What happened
American Airlines canceled another 570 flights on Friday, bringing to 3,000 the number of departures it has scrapped due to safety inspections on its MD-80 jets. (ABC News) American canceled 900 flights on Thursday, inconveniencing about 250,000 people, after grounding all 300 of its MD-80s—nearly half of its fleet—as the Federal Aviation Administration stepped up reviews to make sure air carriers comply with maintenance and safety orders. Midwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines also canceled some flights on Thursday; American said it would have all its planes back in the air by Saturday. (San Jose Mercury News, free registration)

What the commentators said
This has been “an expensive lesson” for the airlines, said the Baltimore Sun in an editorial. With soaring fuel costs, airline executives undoubtedly feel pressured to cut expenses any way they can. But “neglecting safety inspections” is not the solution even if, as the airlines insist, there is no evidence that this has led to “an increase in serious accidents.” This fiasco cost the airlines the respect of passengers, and that’s not something they can afford to lose with “a growing mountain of lost luggage and indifferent service.”

“If there can be any good news in hundreds of thousands of passengers being stranded as airlines ground fleets of planes for urgent inspection,” said The New York Times in an editorial (free registration), “it is that the Federal Aviation Administration is doing its job.” It’s just too bad the FAA had to be “shamed into action” by whistleblowers who testified to Congress last month. Now the regulators have to “make up for years of not doing its job in keeping them safe, and travelers are the victims.”

Congress has been rounding up “scapegoats” ever since the FAA fined Southwest Airlines $10 million for inspection lapses last month, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. The FAA told Congress Southwest’s problems weren’t systemic, but House overseers seized on the case as evidence that the airlines and regulators had grown too cozy. That is what sent regulators into “panic mode.” So, if you’re one of the many thousands of people who have been “stuck on a tarmac or waylaid in a hotel by the recent wave of flight cancellations,” blame Capitol Hill.