UPDATE: Trapped ramp agent fired

Statement adds little detail

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 has been fired following completion of an internal investigation.

Alaska Airline flight leaves SEA
"“The company’s investigation concluded that the employee in question knowingly violated company policy," Menzies Aviation said in a statement provided to TheTravelPro by its outside public relations firm on May 18. "The employee was terminated for cause.”

The company did not elaborate.

Just days after the incident, the company made it clear that the incident was not an accident.

"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," the company said in a statement. "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 initial statement added 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."

The initial impression created by that statement 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' statements make clear that was not the case. However, it did not elaborate on its original statement, nor did it respond to additional questions the response raised.

Specifically, because the agent's actions were 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. In addition, an Alaska spokesperson told TheTravelPro that the plane had been sitting at the gate "for some time prior to departure." It is therefore possible - and now seems likely - that the agent entered the hold well before loading had started, which raises the further 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 also 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 sleeping coworker and decide to let him deal with the consequences of his actions? For now, the full story remains under wraps and we may never know whether the ramp agent was bitten by karma or was the object of some very pointed payback.  

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This post is an update of posts originally published on April 13 and 15.  

Photo by Carl Dombek
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