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Tag: Allegiant

When a pilot gets sick in flight

An Allegiant Airlines flight made news recently for diverting because one of the pilots had a seizure. While I don’t know any more than anyone else, this is a significant event and a big deal. A pilot who experiences a medical event is, in the FAA’s eyes, a medical emergency. Such is not necessarily the case with a passenger—an airplane, after all, requires a pilot to land, not a passenger.

It’s a rare event that drives a flight to divert with a sick pilot. Most of the time, the pilot can power through the flight and at least make it to the destination. That isn’t to say that to do so is always a great idea, but a diversion usually  occurs only in fairly severe cases. My guess is that the pilot who seized did so fairly extensively (early reports are that he walked off the airplane under his own power).

It’s one thing when the captain makes a decision to divert for a medical event in the cockpit, but it’s a very big deal for the first officer (FO) to make the call. After all, the FO basically needs to assume command of the flight for the duration, and that is not a decision that comes easily. Further, the diversion field needs to be considered. The Allegiant flight in question diverted to Gainesville, Florida—a city that doesn’t have a lot of airline service and is not one of Allegiant’s regular cities.

In more than 20 years of airline flying, I can  think of only a couple instances in which a flight diverted because of a sick pilot—let alone a diversion that went to an off-line airport. That said, sometimes it becomes clear that the captain is the one who is ill, because the FO may ask that the emergency medical technicians meet the airplane on the runway. The FO won’t be able to taxi easily, if at all, because the only control tiller for the nosewheel is on the captain’s side.

If a fellow pilot is clearly sick, an emergency needs to be declared and a diversion checklist needs to be executed. Passengers and flight attendants need to be alerted as quickly as possible so that the cabin can be prepared. A qualified pilot in the cabin who can come up and help is a huge asset, because the workload can quickly over-saturate the remaining pilot.

ATC can help coordinate EMTs on the ground, and can often contact the company if time is short. If the FO will be landing, and concern about getting to the gate exists, ask for air stairs (if appropriate) so that emergency personnel can board the aircraft on the runway and possibly remove the sick individual.

No diversion is fun, but a diversion for a sick crew member is a new level of stress. Stick to your training, use the checklist, and concentrate on a safe landing first. The rest can wait. It has to.—Chip Wright

Is more leg room coming?

The general public loves to hate the airlines. Unfortunately, much of that ire is the fault of the airlines themselves. Among the numerous complaints are non-refundable tickets, oversold flights, baggage fees, and the crowded cabins— made worse with uncomfortable seats.

In the post-deregulation world, two things happened with respect to seats: People got bigger, and seats got closer. Seat pitch—the measurement between the back of the seat in front of you and your seat—has steadily shrunk, especially in economy class.

Running an airline is an incredibly expensive venture, far more so than most businesses. Once an airplane leaves the gate, the empty seats can’t be sold—there’s no clearance rack or discount shelf. The airlines argue that the layout and discomfort of the cabin is simply a reflection of what the flying public demands and will tolerate.

Given that flights are flying with record load factors, they must be more right than wrong. More than 70 percent of air travelers only fly once a year, and by some measures, that number is over 80 percent. From the airlines’ perspective, such infrequent travelers are a bit of a captive audience, and because we as a society are so price-sensitive, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for one carrier to stick its neck out and increase cabin comfort at the risk of lost revenue and profit.

That could be about to change, however, as the FAA funding bill that has passed the House includes a mandate for a new, greater minimum seat pitch, thus offering all of us a bit more leg room. (There is also talk about making the seats a bit wider, but I’m not sure the widening of the waistline will get as much attention as more legroom.)

The airlines have quietly told Congress that they’re willing to hold back on fighting seat pitch as long as the rules are industry wide and don’t single out any one company by name. Carriers, will however, be pointed out by default, as Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier are known to have some of the most cramped cabins. Forcing these carriers to remove some seats will also force them to be more price competitive with the bigger carriers.

But there’s more at play here. The big issue is passenger evacuation in an emergency. The FARs state that a manufacturer has to certify that an airplane can be evacuated in 90 seconds with one exit blocked. Apparently, some of those certification tests include computer modeling. If this is the case, and there really is concern that a 767 can’t be evacuated in 90 seconds, the potential is there for an incredibly expensive recertification process and/or modifications to the planes. It’s a no-brainer to agree to take some seats out while also addressing one of the most common complaints.
If this rule goes through—and that’s a big “if”—it won’t take immediate effect. The airlines will likely have a couple of years to comply. Seat maps will change, and yes, air fares will increase, though marginally.

On the other hand, there will be plenty of spare seats in the hangar if someone gets sick.—Chip Wright