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Business travelers cast weary eyes to sky

It’s been a bad month for airlines based in the Dallas area.

Southwest Airlines of Dallas led off the shenanigans in March. Whistleblowers from the Federal Aviation Administration told members of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that they had been bullied into not reporting safety violations. That testimony led to a monetary rebuke of the low-fare airline, to the tune of a $10-million fine, and the removal of an FAA supervisor.

And then American Airlines, a Fort Worth-based carrier and the industry’s largest, admitted it had been lax in safety inspections of its MD 80 fleet. Since that revelation, American has grounded almost half its MD 80s and cancelled upward of 1,000 flights per day, snarling air traffic and stranding passengers at airports.

As for the effect on Jackson-Evers International Airport? It’s indirect, says Jackson Municipal Airport Authority COO Bonnie Wilson.

“The MD 80s don’t operate out of Jackson,” Wilson said. “We haven’t had any direct impact here. But passengers who had a connecting flight somewhere else on that type of plane could have gotten disjointed.”

Wilson said passengers who are flying American out of Jackson and have a connection should check the status of their flight by calling 1-800-433-7300 or by visiting AA.com.

Glitches

The business world is heavily dependent upon air travel, and the cancellations have put a kink in some plans.

A group that has taken a keen interest in the plight of American and Southwest is the National Business Travelers Association (NBTA), an advocacy group that pushes for safe and efficient business travel.

In a statement, the NBTA urged Congress to continue its probe into the whether the airline industry was fully compliant with safety mandates.

“Our economy relies on freedom of movement and a high level of confidence in the ability to fly from one city to another safely, with relative ease, in a reasonable time,” the statement read. “In order to maintain that confidence, the National Business Travel Association calls for the FAA and the airlines to renew their commitment to a system of maintenance and inspections that maintains a high standard of safety, while also ensuring that airplanes are available for scheduled flights.

“The public deserves to understand why the breakdown occurred and what will be done to prevent similar mass cancellations in the future. To that end, NBTA requests the Department of Transportation inspector general quickly complete a thorough investigation into the cause of the recent breakdowns in the inspection audit process that led to the cancellations of so many flights.

“In addition, NBTA encourages Congress to continue its oversight role. There are multiple hearings scheduled on aircraft inspections, which will surely shed light on the root of the problems. Congress should review whether passengers whose plans are disrupted by safety inspections who cannot be reasonably accommodated deserve compensation for their significant inconvenience. Further, NBTA asks Congress to review whether current voluntary mechanisms between air carriers to assist affected passengers with alternative flights are sufficiently effective.”

Grounded

Jackson attorney Nick Giallourakis travels frequently and already harbored a dislike for air travel. The revelation that American and Southwest had skirted some of the safety inspection regulations has him wondering if there are other airlines that have done the same, and just haven’t been caught.

“I don’t fly unless I absolutely have to,” Giallourakis said. “I much prefer to travel by other means. This just reinforces that.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

About Clay Chandler

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