For the last few days we’ve been following the on-going situation at Alaska Airlines surrounding their cabin air quality issues and the way in which the airline responds to concerns raised by cabin and flight deck crew members. Until now, concerns fell upon deaf ears, but with the issues and employee communications now available to the public the airline has sprung into action.
Following our initial report on the situation with details on a few of Alaska’s recent emergencies and the follow up report in which the airline issued a video to its employees detailing a “48 hour” action plan to fix the problems; the company has since held numerous conference calls with its crews to discuss what’s being done to fix the ongoing issues and admitted 14 “cabin odor events” over the last 30 days, according to the fact sheet referenced on the call and sent to Alaska’s employees.
Employees Warned to Stay Quiet
However, before upper management and representatives from maintenance accepted questions from employees Vice President of InFlight Jeff Butler issued the following warning to those listening:
“We have a very strict social media policy, we will investigate those instances where people do not abide by the policy and the infraction can lead to termination so please keep that in mind.”
Mr. Butler made the comments because internal employee communications were published in our second, follow up article, in which Alaska Airlines admitted to suffering cabin air quality issues in recent months.
“I don’t think it’s lost on anybody that Ben’s video from the other night and my email that was attached ended up being posted on a pubic website out there, frankly there’s some pretty damning statements in there about Alaska Airlines.”
Jeff Butler then read through the articles posted here and on TheJetSet.tv and provided Alaska’s official side of the story seemingly attempting to debunk some claims sent to us from crews, while also confirming the change in aircraft inspection “intervals” by maintenance staff. Jeff states:
“The inspection interval did change from [every] 48 hours to 72 hours.”
He explains that thanks to the change, maintenance now has the time to inspect the engines with more regularity and also the seat belt airbags. He then referenced the last section of our second article where we call attention to flight crews who faced disciplinary action for voicing distrust in the maintenance of aircraft, he claims to have “scanned the labor log book” and couldn’t locate anyone who got in trouble (although there are reports a flight attendant who was keeping a running list of issues by tail number was threatened with termination) then Jeff continued:
“I will say again, that violations of the social media policy will result in an investigation.”
Alaska Says: Flight Attendants Cannot Refuse An Aircraft
With the tone set: sharing information or speaking out publicly could result in termination, the conference call continued with Jeff instructing the flight attendants that they:
“Cannot say that you are not taking an airplane that maintenance has not found fault with.”
This sparked concerns and confusion from frontline employees on the call. Although Jeff had just explained crews could not refuse an aircraft which maintenance has signed off on it contradicts Alaska’s safety program. Titled: Ready. Safe. Go! the program effectively empowers employees to stop the operation immediately if a team member has a safety concern including fume events.
The Chief Pilot for Alaska Airlines responded by saying:
“[As Pilots].. We have this trust that maintenance is doing their job….So, from a Pilots point of view, if maintenance says it’s air worthy, then it’s air worthy. So I’m not sure your concerns once maintenance gives us the thumbs up ….what that would be.”
Finally, a Pilot who is a part of ALPA Airbus Safety and an Alaska SFO Captain offered the first sign of relief from fears future flight attendant concerns would be ignored:
“If you still have a concern bring it to us. We’ll get the maintenance personnel back up there to explain what they did and why its airworthy, and we can work through your concerns and make sure it’s good to go. Always bring your concerns to us. We’re there to support you.”
Hopefully, that stance becomes the corporate motto while they work through safety issues and concerns from today, forward.