The Trouble With the Memphis Airport: No Crowds

The spacious terminal built for when the Tennessee city was a bustling air travel hub has become a half-deserted white elephant that the airport is spending millions to shrink.

The ticketing lobby at Memphis International Airport. The passenger count, more than 11 million in 2007, fell to about four million last year.CreditAndrea Morales for The New York Times

MEMPHIS — The view from the chief executive’s office window at Memphis International Airport is as sweeping as it is dispiriting: On a recent afternoon, he could see 10 empty jet bridges and not a single airliner. Later, at the curb in front of the terminal, there were only three cars dropping off passengers, and inside, a pair of moving walkways carried just three people between them.

An empty airport may sound heavenly to anyone who has had to cope with the crowds and chaos at La Guardia or Hartsfield-Jackson or O’Hare. But it is a humbling reality for Memphis.

To walk the airport’s deserted corridors now is to know that its glory days of just a decade ago are gone, a glaring casualty of an airline merger that transformed the American aviation industry but cost the Mid-South’s most important city its status as a hub.

So now, while many airports are desperately trying to figure out how to add more gates, more destinations, more parking, more restaurants and, for goodness’ sake, more bathrooms, Memphis is grappling with the opposite, much rarer riddle: how to shrink gracefully.

“We spend most of our careers trying to figure out how to grow passengers and grow facilities,” said Scott A. Brockman, the president and chief executive of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority. “To remove things, without a plan to rebuild them better, is really a painful thing for an airport guy.”

Memphis used to be a regular transfer stop for business and leisure travelers, when Northwest Airlines was the dominant carrier and the airport was marketed as a “hassle-free” hub. But then Delta Air Lines gobbled up Northwest, and decided it only needed one hub in the South, its own base in Atlanta. The decision cost Memphis almost two-thirds of its passengers: From more than 11 million in 2007, the last full year before the merger announcement, the count fell to about four million last year.

That has sometimes left the spacious three-concourse terminal looking staggeringly deserted, with most of its gates unused. The airport’s solution is to spend $219 million on what it is calling a modernization effort: closing and renovating Concourse B, and then consolidating operations there and essentially mothballing Concourses A and C.

The plan is as much a push toward the future as it is an admission that Memphis — the sign at the entrance still calls it “America’s Aerotropolis” — is a lesser passenger magnet these days than Omaha or Columbus, Ohio, or even the second airport serving Dallas.

“It was death by a thousand cuts,” said Mr. Brockman, who has worked at the airport long enough that he can recall when the terminal was “bustling,” “crazy” and “kind of orchestrated mayhem.”

Concourse B at the terminal is closed for renovation.CreditAndrea Morales for The New York Times

Memphis had few role models to look to. The closest analogue, industry experts said, was Pittsburgh, which had to reimagine its airport after US Airways, which is now part of American Airlines, stopped using it as a hub.

But such demoralizing plans and strategies can only do so much, especially for now. In Memphis, there are direct flights to far fewer destinations than before, and only two to help justify the “international” in the name (Toronto and Cancun, Mexico). It takes no time at all to walk through the terminal’s three ticketing areas or to zip through the security line. A gate may be crowded when a flight is about to board, but others nearby will be idle, and finding a place to sit is rarely a problem.

The airport is betting its future on Concourse B. Over the next three years or so, it will be rebuilt to feature wider corridors, more amenities, more natural light and even a stage for live entertainment. (After all, this is Memphis, where blues notes still pulse through the airport’s parking garage, and the airport’s logo is a reminder of the city’s musical heritage.)

When Concourse B reopens, A and C will close, idling about 60 gates. The airport plans to keep a minimal level of heat and ventilation in each of them, Mr. Brockman said, and will test their equipment occasionally just in case they are needed again someday. That day may be a long time coming, or may never come.

