Southwest may cancel another 300 flights Sunday

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Southwest Airlines could cancel 300 flights on Sunday as it continues to inspect 79 aircraft from its Boeing 737 fleet, after one of its planes with a gaping hole in the fuselage made an emergency landing, a company spokeswoman said.

This comes after the airline said it expects to cancel 300 flights on Saturday, a day after the emergency landing. The airline is planning for possible disruptions on Sunday due to the inspections, said Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King.

“We don’t at this time know what the impact will be, but it’s possible that it could be in the 300-flight range again tomorrow,” King told Reuters.

Passengers aboard Southwest Flight 812 from Phoenix to Sacramento on Friday heard a loud noise and the hole appeared suddenly at about mid cabin. As a result, the pilot landed at a military base in Yuma, Arizona.

The emergency aboard the Boeing 737-300 prompted the airline to examine other similar aircraft within its fleet, with a total of 79 inspections planned at five locations, Southwest said in a statement.

The inspections will occur over the next several days, Southwest said. Southwest normally has about 3,400 flights on Saturday, King said, so the cancellations accounted for nearly 9 percent of that total.

“We did our best to accommodate those passengers on other Southwest flights,” King said.

A total of 931 Boeing 737-300s are operated by all airlines worldwide, with 288 of them in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The Southwest flight that was forced to make an emergency landing had 118 passengers and five crew members on board.

Southwest and Boeing engineers will inspect the grounded aircraft, and the airline is working with federal authorities to determine the cause of the incident, Southwest said.

The pilot made a rapid descent from about 34,400 feet to 11,000 feet, in accordance with standard practice, the FAA said. The purpose was to reach an altitude where supplemental oxygen is no longer required.

One flight attendant and at least one passenger were treated at the scene for minor injuries, Southwest said.

The Boeing 737 landed at 4:07 p.m. local time after declaring an emergency, said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman.

After the passengers deplaned at the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station, the airline arranged for another aircraft to take them to Sacramento, the company said.

Passengers described the harrowing scene to the CBS television affiliate in Sacramento, detailing the damage to the plane.

“They had just taken drink orders when I heard a huge sound and oxygen masks came down and we started making a rapid descent. They said we’d be making an emergency landing,” a woman identified as Cindy told the station.

“There was a hole in the fuselage about three feet long. You could see the insulation and the wiring. You could see a tear the length of one of the ceiling panels.”

(Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix and Lauren Keiper in Boston; Editing by Greg McCune)

Southwest may cancel another 300 flights Sunday