight 436 and directed Allegiant to immediately inspect slides on its entire MD-80 fleet, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said.
Gregor said the FAA doesn't comment on pending investigations and he couldn't discuss possible sanctions against the airline. Davis said the airline decided to reinspect all of its MD-80 aircraft after officials found it wasn't complying with a 2007 recommendation by the manufacturer of the slides, Zodiac Aerospace, to overhaul all four inflatable chutes annually on aircraft older than 15 years.
Allegiant had been maintaining the MD-80 slides according to an original three-year maintenance interval, the spokesman said. Davis said passengers affected by delays and cancellations would be compensated on a sliding scale ranging from a $100 voucher for future travel for a two-hour delay, to a ticket refund and a $200 credit for future travel if a flight was canceled.
He promised updates on the company website, http://www.allegiantair.com, and a telephone information line, 702-505-8888. Allegiant has carved a profitable low-cost, no-frills niche in the airline industry with service to about 100 mostly small cities and vacation destinations including Florida, Las Vegas, Hawaii and the Phoenix area. It carried nearly 2.3 passengers in and out of McCarran airport in 2012.
Base fares average less than $200, but additional fees for customer service, baggage handling and ticketing can add another 30 percent to the cost of travel. Allegiant reaps additional revenues from commissions on hotel rooms, rental cars, tours and theme park tickets.
Davis on Friday denied any link between the failure to maintain aircraft evacuation slides and company cost-control efforts. "There was a disconnect between our maintenance program and the manufacturer requirement," he said. "Our program was not updated in 2007."
The company's shares fell $5.08 to close Friday at $97.91.