Southwest Inspects Planes After Hole Opens in Flight

Goglia also expressed concern that just last year, Southwest was slapped with an historic $10.2 million fine, later reduced to $7.5 million, for failing to follow rules to ensure aging aircraft were not falling apart at the seams.

The fine came when it was discovered that Southwest had failed to inspect 46 of its Boeing 737's as required. The mandatory inspections were designed to uncover any cracks in the body of a plane. When the airline finally did inspect the planes, it found cracks in six of them.

Raising questions about Southwest's maintenance again today, Goglia questioned whether there are continued problems with the airline's maintenance of older aircraft.

"There was just a multi-million dollar fine paid by this airline because they missed inspections -- just these very kinds of inspections," Goglia said.

"Southwest Airlines has an exemplary safety record that always is our focus," Southwest spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger responded today in a statement. "We are actively engaged with the NTSB in finding the cause of this incident and assuring that it does not happen again. We applaud our pilots and flight attendants for their expert handling of this situation and our customers for their cooperation."

Other Boeing planes have also experienced problems with cracks in the fuselage. In 2002, a China Airline's Boeing 747-200 broke up in mid-air due to a crack, killing all 225 people onboard. It was later determined the plane hadn't been repaired properly years earlier.

In September 2007, a 30-inch fracture in the fuselage of a China Airlines Boeing 737-300 was found during an inspection after the plane landed.

Today, Hall credited the flight crew and passengers on Monday's flight for remaining "very cool" during the emergency, and said, "the plane never, like, shuddered or went out of control."

"It was a little bit nerve wracking," O'Donovan said. "But we felt safe the whole time because the whole crew seemed very comfortable with what was going on and certainly didn't raise the panic level with the passengers at all."

Southwest today is refunding passengers the cost of their tickets on flight 2294, in addition to the thanks it gave them last night.

"They bought us pizza," Hall said. "We got a little bit more than the typical bag of peanuts."

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