Plane inspections cause cancellations, delays at O'Hare Airport after midair window blowout

Maher Kawash Image
Saturday, January 6, 2024
Plane inspections cause cancellations, delays after midair blowout
The FAA ordered some Boeing planes grounded after an Alaska Airlines emergency landing, prompting flight delays and cancellations at O'Hare Airport.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Our coverage of this story has moved here.

United Airlines said Boeing 737 Max 9 inspections are causing cancellations for them on Saturday.

United is temporarily suspending service on all 79 of its Boeing 737 Max 9 aircrafts. Around 170 of those planes are grounded at the direction of the Federal Aviation Administration, and that impact is already being felt by people ABC7 talked to at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.

United said they will be working with impacted customers to accommodate them on other aircraft.

As of 9:15 p.m., 118 United flights, which is 4% of their daily total, have been canceled. However, the airline is also facing some disruptions due to weather.

This comes after an Alaska Airlines flight from Portland, Oregon made an emergency landing Friday after a pressurization issue took out a side panel of the aircraft.

"Something rushed into the cabin and rushed out," one passenger said.

Nobody was hurt, and the seatbelt sign being on as it happened may have saved many lives, according to an aviation expert from DePaul University.

"That pressure difference is so great that people could be sucked out of the window or seriously hurt with broken bones," said DePaul University Professor Joe Schweiterman. "Infant on board, all kinds of issues. A rarity to see an accident like this."

The National Transportation Safety Board, during a Saturday news conference, insisted that the incident was an accident.

The chair said the situation could have been a lot worse, adding that the crew took swift action after the window blew out. She said another key to saving lives, was the fact the plane was not at cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.

Meanwhile, inspections are already underway, and the directive from the FAA means Alaska Airlines will be without roughly 25% of its aircraft fleet throughout this process.

United is the other major U.S. airline impacted by this, as they have nearly 80 737 Max 9s. A few of those jets flights landed in Chicago on Saturday, but others that had to be grounded, forcing delays for passengers at O'Hare.

"Today, we were supposed to go to Cancun, and now we're stuck in an airport hotel, so we'll see," one traveler said. "We're rebooked tomorrow, but we're booked on another 737 Max."

Both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines said they agree with the call for inspection. Only the 737 Max 9 planes will be grounded, and the FAA said the inspections will take between four and eight hours per plane.

This is yet another issue for Boeing after the 737 Max 8 planes were grounded worldwide in 2019 for about a year after two fatal crashes within five months of each other.

"The airlines went through a really tumultuous period when those Maxs were grounded, and the thought that we could have an extended grounding of more of these planes is so tough," Schweiterman said. "Let's hope that doesn't come to be."

Passengers at O'Hare on Saturday said they still have no fear of hopping on any plane.

"Airlines are so safe these days. I would take a flight on any plane over riding any car any day," one traveler said. "Glad no one was injured, but hope they get it all sorted out and everyone stays safe."