Southwest Airlines Grounds Part of its Fleet, Causing Delays

A Southwest Airlines jet heads into  John Wayne Airport over the 405 Freeway.

Southwest Airlines has cancelled or delayed about 40 percent of the outgoing flights from San Diego International Airport Saturday after grounding 79 of its fleet of Boeing 737s for safety inspections.

The affected planes are the same version of a Southwest jet that made an emergency landing in Yuma, Ariz., Friday after a three-foot section of the fuselage peeled away as the plane cruised from Sacramento to Phoenix.

The plane landed safely and no serious injuries were reported, although passengers reported fearing for their lives after hearing a loud noise similar to gunshot, followed by a rapid descent and oxygen masks being deployed.

At midmorning, two flights from San Diego to Phoenix or San Jose were cancelled Saturday, another eight were reported delayed and 15 were listed as on time. Similar delays were on the departure boards at airports throughout Southern California.

Nationwide, 300 flights were cancelled, and others were delayed one to two hours, the airline said at noon.

Southwest said the plane will be inspected by its engineers as well as experts from Boeing to see why the pressurized cabin blew out after it had just reached cruising altitude. The grounded planes will also be inspected, according to the airline.

The 79 airplanes that are being inspected “are covered by a set of FAA
airworthiness directives aimed at inspections for aircraft skin fatigue,” the
airline said in a midday statement. “Those aircraft will be inspected over the
course of the next several days at five locations,” the airline said.

Friday’s flight had 118 passengers and five crewmembers on board the 737, the only kind of plane Southwest uses.

City News Service contributed to this report.