A Southwest Airlines Co. jetliner made an unscheduled landing after a window cracked, two weeks after an accident on a separate plane in which a passenger was partially sucked out of a destroyed window and died.
Flight 957 from Chicago-Midway to Newark, New Jersey, didn’t lose cabin pressure as it diverted to Cleveland, Southwest said in a statement Wednesday. An emergency wasn’t declared.
The incident raised the pressure on Southwest, which had its first passenger fatality from an accident last month when a passenger was partially sucked out of a window after an engine exploded on a plane and hurled debris against the fuselage. The National Transportation Safety Board said it found signs of metal fatigue where an engine fan blade broke off.
Following Wednesday’s event, the Boeing Co. 737-700, which carried 76 passengers, was taken out of service. The flight departed Midway at 8:36 a.m. and landed in Cleveland at 9:53 a.m., Southwest said. The incident was far less severe and didn’t seem to raise any of the same safety issues being examined in the fatal accident.
The passenger window was broken, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, without providing further details. Neither Southwest nor the FAA, which said it would investigate the incident, identified what caused cracks to form in multiple layers of the window.
“My sense is that it’s very rare for a cabin window to have that issue,” said Richard Healing, a former National Transportation Safety Board member who now leads consulting firm Air Safety Engineering. Cockpit windows crack more often than those in the passenger cabin, he said.
“The window performed, the backup function worked as intended,” he said, with the multiple layers preventing a blowout. “My suspicion is it was the outside part, but the frame held and kept it in place.”
People took to Twitter to criticize Southwest.
“We are not feeling safe and will consider using a different airline,” one person posted. “Lower fares and bags flying free are not sounding appealing.” Another person urged the airline to “put an even stronger emphasis on maintenance reviews and practices, especially on the older aircraft models.”
Southwest reassured customers that its maintenance program is approved by the FAA, and that “our established programs and processes are designed to enable us to operate at the highest level of safety.”
The Dallas-based airline fell less than 1 percent to $52.72 at 3:13 p.m. in New York after dropping briefly following news of the cracked window. The stock has slumped 20 percent this year while a Standard & Poor’s index of the five biggest U.S. airlines has declined 12 percent.