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Southwest grounds 38 planes for safety inspections

File this under news that weakens confidence in the airline industry and its governing bodies. It’s the too-true story of a maintenance lapse and lax enforcement that led to Southwest grounding 38 planes yesterday to check for cracks in the aging aircraft.

The many twists and turns of this story are captured in this New York Times article. However, I’ll give you an overview: Last week, Southwest was fined for an inspection lapse. Yesterday it announced it found another problem and grounded 38 planes for inspection, which resulted in 125 canceled flights. As of last night, Southwest expected to have all the planes back in operation by today.

But service interruptions are really the smallest part of the story here. People complain about airfare prices, but when it comes down to it, the thing we’re all most concerned about is making sure the airplanes we fly in are as safe and functional as possible.

So the fact that Southwest continued to fly planes even after it realized it had missed routine inspections, and that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continued to let the carrier fly even after the maintenance lapse was reported really hits a nerve.

In an effort to manage the bad press and the flyer fear sure to come out of this, the FAA had a meeting of inspection managers earlier this week to “make sure all carriers receive the kind of intensified scrutiny we’re looking at, at Southwest.” Let’s hope the FAA follows through this time. Without the underlying sense that the air travel industry is totally dedicated to safety, it becomes a lot more difficult to be a passenger.

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