Says Contract Company Is Safe; Passengers, Pilots Disagree
Alaska Airlines said
Thursday the airline is standing by the company whose employee
accidently rammed a baggage tug into the side of an MD-80 airliner
Monday while it was at the gate in Seattle. The mishap left a
crease in the plane's skin that later grew into a foot-long hole
once the plane climbed to altitude.
Menzies Aviation, the London-based company contracted by Alaska
Airlines to handle baggage-loading duties at Sea-Tac, has suspended
the employee involved and is said to be taking steps to insure the
situation won't happen again -- while Alaska's pilots, television
pundits, and many passengers onboard the flight are wondering why
the incident happened in the first place.
"The enraging fact is that a non-union baggage handler ran into
the side of the plane moments prior to take-off..." wrote one
passenger, Jeremy Hermanns, on his blog after the incident, "and
that it was never reported."
"Anything that compromises safety -- for ourselves, our crew, or
our passengers -- is unacceptable,” said Paul Emmert, vice
chairman of Alaska Airlines’ pilots union. "When it’s a
situation that easily could have been avoided, it makes it that
much more so."
Representatives with the airline stated the unnamed employee saw
the crease in the airliner, but was too far away (about 10 feet) to
determine the damage was serious enough to report. A heavy rain was
also reportedly falling at the time of the mishap.
Alaska issued a statement saying the airline will continue to
use workers from Menzies, which were hired by the airline in May to
replace 472 unionized workers at Sea-Tac.
"Menzies has been very responsive to our concerns," said Alaska
spokeswoman Caroline Boren to the Tacoma (WA) News Tribune.
"Together we and Menzies are taking steps to ensure this incident
won’t happen again."
Boren added Menzies
baggage handlers and ramp workers were sent Wednesday to a special
three-day retraining session. Part of that training, according to
those representatives, emphasizes the importance of reporting any
run-ins between equipment and planes.
As was reported earlier this week in
Aero-News, Menzies has been the subject of controversy
even before Monday's incident. Alaska’s on-time arrival rate
dropped sharply after Menzies took over baggage handling and other
ramp duties from 472 unionized workers in May. Lost baggage claims
also rose steeply.
Monday's incident wasn't the first time a run-in between
baggage-loading equipment and an aircraft occurred; in fact, it was
the 13th such incident reported this year, according to the News
Tribune. (Although that may not be completely fair to Menzies, as
Alaska suffered 11 such incidents last year, with company
employees.) No other major flight incidents were reported due to
those previous mishaps.
Former Menzies workers told the newspaper the company was not
training workers at Sea-Tac well, and that turnover was steep.
For their part, representatives from Alaska Airlines and Menzies
have acknowledged those earlier problems, but say conditions have
gotten much better as ground crews become more familiar with
Alaska's operations at Sea-Tac.
None of the 140 passengers onboard the airplane Monday were
injured in the incident.