Southwest Planes Grounded at Midway; Passengers Leery

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Just feet away from an airport security fence, Southwest Airlines' Boeing Max 8 planes sit, empty and grounded at Midway Airport. Inside the airport, passengers remain leery after U.S. officials grounded the planes Wednesday.

"I don't want to be on that type of flight," said Pamela Pappas, a Houston resident who came to Chicago with her daughter to visit Northwestern University. "It scares me."

And Pappas isn't alone.

Earlier this week, Minooka resident Nick Graczyk and his girlfriend quickly researched their Chicago-to-Las Vegas flight after hearing a Boeing 737 Max 8 crashed in Ethiopia Sunday, killing 157 people.

"I looked up our flight to see what type of plane it was. It was a Max 8," Graczyk said. "We switched flights because we didn't want to be on that particular aircraft."

Southwest Airlines, which has a robust presence in Chicago, uses the most Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. It owns 34 aircraft, which is about 4% of the its daily flights, according to a spokesman.

"We've only cancelled 39 MAX flights [Thursday] out of 4,000 plus scheduled flights. There have been minimal disruptions," the Southwest spokesman responded via email.

More than 40 countries have grounded the aircraft, the U.S. was one of the last holdouts.

"The U.S. usually leads the way in safety requirements. I think in this case we lag behind a little bit," said Joe Schwieterman, a DePaul University transportation professor.

And Southwest isn't the only airline. American and United also fly the Max 8, all juggling schedules on the brink of Spring Break.

"I realize this disruption will inconvenience our customers during a very busy Spring travel season. We will do everything in our power to mitigate the operations," said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly in a video statement released by the airline.

Officially, the FAA acting administrator said a software update of the plane is coming soon.

"The software fix is almost complete and we expect by the end of this month all the testing will be complete," said Daniel Elwell, FAA's acting administrator. "We can authorize implementation of the fix by hopefully the end of the month."

But travelers, like Nick Graczyk, remain concerned.

"After it's been up and flying with no issues, I have no issues getting on the plane," he said. "But for right now, I wouldn't want to be the first couple that take off."
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