What a cruddy week for Alaska Airlines (and Horizon Air) in the press. First they get accused of mistreating an elderly man with a disability, then accused of flying around with broken airplanes twice and a flight has to make an emergency landing.
So far, two of the stories have been picked up around the world and put the Seattle-based airline in a negative light. Might there be more to these stories than just the sensational headlines? Well, of course.
The first story involves a passenger with a disability. If you read the story in full, no question it is a sad one and it seems like someone with Alaska probably dropped the ball. However, this story really got out of control. The man, who has late stage Parkinson’s had difficulty understanding the check-in and boarding process. Ticket agents tried to explain his bag was too large to take to the gate, but he was not able to understand. It turns out that the agents thought the man was drunk and the passenger never self identified as someone with a disability who needed special assistance and it is illegal for the airline to ask if someone has a disability. So, you have a person who appears to be drunk, they smell alcohol (which can be a side effect of the Parkinson’s or medication), what are they supposed to do? Turns out that when the man tried to go through security, he was told to go back to check in his bag and he ended up missing his flight.
Another passenger, who saw what was happening, tried to help the man and his companion, who had MS, but did not have much luck. He did what many people do, rant on Facebook, but his rant went viral. Part of his post stated that Alaska employees were “the worst of humanity,” and the media took over the story from there.
There were many interesting headlines on this one, playing up that the employees were the worst of humanity. My favorite comes from The Daily Mail with,Â Alaskan Airlines faces outrage as staff are accused of ‘being the worst of humanity’ for ‘ignoring 70-year-old Parkinson’s sufferer’
Wait. Alaskan Airlines? Which airline is that? Well, I know that The Daily Mail is much more known for their shocking headlines than journalistic integrity. Anyhow, Alaska seemed to handle the situation the best that they could after knowing what happened.
“First and foremost, we’ve determined that we could and should have handled this better and I apologize to our passenger on behalf of all of us at Horizon Air andÂ AlaskaÂ Airlines,” Horizon Air President Glenn JohnsonÂ wrote in aÂ Facebook post. “This experience has reminded us of the importance of assisting passengers with disabilities and making sure every one of them receives the special care they may need. The information we’ve gathered during our review will certainly improve our efforts going forward.”
After Alaska Â realized what had happened, they refunded the man’s ticket and provided a second free ticket for a future flight.
“We’ve worked with a variety of disability organizations for years, which has helped us improve our service for travelers with disabilities,” said Ray Prentice,Â AlaskaÂ Airlines’ director of customer advocacy. “This incident provides another learning opportunity for our employees as well as for travelers with disabilities.”
Ironically, Alaska already had a meeting set up with the Open Doors Organization, which does disability advocacy.
According to Harriet Baskas with NBCNews, Eric Lipp, the group’s executive director confirmed that there are laws to help protect passengers with disabilities, â€œbut the law says the passenger has to self-identify. Otherwise, itâ€™s a puzzle. The breakdown here is that the passenger didnâ€™t self-identify and the airline didnâ€™t have the right codes in the system to get him services he was entitled to.â€
It was a bad experience that Alaska is surely learning from, but it seems that they aren’t evil and horrid, like so many are making them out to be.
Unrelated to the previous story, passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight got a bit disturbed seeing a piece of one of the flaps was cut off and the words “we know about this,” written in marker next to it. Sure, I get it. Seeing a part of the plane missing with a note would be a bit bothersome for most people. But is this enough to make global news?
It was a proper repair, the plane was safe to fly and this is a non-issue.
Alaska spokeswoman Bobbie Egan stated, “It was an approved trim repair to the corner flap on the right wing. A maintenance technician wrote to let the flight crew know. The message was the result of someone’s good intentions,” but she continued saying that it, “was not appropriate and did not follow company procedures.”
If these two other global-reaching stories were not enough, there have been two others more recently that have not been so good.
Flight 539 from Ontario, CA to Seattle declared an emergency after pilots had to pressurize the cabin manually. The aircraft’s air/ground sensor malfunctioned, which caused a series of electrical problems. The oxygen masks never deployed and the flight landed safely in San Jose, with no injuries. Surely not a great experience for the passengers on board.
Then, this morning, the FAA is proposing a $1million fine against Horizon Air (which operates Alaska Airlines flights) due to allegedly having 22 aircraft that were not in compliance with the FAA’s rules.Â According to KOMO News, the airline installed new security flight deck doors on 22 of their Bombardier Q400 aircraft, using blind rivets versus solid rivets. At this time, the airline has not responded to the allegations.
Obviously, this has not been a great week for the airline. However, Alaska has always been known with handling things quite well and has done as much as they can with the issues that come up. Let’s just hope that next week is a bit better for them.
Here is Alaska Airlines response to the FAA fine:
Horizon Air has an uncompromising commitment to safety and compliance. We put the safety of our passengers, our employees and our aircraft above all else. Horizon takes any safety or compliance matter very seriously. We continually work with federal authorities to ensure the safety of our customers and that our aircraft are in full compliance with all federal aviation regulations while on the ground and in the air.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Horizon Air worked to install the FAA-mandated fortified flight deck door. Â To properly install the stronger door, nearby equipment on the Q400 flight deck had to be relocated. In relocating another piece of equipment, not associated with the door, Horizon opted to use an alternate, stronger rivet. At the time, Horizon believed this alternate rivet
was an acceptable substitution and that the carrier was within its authority to make the change.
In 2011, Horizon found several damaged wires shortly after performing the same installation procedure on a new aircraft. Horizon attributed the damage on this aircraft to the method used to install the alternate rivet. Â After this finding, the FAA questioned the use of the alternate rivet. While we believed at the time that the alternate rivet was a proper substitution, when the FAA expressed concern, we took immediate action to inspect our entire fleet and replace the alternate rivet with the specified rivet on all of the affected aircraft.
At no time was passenger safety comprised nor was the integrity of the flight deck door ever threatened by the use of this alternate fastener.
Since learning of the FAAâ€™s concern, all maintenance procedures have been revised to ensure the use of the specified rivets when relocating hardware related to the installation of the fortified flight deck door.
Horizon Air is working cooperatively with the FAA to discuss the proposed $1,005,000 civil penalty associated with this rivet substitution. Nothing will be final until we have fully reviewed this matter with the FAA.