2nd American Airlines Flight Grounded at Kennedy Airport Because of Loose Seats

American Airlines flight 443 has been grounded at Kennedy Airport, officials say

Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012  |  Updated 6:25 AM EDT
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American Airlines flight 443 was grounded at Kennedy Airport Monday after seats got loose from the tracking, the second such incident on an American Airlines plane since Saturday, officials say. Ida Siegal reports.

NBC 4 New York

American Airlines flight 443 was grounded at Kennedy Airport Monday after seats got loose from the tracking, the second such incident on an American Airlines plane since Saturday, officials say. Ida Siegal reports.

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An American Airlines flight headed to Miami had to return to Kennedy Airport Monday after some of the seats became loose on the plane, the second such incident on an American Airlines plane since the weekend. 

American Airlines Flight 443 left Kennedy Airport at 7:11 a.m. and returned to the gate at 8:18 a.m., officials say. A second plane arrived to take the passengers to their destination, ultimately leaving JFK at 11:04 a.m. and landing in Miami at 2:19 p.m.

Conchetta and Vincenzo DiGregorio were on the plane headed to their honeymoon in Antigua, and missed their connecting flight as a result of the delay.

"He says 'We're up in the air, there's something wrong with the seats -- that they are loose. We're just going to do a quick check,'" said Vincenzo DiGregario. "Meanwhile, they changed equipment, changed planes and came down." 

"It was very unorganized," said Conchetta DiGregario. "Nobody helped us."

On Saturday, Boston-to-Miami Flight 685 made an emergency landing at Kennedy Airport when a row of seats became loose. The passengers aboard the flight were placed on another aircraft for Saturday's trip to Miami.

An initial internal investigation has indicated that in both incidents, there may have been an issue with a certain model of seats and how they fit into the tracking. 

Both planes were Boeings 757s. The 757s that American operates in the United States have 22 first-class seats and 166 in economy.

The company said it has flown in engineers, tech crew chiefs and inspectors from its Tulsa maintenance base to New York to evaulate eight other Boeing 757s that may have the same seat issue. 

The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating. 

Airline and government officials discouraged speculation that the incidents could be related to labor-management tension at American, which is cutting labor costs and laying off maintenance workers as it tries to turn around under bankruptcy protection.

Last week American accused some pilots of conducting an illegal work slowdown that has led to a spike in delayed and canceled flights. The airline threatened to take the pilots' union to court.

On Monday, American continued to have more cancelations and delays than its rivals, according to tracking service FlightStats.com. But American's 17 cancellations and 61 percent on-time rating for arrivals were better than many of the airline's performances in September.

The delays and cancellations have annoyed passengers, but even the hint of mechanical issues could frighten them away and even threaten American's existence, experts said.

"These things can kill an airline," said George Hobica, founder of travel website airfarewatchdog.com. "With a delay or cancellation, you're sitting on the ground. (With loose seats) if the plane hits turbulence, people go flying."

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst in San Francisco, said that if travelers perceive maintenance to be lax, "passengers will start booking away from American Airlines in droves. This is very serious stuff."

FAA officials said they have stepped up scrutiny of American as they do with all airlines operating in bankruptcy protection. American and parent AMR Corp. filed for Chapter 11 in November.

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