Are discount airlines putting our safety at risk? They sometimes resort to extreme measures in order to cut prices, and that could come with repercussions.
The appeal of discount airlines becomes apparent when you consider that the average cost of a domestic flight is $347.33, according to the most recent tally by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Supposedly, no airline is inherently safer than any other: Any carrier operating in the U.S. has to comply with safety standards upheld by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Despite all of the FAA’s efforts to make airlines comply with these safety standards, there’ve been enough incidents to suggest that discount airlines can be a risky choice.
Death on Southwest Airlines
One of the leading discount airlines regularly makes headlines for safety incidents: Southwest Airlines just had an in-air fatality that effectively put an end to the U.S.’ longest stretch of avoiding such deaths.
On April 17, a Southwest Airlines engine exploded in mid-air, sending shrapnel through a window and killing a passenger as a result, according to Bloomberg News.
Another passenger had been partially sucked out the broken window; everyone on board the plan experienced what The New York Times described as “20 minutes of terror” until the plane made an emergency landing.
Long History of Problems
And that incident is just one of many scary examples involving Southwest Airlines, which has long had a history of “maintenance problems.”
In 2015, the airline grounded one fifth of its planes upon learning of the imminence of FAA safety inspections. The airline had let its own such checks lapse and needed to catch up on them.
The prior year, the FAA had imposed a $12 million civil penalty against the airline for continuing to fly planes that the FAA had said were not airworthy and needed repairs.
Allegiant Airlines Dubbed “Most Dangerous”
An investigation by 60 Minutes led the show to call Allegiant Airlines the “most dangerous” carrier in the world.
Although the Las Vegas-based carrier is incredibly profitable, FAA records and interviews suggest bigger issues loom for the company.
In the summer of 2015, Allegiant had five mid-air breakdowns in a single day. The airline has also had a large number of cabin pressure losses, emergency descents, unscheduled landings and aborted takeoffs.
Many of Allegiant’s planes are older, and many are second-hand aircraft from foreign carriers. While buying used keeps costs low, it could increase the number of malfunctions and mechanical incidents.
Ultimately, Allegiant’s record is highly questionable, particularly since it is a smaller airline.
The carrier only gets around 14 million passengers a year, a far cry from larger airlines like Delta or American Airlines.
Stranded by Sun Country Airlines
In April 2018, hundreds of Sun Country passengers were stranded in Mexico after their flight to Minnesota was canceled.
The original flight was nixed due to a storm along the route. While weather-related delays aren’t uncommon, that wasn’t the core source of the problem.
The carrier had ended its season in Mexico, preventing the stuck passengers from booking another flight with Sun Country.
That canceled flight to Minnesota was the last one of the year, so their customers couldn’t secure another plane.
Little Help for Stranded Passengers
Sun Country refused to send another aircraft to get the passengers, stating the airline would have to cancel other flights to make it happen.
Instead, all of the passengers had to find another way home, paying for costly return tickets with other carriers.
While Sun Country did reimburse the passengers, they had to pay for their return flights up front.
Out of Pocket Expenses
One family spent nearly $2,000 getting a flight back into the country. A travel service even stepped in to help passengers find a way home.
Ultimately, the discount airline abandoned its passengers in a foreign country, offering nothing more than a refund on the return tickets to compensate for the inconvenience.
While this isn’t a situation that is necessarily physically risky, it was a serious financial burden. Plus, it shows just how far a discount airline may be willing to go to keep costs low.
Safer Bets: JetBlue and Frontier
That said, not all discount airlines have had the kinds of problems that Sun Country, Allegiant Air and Southwest have.
JetBlue Airlines ranks as the safest discount airline — and has made at least one top-10 safety ranking across all types of carriers. It has yet to tally even a single serious injury from any accident since forming in 2000.
Similarly, Frontier Airlines has top ratings for safety and hasn’t had a major accident since it opened for business in 1996.
Should You Use Discount Airlines?
As with any airline, it’s wise to do your research: Find out what you are forgoing in exchange for a low price and also look into whether the carrier has a reasonable reputation.
If you discover red flags, like those above, it may be worth spending more money to make sure you’ll get to and from your destination with ease.
What’s your opinion of discount airlines compared to full-service carriers? Tell us about it in the comments section beneath this post.
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