Though Concourse B is already closed, demolition work won’t start for a few months yet. There are still some signs there for Allegiant and Delta, and portraits of Elvis Presley and B.B. King still hang, reflected on the gleaming terrazzo floors. Every so often, the public address system booms out recorded announcements to no one.

Demolition work has yet to start in a $219 million modernization project.CreditAndrea Morales for The New York Times

The sprawling terminal may have become a bit of a white elephant with the falloff in passenger traffic, but not so the airport as a whole. Its runways are still busy, chiefly because Memphis is home to FedEx, whose purple, orange and white cargo jets roar morning and night through the western Tennessee sky. Among the world’s cargo airports, Memphis is second only to Hong Kong.

Airport officials tend to toggle between offering optimism and consolation. A favorite statistic is the decline in airfares to and from Memphis since the merger. They averaged $389.81 last year, down nearly $70 from 2007 when adjusted for inflation.

Even so, residents lament the lost hub, and when you mention the airport in these parts, you will often get a shrug, a grimace or a sad stare.

“So sad to watch a booming airport turn into a ghost town,” a letter to the editor of The Commercial Appeal said in January.

And the criticism used to be even harsher.

“Probably the biggest impact was the psychology on the community — ‘Oh, my God, we’re not going to be a real city any more,’” Mr. Brockman said. “I think that now, the community has pretty much come to terms. The ones who grumble the most are the business travelers who now have to spend two-and-a-half hours laying over somewhere. Instead of a two-hour trip somewhere, it’s now six or seven hours.”

Alan Blinder covers the South. He has been assigned to The Times’s Atlanta bureau since he joined the newspaper in 2013.


Air France Dispute Threatens to Escalate Macron’s Battle With Labor

“I am not taking the money of the French and putting it in a company that isn’t at the required competitive level,” Mr. Le Maire said.

The battle is an outgrowth of Mr. Macron’s effort to remake the French economy.

He has rammed a series of controversial changes to France’s notoriously rigid labor laws through a Parliament stacked with members of his En Marche party, starting with a measure this year to make it easier for private companies to fire workers. Mr. Macron is also tilting at the unemployment and pension systems with controversial changes to reduce costs.

In the midst of his drive, he is also challenging France’s most time-tested institutions. In March, he began negotiations for an overhaul of the heavily subsidized, debt-laden French rail system, targeting jobs-for-life schemes and benefits that are among the most generous of any profession in France in a bid to open the system to competition by 2020.

Mr. Macron’s moves have been cheered by businesses and investors. It has encouraged drawn companies like Facebook and Amazon to step up their presence in France.

But they have also sparked fear and anger among swaths of French society. Many workers worry that the financing of the country’s cherished safety net will be plucked away and transferred to business, for the profit of shareholders.


Demonstrators rallied in Paris on Saturday to mark Mr. Macron’s first year in office by protesting his efforts to reshape the economy.

Olivier Morin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Even some analysts warn that the government may be going too far, by shifting the balance of power toward employers and greatly eroding the power of labor. The unions have been spoiling for a fight.

In many ways, that has been Mr. Macron’s point. Although only around 8 percent of the nation’s workers are unionized, organized labor has long held outsize clout at the negotiating table with employers. In France, even small changes tend to agitate unions, which have historically sought to secure workplace protections through protests and strikes.

Before pushing through changes to the labor laws, Mr. Macron held more than 50 meetings with unions shortly after his election in an effort to get them onboard with his program.

The General Confederation of Labor, known as the C.G.T., has largely resisted, seeing an effort to repeal hard-won labor rights. The union has been at the forefront of mobilizing actions that in recent weeks have led hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, and encouraged regular strikes at the nation’s railway system that are scheduled to last until July.

The more moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labor, France’s largest union after recently overtaking the C.G.T. in membership, has pushed for a more flexible approach as the forces of globalization change the competitive landscape.

At Air France, the government pushed back against labor groups over the weekend after the chief executive, Jean-Marc Janaillac, resigned abruptly on Friday. Mr. Janaillac had failed to win workers over in a contentious internal referendum that proposed a 7 percent pay increase for pilots and staff over four years.


