Southwest Airlines Takes Flying Unsafe Planes Seriously

WHO: Southwest Airlines
WHAT: FAA sought $10.2 million in civil damages from Southwest Airlines for neglecting to inspect the fuselages of 46 of its planes.
WHERE: Reader Ben K says: “I got the email below from Southwest regarding the recent news of the FAA fines, and immediately thought of your “taking it seriously” posts. The subject line of the message was actually ‘Southwest Airlines: We take Safety Seriously'”

Dear Rapid Rewards Member:

Southwest Airlines: We take Safety Seriously

You may have heard that Southwest Airlines was fined by the FAA regarding recent aircraft inspections. First and foremost, we want to assure you this was never and is not a safety of flight issue.
From our inception, Southwest Airlines has maintained a rigorous Culture of Safety–and has maintained that same dedication for more than 37 years…



Edit Your Comment

  1. humphrmi says:

    I would love to see the entire e-mail, I want to know if they actually explain the alleged violation and their actions or if they just say “This was never and is not a safety of flight issue” and expect you to be sheep and believe that missing fuselage inspections isn’t a safety issue.

  2. IssaGoodDay says:

    Where’s the rest of the letter?

    I’ve always been VERY happy with Southwest. Their planes have been clean and comfortable, and some of the stewardesses have been HILARIOUSLY funny.

    “Please remember to take all your bags and coats from under the seat in front of you. if you forget anything, you can find it tomorrow on eBay.”

    “Please be careful when opening the overhead bins, as luggage may have shifted in flight and may fall, causing injury to your head. If this happens, take two asprin and DON’T call us in the morning.”
    ACTUAL quotes. Made the flights much more enjoyable.

    Also, as a rather tall individual (6’3″ish) I’ve found that – despite their “STAMPEDE!” method of seating, they have more legroom than any other airline I’ve flown. Here’s to hoping they don’t get slammed too hard for this, but that they DO learn their lesson!

  3. Well I’m completely reassured! I no longer have any safety qualms about Southwest airlines. In fact, I’m gonna go fly with them right now, even though I have no particular place to fly to or need to travel in general. This letter fixes everything.

  4. headhot says:

    So if its not an issue of safety, what as the issue? pure management incompetence? A total disregard for regulations? A strategic decision and cost cutting maneuver?

    Regardless of the reason, They screwed up big time.

  5. noi56u says:

    @humphrmi: The email pretty much said word-for-word “this is not a safety of flight issue”, was going to post the text but I’ve already deleted it… apparently I’m not taking this seriously!

  6. NotATool says:

    So…Southwest is saying the FAA is dinging them $10.2 Million for a completely BS reason? Fuselage cracks are nothing to worry about and not worth looking for, except to satisfy some obscure FAA rule? Really???

  7. emilymarion333 says:

    I got this email too!

  8. Tankueray says:

    @humphrmi: You may have heard that Southwest Airlines was fined by the FAA regarding recent aircraft inspections. First and foremost, we want to assure you this was never and is not a safety of flight issue.

    From our inception, Southwest Airlines has maintained a rigorous Culture of Safety-and has maintained that same dedication for more than 37 years. It is and always has been our number one priority to ensure the Safety of every Southwest Customer and Employee. “We’ve got a 37-year history of very safe operations, one of the safest operations in the world, and we’re safer today than we’ve ever been,” said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly.

    Receipt of the FAA letter of penalty gives us the chance to present the facts which we feel will support our actions taken in March 2007. The FAA penalty is related to one of many routine inspections on our aircraft fleet involving an extremely small area in one of the many overlapping inspections. These inspections were designed to detect early signs of skin cracking.

    Southwest Airlines discovered the missed inspection area, disclosed it to the FAA, and promptly reinspected all potentially affected aircraft in March 2007. The FAA approved our actions and considered the matter closed as of April 2007.

    The Boeing Company has stated its support of Southwest’s aggressive compliance plan. Southwest acted responsibly and the safety of the fleet was not compromised, Boeing said.

