Imagine you just boarded a Southwest Airlines flight in Sacramento for a quick hop down to Phoenix. You listen to the safety announcements, rolling your eyes as Southwest FAs throw in a few corny puns and one-liners. The aircraft takes off and the FAs spring up to take drink orders. You order a Coca-Cola. As the FA hands you the cup and package of peanuts, a loud and forceful explosion rocks the cabin.
That’s exactly what happened when a Southwest Airlines 737-300 aircraft carrying 118 literally opened up yesterday, causing a rapid loss of pressure and emergency landing at a military base near Yuma, Arizona. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, although many fainted due to oxygen deficiency on the quick ride down. As a side note–when those oxygen masks drop, you need to get them on immediately. In this situation, there was enough oxygen without the mask for only about 10 seconds.
This is not the first time this has happened on a Southwest 737-300 and the airline has responded by grounding 80 aircraft, leading to the cancelation of 300 flights today. Southwest has 170 733s in its 540 aircraft fleet, but only 80, including the aircraft that ripped open yesterday, have not had their aluminum skin replaced recently. Boeing, Southwest, and the FAA are performing additional testing on these aircraft today.
While Southwest is guilty of operating older jets, initial reports indicate that the airline followed all maintenance and safety protocols for the aircraft under review. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate those standards.