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Will passengers still fly Southwest?
The discount airline is checking dozens of planes for cracks like the one that ripped open a jet's roof in midair recently. Can it win back nervous passengers?
 
Southwest is suffering the worst kind of PR for a discount airline: Grounded, damaged planes. One jet was forced into an emergency landing and three others had surface cracks.
Southwest is suffering the worst kind of PR for a discount airline: Grounded, damaged planes. One jet was forced into an emergency landing and three others had surface cracks.
CC BY: JerandSar Gimbel

Southwest Airlines has grounded 79 planes after a five-foot-long tear in the passenger cabin forced one of its jets to make a harrowing emergency landing last Friday. By late Tuesday the popular discount carrier expects to finish inspecting all of its Boeing 737-300s for cracks similar to the ones in the damaged 15-year-old jet. Southwest has found subsurface cracks in three other jets so far, and says they'll be repaired before returning to service. But after this, will passengers trust Southwest again?

This does not look good for Southwest: "A hole in the cabin roof is never a good thing in an aircraft flying above 30,000 feet," says Bill Saporito at TIME, but it's particularly disturbing in the case of Southwest. All of its planes are 737s, and nearly a third of them are 737-300s. So now passengers will wonder whether they could end up seeing the sky through any Southwest jet they fly on.
"Southwest's stress test"

Southwest just has to ease passengers' concerns: The "sensationalist" news coverage is unfairly tainting Southwest, says Patrick Smith at Salon. Hardly anyone noticed when an American Airlines flight had a "very similar" incident last year. Southwest may be particularly vulnerable to "fatigue problems" because it works its planes hard, but it can repair its reputation if it's "especially vigilant."
"Southwest feels the pressure"

The airline brought the doubts on itself: "Southwest's whole economic model is built on the high utilization of every one of its 737s, which, on average, make seven flights a day," says Clive Irving at The Daily Beast. Yet the airline tried to delay inspections, telling federal regulators it wanted to look for cracks on its own time frame. This incident makes it clear what happens when planes take the kind of "hard pounding" Southwest jets get.
"Southwest tried to delay safety inspections"

 

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