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Southwest Grounds 100s Of Bay Area Flights After Hole Rips Plane

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Unidentified passengers take photos with cell phones of a hole in the cabin on a Southwest Airlines aircraft Friday, April 1, 2011 in Yuma, Ariz. Authorities say the flight from Phoenix to Sacramento was diverted to Yuma due to rapid decompression in the plane. (Brenda Reese / AP)

Unidentified passengers take photos with cell phones of a hole in the cabin on a Southwest Airlines aircraft Friday, April 1, 2011 in Yuma, Ariz. Authorities say the flight from Phoenix to Sacramento was diverted to Yuma due to rapid decompression in the plane. (Brenda Reese / AP)

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OAKLAND (CBS/AP/KCBS) — Passengers expecting to fly Southwest Airlines out of Oakland International Airport Saturday morning were met with long lines after the airline initially grounded 80 of its Boeing 737 jets. 300 Southwest Flights have since been canceled.

The East Bay’s Southwest hub is being affected after a Friday incident where 118 Southwest passengers taking off from Phoenix en route to Sacramento were grounded after a hole opened in the main cabin’s roof.

KCBS’ Bob Butler Reports:

None of the passengers were injured when the plane was forced to land in Yuma, Arizona shortly after take off. They were then put aboard another plane headed to Sacramento.

Airline expert Tom Parsons, CEO of the travel web site BestFares.com, said Southwest is one of the best airlines when it comes to commitment to safety.

“Metal fatigue is one of the things we’re not clear on”, said Parsons who made reference to a 1988 Aloha Airlines flight accident in the same type of plane. “It almost became a convertible from metal fatigue,” Parsons added.

Parsons said that if the NTSB determines this may be a problem with 737s operated by other airlines, they will no doubt be ordered to inspect theirs as well.

Meanwhile inconvenienced passengers are rescheduling with other airlines like JetBlue, but are facing higher costs.

The cancellations had a ripple effect of travel delays in the Bay Area and throughout California.

“They’ve had a continuous line at their check-in counter all day,” said Dan D’Innocenti, duty manager at San Francisco International Airport.

“The delay for passengers is probably not that long,” he added, and said Southwest Airlines’ high volume of planes makes the company more capable of managing the cancellations.

Airline officials are working with the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration to identify and solve any issues with the type of aircraft that malfunctioned.

The investigation is expected to last for several days, and officials expected delays of up to two hours on some of Saturday’s flights.

An airline spokesperson could not be reached to comment.

“We are working closely with Boeing to conduct these proactive inspections and support the investigation,” said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, in a statement.

All passengers onboard Flight 812 received a full refund and two complimentary round-trip passes for future flights with Southwest, along with an apology from the company.

Meantime, federal investigators arrived in Arizona Saturday to try and figure out what caused part of the fuselage to rupture on the Phoenix-to-Sacramento flight.

National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt says investigators are going to cut a piece out of the fuselage, which will be studied for fracture patterns. Data from the plane’s flight recorders and black boxes also will be examined.

Southwest Flight 812 passenger Shawna Malvini Redden says she covered her ears when an explosion rocked the cabin and then felt a brisk wind rush by shortly before Friday’s emergency landing. Brenda Reese described the hole as “at the top of the plane, right up above where you store your luggage.”

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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