Allegiant inspections likely to ground flights

Allegiant Air passengers flying in and out of the Medford airport Thursday caught a break, but those expecting to travel on Sunday may have to go to Plan B.

The FAA told the Las Vegas airline late Thursday that all 52 of its MD-80 airplanes must have their inflatable exit chutes inspected before they could return to service.

Allegiant Air presently flies to Medford from Las Vegas and Los Angeles on Thursdays and Sundays. A year ago, it was flying between the Rogue Valley and Oakland, Calif., but dropped the route. Flights connecting to Mesa, Ariz., are seasonal and aren't currently running.

The 146-passenger flights are generally filled, said airport Director Bern Case. That means the airport could see a drop of close to 600 passengers if Sunday's flights are canceled.

"They've definitely canceled flights, and we won't know what kind of impact it has on us until Monday," Case said. "To think we will get off scot-free would be wrong."

Allegiant Air delayed dozens of flights Friday while it took most of its MD-80 aircraft out of service to overhaul emergency slides such as the ones deployed in an aircraft evacuation earlier this week in Las Vegas.

The slides worked properly Monday when smoke was reported in the cabin of an Allegiant flight before takeoff from McCarran International Airport, where the company's planes are based. An incident review found fleet-wide maintenance of the chutes hadn't complied with manufacturer's recommendations.

At least 40 of Allegiant's 121 flights scheduled for Friday were delayed, company spokesman Brian Davis said, with 16 flights rescheduled for today. Two Friday flights between Oakland and Reno were canceled.

"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.

Allegiant said it would make hotel arrangements for travelers stranded overnight. Disruptions could continue through the end of the month, Davis said.

Beginning in 2007, McDonnell Douglas recommended an annual overhaul of all four inflatable chutes on aircraft older than 15 years. Allegiant had been maintaining the MD-80 slides on a three-year maintenance schedule, the spokesman said.

By Friday morning, 15 aircraft were returned to service, and Allegiant also had six Boeing 757s and two Airbus A320 aircraft in the air. The company also sought to charter aircraft to fill scheduled routes.

Davis said passengers affected by the slide problem would be compensated on a sliding scale ranging from a $100 voucher for a two-hour delay to a ticket refund and a $200 credit for future travel if a flight was canceled.

Passengers should check for updates, or call 702-505-8888.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness.

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