Southwest praised for handling of crisis

The airline moved on its own to ground flights after a 5-foot-hole appeared in one plane. Could this be a model for other airlines? With video.

By Kim Peterson Apr 8, 2011 2:35PM
Last week could have been devastating for Southwest Airlines (LUV). A 5-foot hole appeared in the top of a plane, causing a loss of cabin pressure, a scene described as pandemonium and an emergency landing at a  military base in Arizona.

The airline moved quickly to ground dozens of planes, irritating customers and making the fiasco even bigger. Was that a little much? No, experts say. Southwest is now getting praised for the way it handled the incident, and some observers say the airline's actions could set a new standard for the way the industry responds.

Usually when something like this happens, airlines wait to hear from regulators and airplane makers before grounding flights, The Wall Street Journal reports. But Southwest didn't wait for advice from Boeing (BA) -- a good move, since Boeing wasn't sure what was going on -- or the government.

Post continues after this video discussing the way Southwest handled the crisis:
Instead, Southwest canceled more than 600 flights and delayed 2,700 others. That move may be considered extreme, but people are applauding now.

"I give Southwest's leadership credit for not waiting until someone was pounding on them," a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board told the Journal. "I certainly see other airlines acting in a similar way in the future," added a director for the Center for Aviation Safety Research.

Southwest began a comprehensive series of tests. And Boeing has begun telling airlines to give planes detailed inspections of relevant sections after 30,000 flights instead of the previous recommendation of 60,000, the Journal reports.

Southwest isn't suffering any more negative publicity. Four planes that were repaired for cracks are returning to service Saturday. People are starting to move on. Southwest investors are still skittish, however, taking the stock down 8% since the incident to $11.66 in afternoon trading Friday.

Southwest executives have even found a silver lining: "Our event, though obviously not what we would want to happen, is ultimately working to improve the effectiveness of 737 inspections and maintenance programs worldwide," the chief operating officer said, according to The Dallas Morning News.

And this week, Southwest got another piece of good news: Airline traffic rose 9.8% in March, more than at Delta (DAL) and American Airlines, a unit of AMR (AMR). Also, revenue per available seat mile rose 8% to 9% from a year ago.

Tags: amr
Apr 8, 2011 3:33PM
Kudos to Southwest.This airline did the right thing without being asked or told by the FAA or Boeing. All airlines should have the same commitment to the safety of their passengers and the public.
Apr 10, 2011 12:56PM
I like southwest but do not like the way passengers board planes. No assigned seats !!
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