Menzies Aviation: Trapped ramp agent 'elected to go to sleep'

Statement adds detail, raises questions about the incident

The employer of the ramp agent who was in the cargo hold of an Alaska Airlines jet when it took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) on April 13 says the incident does not appear to be accidental.

Alaska Airline flight leaves SEA
"Our policies and procedures ... were knowingly violated by an experienced employee who hid in the hold of an aircraft and elected to go to sleep," Menzies Aviation said in a statement provided to TheTravelPro. "Fortunately, the area of the aircraft in which the employee concealed himself was both pressurized and climate controlled and therefore he was not harmed."

The statement adds a level of detail that Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK) may not have had or may not have been at liberty to include in the statement it issued about four hours after the incident.

That account said the trapped employee was part of a four-person team loading baggage onto the plane, that he "had started work at 5 a.m. and was scheduled to end his shift at 2:30 p.m. During a pre-departure huddle, the team lead noticed the employee was missing. The team lead called into the cargo hold for the employee and called and texted the employee’s cell phone, but did not receive an answer. His co-workers believed he had finished his shift and gone home."

Based on that statement, my initial impression was of a person who may have simply fallen asleep at the end of a long shift of performing work that is physically very tiring. Menzies' statement makes clear that was not the case and raises additional questions.

Because the agent's actions are being called deliberate, it does not make sense that a person who had just finished loading a plane would choose to hide in the hold of an aircraft he knew was going to take off in a matter of minutes.

Alaska spokesperson Halley Knigge told TheTravelPro that the plane had been sitting at the gate "for some time prior to departure." It is therefore possible that the man had entered the hold well before loading had started, which raises the question: Was the ramp agent a no-show for the loading process?

If so, that raises a question about the sequence of events. Did the team try to reach the agent before they began loading, were unable to do so, and loaded Flight 448 without him? It does not seem reasonable that three members of a team of four would tackle a task as big as loading an aircraft without trying to find their missing colleague. It is certainly possible, and would not be at odds with Alaska's statement, that the crew lead called into the cargo hold and tried to call the employee's cell phone before commencing the loading process.

If that was the case, did the three crew members load the plane without seeing their sleeping coworker? A source at Boeing confirms the cargo holds of 737s are relatively spacious with many places a person could nap.

Or ... did they start loading, see their coworker sacked out in the hold, and decide to let him stew in his own juices?

When TheTravelPro put these questions to Menzies, its public relations representative responded that the company had nothing to add to its original statement, which concluded, "This matter remains under internal investigation and we are looking closely at our policies to see if and where they can be further enhanced to ensure that something like this can never happen again."

Stay tuned.

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This post is an update of the original post published on April 14, and provides additional detail.

Photo by Carl Dombek
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