    Former National Transportation Safety Board Inspector-in-Charge Greg Feith said after a review of the available data and information that it’s apparent that there was no risk to the flying public in March 2007 while Southwest Airlines performed their program to re-inspect the small area of aircraft fuselages identified.

    Southwest consistently maintains a Leadership role in developing maintenance programs for the Boeing 737 aircraft.

    As always, we commit to keeping you informed. Please check for periodic updates.

  9. CurbRunner says:

    PSA’s spin that this is “not a safety of flight issue” is pure bullshit and an abuse of semantics. The goal of aircraft fuselage inspections is now and always has been to identify unsafe issues with that part of the plane.
    Because they fly, airplanes can’t just pull over to the curb when a safety problem happens. That’s why inspections are done on a regular basis to effect preventative corrections of any discovered faults.

  10. Coder4Life says:

    how are they taking safety seriously if ever, if they are not performing safety checks? Seriously, give me a break.

    do these companies really think people believe them when they sai they take it serioulsy b/ to begin with they didn’t.

  11. humphrmi says:

    @Tankueray: Thanks. Southwest does actually explain it (a little): “The FAA penalty is related to one of many routine inspections on our aircraft fleet involving an extremely small area in one of the many overlapping inspections.”

    Still, they seem to be saying “We missed some overlapping inspections. The planes were safe, because (A) they were overlapping inspections and (B) we inspected them when we became aware of the issue.”

    OK, first, why are overlapping inspections required? I’m just a layman, but I can venture a guess: Because if a fault occurs, its much better to catch it on the ground than find out about it at 35,000 feet. Overlapping inspections ensure that if one inspection misses a problem, another one will catch the problem. No Southwest airplanes fell out of the sky during this period, and now they’ve been re-inspected, so no foul right?

    No, that’s not the way it works. I’m glad that nobody got hurt. But the inspections were (again, I’m just a layman guessing here) designed to be redundant because they need to be redundant. Southwest needs to pay the fine, learn their lesson, implement changes, and move on.

  12. smarty says:

    This is just another example of airline corporate greed in bed with FAA corruption while the FAA inspectors get punished for doing their jobs.
    Excerpts from the link:
    Inspectors at the Federal Aviation Administration allege their colleagues allowed Southwest to avoid safety inspections and leaked sensitive information to the airline, the newspaper said, citing government documents.
    The whistle-blowers quoted by the newspaper had complained that their concerns about safety violations at the airline had been dismissed for years, starting in 2003. It wasn’t until 2007 the FAA conducted an independent probe and found problems with its oversight of Southwest.

    I’ve tried to post the same info about this more recent news release on Southwest’s Blog, they are not allowing it.

  13. mikelotus says:

    How many Southwest planes have crashed?

  14. APFPilot says:

    @mikelotus: irrelevant, their cost cutting measures has killed at least one person.

  15. humphrmi says:

    @mikelotus: Jeez, you know, you’re right. I guess we should give Southwest a free pass because nobody died.

  16. Orv says:

    I worry more about Alaska Airlines. They keep having flap failures (something like six so far this year) and no one can figure out why. And they’ve had something like five spontaneous depressurization incidents in the last two years, at least one of them because a baggage handler damaged a plane and then covered it up.

    Southwest deserves to be spanked for missing required inspections, but at least they aren’t suffering actual in-flight problems.

  17. dualityshift says:

    If the skin cracks at 30000 feet, won’t it peel off, making that tube more like a sausage on the BBQ? Once the skin ruptures, all the insides find their way to the outside.

    How is this not flight safety?

  18. ColdNorth says:

    @mikelotus: “How many Southwest planes have crashed?”

    You know, the CPSC Board has several vacancies… What are you doing over the next nine months?

  19. theblackdog says:

    Eh, I’m still flying them next week. The news reported that they at least copped to it to the FAA.