Jean-Marc Janaillac, who resigned as Air France’s chief executive on Friday, failed to win workers’ approval of a proposal to raise pay for pilots and staff over four years.

Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Air France’s hard-line pilots’ union had demanded an immediate 5 percent raise to make up for wages that have been frozen for nearly five years. The company has recorded record profits thanks to lower oil prices since 2016, prompting the union to insist that Air France could afford the pay increase.

The tensions were at least a far cry from a clash between employees and managers in 2015, when a mob of angry workers stormed a meeting on job cuts and ripped the shirts off two top executives, who escaped over a chain-link fence for safety.

Still, it has set up a dangerous game of brinkmanship between unions and the French government, which has hinted that it is willing to let Air France go under.

“If it doesn’t make the necessary efforts to be at the same competitive level of Lufthansa and other major airlines, it will disappear,” Mr. Le Maire said on the French television station BFM on Sunday. He added that the union’s salary demands were “unjustified” and urged employees to show “responsibility.”

Such talk is reminiscent of Mr. Macron’s broader approach to overhauling the economy. Some analysts have criticized the way he has pushed through changes to the labor laws, most of which have been done by the equivalent of executive order, raising questions about how democratic — or not — his methods have been.

One year into his presidency, Mr. Macron is routinely referred to in the French media as Jupiter or Napoleon Bonaparte, when he is not being compared to French kings. This weekend, thousands of demonstrators amassed in Paris to express anger at what they called a “soft dictatorship,” while brandishing a portrait of King Louis XVI with Mr. Macron’s face Photoshopped in.

“Emmanuel Macron is walking a fine line between the rehabilitation of a certain presidential authority and authoritarianism,” Jean-Claude Monod, a specialist in political philosophy, said in an interview published Monday in the French daily Le Monde. “One has the impression of a deafness in front of forms of protest or political experimentations, of a will to use force for his reforms.”

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Is That Dog (or Pig) on Your Flight Really a Service Animal?

Confusion over service dogs, which are specially trained to help people with disabilities, and emotional support animals, which can be pets that provide comfort and companionship but require no training, cloud the issue.

Recent headlines about passengers trying unsuccessfully to board flights with what they said were support animals — a peacock in one case and a hamster in another — as well as federal regulations that are subject to misinterpretation or abuse have made matters worse, experts said.

Regulators and airlines have taken notice.

Cracking Down on Fraud

Delta and Alaska Airlines have tightened their rules for transporting service and support animals, and the federal Department of Transportation is exploring new rules to reduce the likelihood that airplane passengers falsely claim their pets as service animals. The department plans to solicit public comment about the “appropriate definition” of service animals, a spokeswoman said.

Twenty-two states already have some kinds of laws addressing the issue and lawmakers in Arizona, Iowa and Minnesota are considering cracking down on service dog fraud.

The Americans With Disabilities Act defines service animals as either dogs or miniature horses that are specifically trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, such as guiding people who are blind. The Air Carrier Access Act separately governs airlines in the area of service and support animals — and that’s one of the places prone to abuse.

Passengers pass off their pets as support or service animals so they can remain in the cabin instead of the cargo hold, officials said. (While unusual pets, such as pigs, have been taken aboard as support animals, airlines are not required to accommodate others, like snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders.)

Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, last week introduced legislation to have the definition of a service animal under the Air Carrier Access Act match the one in the Americans with Disabilities Act. The proposal would bar from flights animals whose sole function was to provide comfort or emotional support and require federal agencies to establish a standard of behavior training for animals that would be working on planes, according to a news release.

Abuse Takes a Toll on Legitimate Cases

Gerry DeRoche, chief executive of the National Education for Assistance Dog Services, said fraudulent service or support animals could displace legitimate ones because most airlines limit the number allowed in a cabin.


