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Southwest Grounds 41 Planes

Wednesday 12 March, 2008 

Good morning or good afternoon

You might have been following a story on a proposed FAA fine of $10.2 million against Southwest for apparently failing to conduct a mandatory inspection of some of its fleet of 737s for cracks.  I was silent on the issue last Friday, because it is far from clear to me whether Southwest was as naughty as it is now being made to appear to be.

Southwest made the usual types of public announcements about its attention to safety, and points out quite fairly its accident-free record to date.  In addition, it has hired external consultants to check that everything else they are doing is fully compliant.

Anyway, with that as backstory, this morning the airline has suddenly announced it has grounded 41 of its 737s, while, ahem, declining to say why.  The company has 520 737s, of which almost 200 are the older model 737-300 that were supposed to undergo extra inspections for cracks in their fuselages.

A Southwest spokeswoman said this would result in some flights being cancelled, but didn't give an exact figure.  The 41 planes represent 8% of their total fleet, so one would guess slightly less than 8% of total flights may need to be cancelled.

Not yet known is how long these planes may be out of service, and if additional planes may also be grounded.  My guess is that the planes will start returning to service in the next day or two, but it might take a week or more for all 41 planes to be back in the air, and I'll optimistically guess that no more planes are likely to be taken out of service.

The impact on you is unclear.  But if you have Southwest flights planned for the next week or two, you should call now to see if your flight is still scheduled to operate, and probably continue to call every few days to check on its status.

If you're booking travel for dates further into the future (eg a month or more out) you can probably continue to choose Southwest flights with confidence.

The usual weekly newsletter will follow on Friday morning, same as normal.

              David M Rowell aka The Travel Insider

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