Photo: Southwest Airlines

If your memory is really sharp, you may recall that last summer a hole opened up on a Southwest plane shortly after reaching cruising altitude. Fortunately, pilots were able to descend to lower altitudes and make an unscheduled landing.

Now, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued its findings from the incident. In its report, the NTSB says:

Post-incident examination of the airplane revealed fatigue cracking of the fuselage skin near the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer adjacent to the rupture. The fatigue cracking penetrated the fuselage skin and created an approximate 18-inch by 12-inch flap in the skin that depressurized the airplane.

The fuselage skin assembly near the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer was manufactured by bonding two full aluminum sheets together, then selectively chemically milling away pockets (bays) of the inner sheet. Continuous fatigue cracks initiated from multiple origins on the inner surface of the skin adjacent to the step formed at the edge of the chemically milled area and propagated outward.

The Associated Press (AP) adds, "FAA records showed that eight cracks had been found and repaired in the fuselage during the plane's 14-year checkup six months before the [incident]."...read more»

American tail fin with airport in background (Photo: Clark County Department of Aviation)

The Dallas Morning News reports that police have charged an American Airlines worker with theft after authorities searching his home found 171 items believed to be taken from airplanes at Dallas-Ft. Worth. Items included property left behind by passengers and items stolen from American itself.

The worker cleans planes at DFW, and has been with American for 41 years.

An airport spokesman estimated the value of the stolen goods to be around $7,500, and says the worker targeted empty planes and pocketed valuables left behind. He was caught when a missing Palm Pre cell phone was traced to his house. The phone had been erased and given to the worker's son. While at the worker's house, police found various electronic devices, ranging from cameras to iPods and e-book readers, along with airline property.

The worker has been suspended and American is trying to match the items found to their respective owners.

Moral of the story? Don't leave your stuff behind!...read more»

American jet parked at the gate (Photo: iStockPhoto/Hal Bergman)

American announced a new addition to its Your Choice collection of for-purchase conveniences. Called Express Seats, the new package combines American's Group One boarding perk ($10) and adds to it a seat toward the front of coach, which allows for a quick and easy exit when the plane lands. Introductory prices for the perk start at $19 per flight and increase based on mileage. The $19 price, for example, is for a flight between St. Louis and Chicago. Flying between Chicago and Honolulu would set you back $39.

My first thought when I read about this new option was: That is the stupidest fee ever. So I took a deep breath, thought about it a little, calmed down, and yes: I guess it's not the stupidest fee ever, but it's close. Let me explain....read more»

Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco

Say goodbye to vacation rentals in New York City and, possibly, San Francisco. Both cities are targeting the cost-effective hotel alternative: New York through an outright ban, and San Francisco though stepped-up enforcement of an existing law.

First, New York. On July 23, Governor David Paterson signed into law a ban on rentals lasting 30 days or less, effective May 2011. The law did not necessarily intend to punish vacation rental owners and managers per se, but ostensibly to constrain developers who illegally alter their apartments to draw in short-term tenants. The government claims this limits the amount of properties available to permanent residents. The ban does not apply to two-family or single-family homes....read more»

AirTran aircraft tail close up (Photo: AirTran)

AirTran's first-bag fees are about to go up. The airline hiked the fee $5 for travel on or after September 1, so that first bag will soon cost you $20 instead of $15. The fee change affects tickets booked on or after today.

The second checked bag remains at $25.

It appears the airline did not put out a release or otherwise make public mention of the fee increase. Instead, it placed a link on its homepage directing people to "learn more" about "new checked bag policies." This, in my opinion, is the absolute bare minimum of effort to notify customers of a policy change that will cost them a few more bucks....read more»

Photo: JetBlue

Admit it: The ruckus surrounding the Steven Slater incident is starting to wear thin. We now know what brand of beer he grabbed before he slid to infamy (Blue Moon—a respectable choice). Passengers are offering wildly conflicting accounts of what actually happened onboard. The real coup de grace is that Slater is apparently mulling over a reality TV offer. All of this is fun media fodder, but means little from a traveler's perspective.

But one question lingers that does have meaning for travelers: What, if anything, does this incident say about JetBlue?...read more»

Airport baggage handler (Photo: Index Open)

The Wall Street Journal reports that talks are underway to avoid a U.K. airport workers' strike that would cripple the air travel system in Britain. According to the WSJ, "Workers including fire fighters, security staff, engineers and support staff at U.K. airports run by BAA Ltd. Thursday voted for industrial action due to a dispute over pay." Potential strike dates have not yet been announced by Unite, which represents the workers, but could be released soon. British law requires a seven-day advance warning before labor action can commence.

If a strike did take place, it would shut down London's Heathrow and Stansted airports, along with four others operated by BAA. As with the volcanic ash cloud earlier this year, major shutdowns at Heathrow in particular could snarl air travel throughout Europe and across the Atlantic....read more»

LAN aircraft (Photo: Airbus S.A.S. /H. Gousse)

Brazil's TAM and Chile's LAN airlines agreed to a merger Friday in a deal that would create Latin America's largest carrier and the 11th largest carrier in the world.

Rather than combine the airlines into one megacarrier, a la Delta and Northwest, the deal would create a subsidiary company, the LATAM Group, under which both airlines could continue operating separately. According to Reuters, "The structure seems designed to portray a merger of equals that could help it clear potential legal and political hurdles in both countries. Brazilian regulations forbid foreigners from holding more than 20 percent of a domestic airline."...read more»

Lufthansa aircraft close up (Photo: Lufthansa)

Video of a Lufthansa flight attendant engaging in a pillow fight with passengers is proof that flight attendants do indeed have fun (when they're not pitching a fit)....read more»

Kids on a plane (Photo: IndexOpen)

Three kids, ranging in age from 11 to 15, walked up to a Southwest ticket counter in Jacksonville, Florida, bought tickets to Nashville, passed through security, and took off. Oh, and a side note: They didn't tell anyone beforehand. 

According to ABC News, the oldest, a 15-year-old girl named Bridget, had the idea to spend her savings on a trip rather than a new car, as she had been planning. She settled on Dollywood, near Nashville, and recruited her friend (age 13) and younger brother (age 11) to accompany her. The trio took a cab to the airport. Apparently, no one ever asked for ID. 

Naturally, their parents are wondering why no one at the airport or at Southwest put a stop to the underage travelers' adventure. Let's try to unravel the mess a little....read more»

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