PINELLAS COUNTY, FL (WFLA) – Tarpon Springs resident Matt Jones booked an Allegiant flight from St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport earlier this month for what he thought was a routine trip back to his family’s organic vegetable farm in Elmira, New York.
He ended up getting the scare of his life when Allegiant Flight 822 diverted to Baltimore for an emergency landing. “It got very quiet on the plane,” Jones said.
Jones says Allegiant flight attendants told passengers to get in the tuck position and prepare for a crash landing. “I couldn’t get hold of my wife,” Jones said. “I wanted to make sure I could tell my wife I loved her because I was pretty sure I was going to die.”
Fortunately, the Allegiant flight landed without incident and was quickly surrounded by airport fire rescue vehicles. “This is at night and there’s just red lights flashing, the fire department was all over the place,” Jones said.
The brake alarm reported by Allegiant pilots en route to Elmira that prompted the emergency diversion was an actual malfunction, according to ATC radio transmissions by the Allegiant pilot recorded moments after touchdown.
“At least one brake not working, possibly two,” an Allegiant pilot told Baltimore traffic controllers moments after landing. The controllers told the plane to taxi to a nearby ramp to assess any problems.
During that time, the pilot can be heard talking directly to one of the airport fire rescue commanders. “Our highest brake temp is the left side now at 320,” the pilot said. “It looks like they’ve just stabilized and they’re starting to reverse course now.”
Three minutes later the pilot says, “We’re down to 295 on the left side. I think another minute or two, I think we’re gonna be OK here and ready to taxi back.”
“Copy that,” fire rescue personnel reply.
When asked about the incident, Allegiant’s media relations office responded that there was no actual brake problem and attributed the emergency landing “in an abundance of caution” to a “faulty indicator light.” The media office did not explain the pilot’s comments to air traffic controllers about one and possibly two malfunctioning brakes or the brake temperature of 320 reported to fire rescue personnel that seemed to be a concern at the time.
Inside the aircraft, Jones didn’t know anything about the brake problem. He only knew that something was serious enough to divert the flight to Baltimore and trigger crash landing procedures for passengers. “They let us off and we were all pretty shook up,” Jones said.
Allegiant dispatched another plane from the Orlando Sanford International Airport to complete the trip. Instead of arriving at 7:24 p.m. as scheduled, Jones and the other passengers arrived in Elmira at 3:04 a.m., according to Allegiant’s media relations staff. Jones says he checked into a motel near the Elmira Airport instead of heading directly to his farm because he was too exhausted to drive.
Jones insists that Allegiant desk personnel told him his return flight to Pinellas County was also delayed for hours because the incoming plane he and his elderly mother were supposed to board had been diverted for another emergency. Allegiant says the plane left 3 hours and 40 minutes behind schedule due to an aircraft availability issue and there was no emergency involved.
When Jones grew impatient at the Allegiant counter over what he described as contradictory excuses given for his return trip flight delay, he says Allegiant employees called in a deputy to briefly escort him out of the airport. Jones says the same deputy later boarded the flight to check on his state of mind while he was seated next to his elderly mother waiting for departure. He assured the deputy he was no threat to anyone and just wanted to go home.
Jones says he’s had trouble communicating with Allegiant customer service since his flight because he can’t get through on the telephone. “I sat for four hours on my phone,” Jones said. “No exaggeration.”
Allegiant media relations staff insist their records show two calls by Jones and the longest one lasted 48 minutes, including the time he spent speaking to a customer serve representative.
Jones claims he still hasn’t received an explanation or apology for his troubles much less any compensation. Allegiant insists that passengers on Flight 822 were offered $100 vouchers.
Jones doesn’t know what he’s going to do when it’s time for his mother to fly back to Elmira Thursday. “She’s very upset about flying home, and we have to figure out what to do,” Jones said.
Jones’ complaint follows a long list of Allegiant Airlines maintenance and mechanical troubles and incidents tallied in a report released this month by the Aviation Mechanics Coalition (TAMC). That group tallied 98 “instances of preventable maintenance issues” in a five-month period. TAMC is supportive of the Allegiant pilots’ union, which has voiced similar grievances and concerns amid labor contract negotiations.
Allegiant and the FAA are both on record insisting there is nothing for consumers to be concerned about. Allegiant claims it has a great safety record and not even one crash in its history. The FAA claims it is keeping watch on Allegiant and addressing any documented maintenance concerns.
But a number of Allegiant customers are becoming disillusioned, and Jones is one of them. “All they care about is putting money in their pocket,” Jones said. “What I’m concerned about is somebody is gonna get hurt. It’s a matter of time.”