I really don't understand all the fuss about this whole situation. Yes, the airline failed by not having the aircraft inspected within schedule, but they have acknowledged that and are addressing the issue. The FAA proposed a fine, and the company's appeal is a legal right and sound business move. In the big picture, this is a major airline that has operated for decades, transporting over a billion people without a single on-board fatality (one off-board fatality a couple of winters ago in Midway as an airline overran the runway in bad weather).
In the end of the day, while this story is somewhat disconcerting, the bottom line doesn't change: Southwest gets you were you need to be, often at very reasonable prices. I'm not speaking out of loyalty to the airline, I fly with whomever is more affordable.
As far as other airlines' maintenance practices, I think it's fruitless to speculate on whether or not they cut corners to maximize profit. We're so quick to judge the airline industry because of a collective fear, but at no point do we scrutinize a bus, subway, train, or even our own cars. Lets be reasonable, folks.
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