Southwest Airlines is once again back in the headlines after a Newark-bound plane operated by the airline experienced a mid-flight window crack. The aircraft, which was the same model of Boeing 737 that was involved in the fatal incident on Southwest Flight 1380 on April 17, 2018, was diverted to Cleveland, Ohio. Some passengers described being fearful and concerned for their safety after this latest window issue, which inevitably brought up thoughts of the tragic Southwest flight just over two weeks earlier.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the latest Southwest event while still calling upon airlines to increase inspections of certain engine types that may be prone to instances like that of Southwest Flight 1380. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines has experienced a drastic drop in bookings in light of fears following the fatality aboard their aircraft.
Southwest Passengers Bound for Newark Heard “Really Loud Pop” as Window Broke
Flight 957 departed Midway International Airport in Chicago, IL, at 8:36 a.m. and landed in Cleveland at 9:53 a.m. ET with 76 passengers aboard. It was headed for Newark Liberty International Airport when the incident occurred at an undisclosed time as the plane flew over Lake Eerie.
According to passengers on the plane, there was a loud noise, and then they saw that an emergency exit row window had cracked.
“It just sounded like a really loud pop, like someone throwing a rock at you,” Kara O’Grady, who was sitting in the row where the window cracked, told CBS DFW.
On most commercial airplanes there are three panes to each window (an outer, middle, and inner), and it was the outer pane that cracked on Flight 957, according to passengers and images shared from the flight. The purpose of the three-pane design is to protect the cabin and passengers if there is the potential for the window to break.
Paul Upshaw, who was sitting approximately two seats from the window that was affected, told the Associated Press he was nervous, but passengers did not panic when the window cracked.
Rich Robinson was another passenger on the plane. He spoke to Spectrum News about the moments after the crack when he says all the passengers sitting near that window pushed their flight attendant call buttons.
“[The flight attendant] went running back right away, saw it, and everybody cleared out from those couple of rows,” Robinson said.
The pilots of Flight 957 did not call for an emergency landing but did divert the plane to Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, where it landed safely and was taken out of service for a maintenance review and FAA investigation. The 76 passengers aboard were transferred to another flight bound for Newark. No injuries were reported.
Southwest Airlines Releases Statement on Flight 957
Southwest Airlines, still reeling from the aftermath of the fatality on Flight 1380, released a statement on the incident on Flight 957 on the company’s Twitter and Facebook page, in which they referenced a “potential crack to the outer pane of the window.”
Experts Say Window Breaks on Planes are Unusual
The big question that remains after the window incident on Flight 957 is what caused the crack, and that answer may take time-if it comes at all. Experts seem to agree, however, that the event was strange and unusual. There have only been 26 outer window pane failures throughout the service history of the Boeing 737, according to some experts.
Richard Healing, a former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member, told Bloomberg he believes such instances are very rare, especially in a cabin window. Healing added that, in general, cockpit windows are more likely to crack than passenger cabin windows.
Denny Kelly, a retired airline captain, told CBS DFW that landing the plane was the right call, noting that the pilots could have continued flying, but then the window might have blown out and potentially caused in-flight injuries to the plane's passengers.
Robert Mann is a former American Airlines executive who now works as an airline consultant. He told Spectrum News that while airline windows are routinely polished to remove the formation of tiny cracks caused by chemical exposure and sunlight (known as crazing), he was unaware of a window-cracking incident like that of Flight 957 that was caused by crazing. Like Kelly, he agreed that landing the plane was the right decision.
Crew of Southwest Airlines Flight 957 Praised for Their Handling of Event
Despite going through a frightening ordeal, passengers on Flight 957 spoke highly of how the crew conducted themselves during the flight. Similar praise was given after Flight 1380 when passengers credited Captain Tammie Jo Shults with preventing more lives from being lost and more people being injured.
One man took to Twitter to share photos of the crack in the window and commend the crew.
“Honestly, they did a wonderful job handling it,” Rachel Colby, one of the flight’s passengers, told the Associated Press. “We were very pleased with the way they took care of things, they let us know what was going on, they got us onto another flight.”
O’Grady, the passenger sitting in the exit row in which the window cracked, told CBS DFW that while the situation was scary, the crew did well.
“It was a freak thing,” O’Grady said. “The Captain was great, the crew was great. But it’s something, I fly all the time and never had something that weird, freaky happen to me before.”