Aviation

Has Southwest Airlines regained travelers’ trust 6 months after a fatal engine mishap?

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737.
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737. AP

Six months after an in-flight mishap killed a passenger, Southwest Airlines has regained the trust of travelers.

That’s the conclusion of a survey conducted by YouGov, which asked respondents the following question:

“When you are in the market next to book a flight, from which of the following airlines would you consider purchasing a ticket?”

When asked in October, 44 percent of respondents said they would consider Southwest Airlines.

That’s comparable to the level of trust in the airline on April 1 — more than two weeks before the April 17 incident — when 41 percent of respondents said they would consider Southwest Airlines.

On May 1, about two weeks after the April 17 incident — in which an engine exploded and debris shattered a window, killing passenger Jennifer Riordan — customers’ confidence in Southwest Airlines had dropped to 31 percent.

Why the quick rebound? The survey notes that the Dallas-based airline was quick to issue an apology after the incident, and to offer other passengers aboard the flight $5,000 each to cover unexpected expenses, and $1,000 vouchers for future flights.

“Although there was a fatality, the Southwest pilot did a great job at landing the plane without any additional issues,” Ted Marzilli, YouGov chief executive officer of data products, said in an email. “It is likely that the actions of the flight crew, which were praised by the media, created positive press for Southwest in a time of crisis.”

After the explosion, the New York-to-Dallas flight made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

A preliminary examination of the blown engine showed evidence of “metal fatigue,” according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Riordan was a bank executive and Albuquerque, N.M., resident.

To gather data for its report, YouGov interviewed about 18,500 U.S. customers age 18 and up between January and October.

Southwest Airlines officials declined to comment on the survey.

This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.

Hear the pilot of Southwest flight 1380 communicate with air traffic control after one of the engines of the plane catches fire. The flight, which was heading from New York City to Dallas, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson
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