  20. chemmy says:

    LOL I got the same email about a day after the FAA news about Southwest started getting out. I also forwarded it to the COnsumerist lol

  21. dcaslin says:

    @APFPilot: Who was killed by a Southwest cost cutting measure?

  22. Paul_Blackstone says:

    Wow, a lot of emotional tirades here. Lets review what we know…

    1) The FAA considered the matter resolved in 2007 and only now (for some reason) has decided to re-raise the issue.

    2) Boeing confirms that there was never a safety issue on Southwest’s planes (but what do they know? they only built the things).

    3) The former NTSB Inspector confirms there was no risk to the flying public on these planes (but what does he know about aviation, anyways?).

    And for the ultimate irony/hypocrisy… Consumerist bloggers and commenters, known for their relentless attacks on airline companies for raising fares and increasing fees, now comes out and blasts one of the only decent airlines for “supposedly” disregarding safety for the sake of cutting costs and keeping their prices affordable. I know I’d love to live in a perfect world, but lets get real for once guys.

    Believe it or not, flying is infinitely safer than any other means of transportation – but nobody thinks twice about the numerous wrecks they pass on the freeway to work every day. For that reason its actually not surprising to read most of the nonsense on this blog.

  23. flyingphotog says:

    Some of you obviously know nothing about the structure of commercial aircraft. A commercial jet is pressurized each time it is flown. In Southwest’s case that makes 9 to 10 times a day each plane is pressurized. Pressurization causes the skin of the aircraft to expand and contract, which in turn can cause small, hairline cracks to develop in the skin of the aircraft.

    My point is that the inspections are done to find the cracks, not to prevent them. Even Boeing, the maker and foremost authority on 737s has sided with Southwest on this issue, saying that Southwest never operated an aircraft unsafely during the period in question.

    IMO, the FAA brought this to light to take some of the glare off their internal issues, including but not limited to increased runway incursions and the loss (theft) of over 100 FAA inspector badges.

  24. jarchie219 says:

    I wonder If Aloha Airlines inspected for cracks.


  25. Nighthawke says:

    @mikelotus: Two in the last 8 years. First was one back in 2000, SWAir flight 1455 overran the runway at Burbank, narrowly missing a gas station.

    The fatal (and only) one was the 8 December 2005 incident. On touchdown the pilot tried to apply reverse thrust but the control refused to respond. Auto braking was new at the time so the pilots did not have sufficient training to implement it. The aircraft overran the runway and crushed a car, killing a 6 year old and injuring 5 others.

    Their QOS is par none some of the greatest attributes of being sticklers of maintaining their equipment. This 10 mill bill by the FAA is penance, probably was politically driven, or probably not. I’ve flown with them in their “cigar JT8D” engined 200’s, and their latest -700 series, and will continue to do so.

  26. Orv says:

    @jarchie219: Actually, the Aloha Airlines accident is what revealed the need for more frequent crack inspections to begin with. Because they flew lots of short flights in a salt-heavy atmosphere, the Aloha planes developed cracks much more rapidly than had been thought possible before.

    The most impressive thing about the Aloha Airlines accident is that the aircraft landed safely with such a large part of its structure missing. I wouldn’t have thought there was that much extra strength in the fuselage.

  27. Wimpkins says:


    There’s no mention of any fatalities at all.

    You should edit the article:


  28. APFPilot says:

    @dcaslin: The kid in Midway. @Paul_Blackstone: Read outside the lines, WN is one of Boeing’s biggest customers I wouldn’t expect them to say anything different. That NTSB expert was hired by WN to review the situation I wouldn’t expect him to say any thing different either.

  29. Employees Must Wash Hands says:

    Re-read Nighthawke’s comment. WN has had two incidents, and only one (overshooting the runway at Midway) had fatalities.

    The best part from the Midway incident’s cockpit voice recorder transcript was that it caught the pilot quoting Airplane! — “picked the wrong day to stop snffing glue.”