Ex-Pilot Sues Allegiant for 'Malicious' Firing After Emergency Evacuation

“Their prime directive is profit, not passenger safety,” the pilot told ABC.

ByABC News
November 13, 2015, 8:12 AM

— -- Allegiant Airlines Capt. Jason Kinzer was feeling tense.

It was June 8. With the smell of acrid smoke filling his cabin, he’d just made an emergency landing at Florida's St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, where ground fire crews had informed him that his No. 1 engine was smoking. Despite cutting power to the engine, the smell hadn’t dissipated, Kinzer said, and he was worried about his 141 passengers.

An unidentified voice on his radio had advised him to hold off on evacuating the plane, then ceased transmission. But without knowing the source of the directive or what was going on with the jet, Kinzer was wary.

He knew an emergency evacuation could be risky. But a smoky plane can be risky, too.

“This is a tough corner to be backed in because you have very little information and you may have a very small amount of time to get it right. ... How long do you wait?” Kinzer said in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ David Kerley. “I felt the best decision was to get them to safety and get them away from an airplane that was smoking.”

So he popped the emergency slides and ordered an evac.

Six weeks later, he was fired.

You’re Fired

In a copy of Kinzer’s termination letter, provided to ABC News, Allegiant called the evacuation of Flight 864 “entirely unwarranted” and stated that Kinzer had failed in his duty to “operat[e] each aircraft safely, smoothly and efficiently and striv[e] to preserve the company’s assets.”

PHOTO: Allegiance Airlines Flight 864 made an emergency landing on June 8, 2015 due to smoke in the cabin.
Allegiance Airlines Flight 864 made an emergency landing on June 8, 2015 due to smoke in the cabin.

Several passengers had sustained minor injuries during the evacuation, and two were transported to a local hospital, according to airport records.

Still, Kinzer maintains the decision to evacuate was the “safer choice.”

Retaliation? Kinzer Files Suit

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Kinzer’s lawyer claims Allegiant ousted Kinzer “maliciously” because he hadn’t prioritized company assets and negative media exposure above passenger wellbeing.

“It’s very clear to me that their prime directive is profit, not passenger safety,” Kinzer told Kerley.

The company told ABC News they were not able to comment on specific employment matters like Kinzer’s, but maintained it is "standard practice only to terminate individuals when we believe it to be the only reasonable outcome based on their conduct or performance."

“However, at Allegiant we have a culture that values the safety of our passengers and crew above all else,” the airline said in a statement. “We do not ever take termination lightly and ensure that a thorough investigation, collecting facts from all stakeholders, is conducted before any decision is made.”

According to the lawsuit, Allegiant may have disregarded a Federal Aviation Administration regulation that places the responsibility for emergency decision-making with the pilot. Kinzer said that’s part of the reason he’s suing the airline.

“It’s important to me that we set a tone that safety should always be a pilot’s decision,” Kinzer said. “I want to leave safety in the hands of air crews.”

A ‘Dangerous’ Message

Moreover, the suit alleges that Kinzer’s termination “sends a dangerous warning message to other Allegiant Air pilots to place corporate financial concerns and profits as a priority over safety of the passengers, crew, and the general public in times of an emergency.”

“At no point should an air crew ever be forced to think about retribution or what may come of a decision in the interest of safety just because it may cost an airline a little bit of media exposure or perhaps a few bucks,” Kinzer said.

PHOTO: Former Allegiant Captain Jason Kinzer is suing the airline for alleged "malicious" firing.
Former Allegiant Captain Jason Kinzer is suing the airline for alleged "malicious" firing.