A woman tried unsuccessfully in January to board a flight at Newark Liberty International Airport with a peacock that she described as her emotional support animal.

The Jet Set TV/via Reuters

Jeffrey N. Younggren, a clinical professor at the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of New Mexico, said studies about the benefits of emotional support animals were “spotty and inconsistent.”

“Before we start loading up airplanes with emotional support animals, we need the research,” he said.

Official-looking paperwork is available online to make pets look legitimate: Owners answer questions about their need for a support animal, and a doctor issues an assessment without ever evaluating the client, Mr. Younggren said.

“The whole thing is a mess,” he said, adding that such websites have become a “growth industry” over the last five years.

David Favre, a law professor at Michigan State University and editor in chief of its Animal Legal and Historical Center, said fraudulent cases eroded trust about service animals.

“There are many thoughtless, ignorant or arrogant people out there who only think of themselves,” he said. “Abuse is everywhere.”

Even for trained animals, maneuvering through crowds or traveling in confined places like planes can be stressful, but they are conditioned not to act out. Untrained animals in those circumstances are prone to misbehave by growling, biting or having accidents.

Chris Diefenthaler, operations administrator at Assistance Dogs International, said one of the worst outcomes could be when a pet posing as a service dog attacks a legitimate one, leaving it so traumatized or injured it has to be retired or put down.

“There are no standards for evaluating the need for an emotional support animal, whereas there are concrete rules to determine if someone is eligible for a service animal,” Cassie Boness, a graduate student in clinical psychology in the department of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, said in a post on the university’s website.

“But emotional support animals can be certified through an online process, and they can be someone’s pet,” she continued. “The growing use of emotional support animals tends to discredit the use of service animals, which is where much of the tension comes from since people do not understand the difference.”

Also, people can shop online for vests, patches or harnesses that identify their pets as service animals, leading to peculiar situations.

For instance, Ms. Giovinazzo, who flies frequently, said airline workers sometimes ask for identification for Watson. A detailed one issued by his guide school will draw scrutiny, while one that reads “TSA approved” that she bought from Amazon “looks more official,” she said.

Cathy Zemaitis, director of development for National Education for Assistance Dog Services, shared a photo taken at Los Angeles International Airport of a dog wearing a vest labeled “service animal,” a muzzle and a diaper.

“A true service dog would never be muzzled nor would they be in a diaper,” she said.

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Your Money: Why Airline Credit Cards Have an Enduring Appeal

This week, Citi, clearly feeling the competitive heat, announced plans to add goodies to one of its American Airlines cards, including double miles on all restaurant and gas station purchases. While Citi did not offer up hard numbers like Delta and Amex, the company did tell me that the growth of its American Airlines card portfolio was outpacing the predictions of overall economic metrics.

A few years ago, Barclays made an aggressive bid for the JetBlue credit card business and won it. The bank now reports that it has doubled the overall size of the business in two years.

So what accounts for the continued appeal of the airline credit card, and who ought to have one?

Some things that have always been true about these cards remain so: If you travel a lot on the same airline and spend a lot of money in your everyday life, earning the same reward currency when you travel and when you’re using your card can help you quickly earn more and better free trips.

But things have also changed. In addition to the miles, many of the mileage cards now come with privileges. You might get a free checked bag. Or you can board your flight in the fifth group instead of the seventh, thereby getting space for your carry-on in the overhead bin.

This is clever and ought to inspire some healthy cynicism. After all, the airlines created the problem that the cards are now solving by charging for checked baggage. Now, for an annual fee of $95 or $150 or $450, you can avoid multiple $25 or $35 nicks for checking bags. And even if you can’t be sure what a free flight will cost in miles, at least the baggage giveaway is something tangible.

“As points become more confusing and devalued, people turn to perks — and they are easy to see and easy to value,” said Brian Kelly, the founder of The Points Guy, a website that makes money from referrals by channeling consumers to the most useful cards. (Wirecutter, a New York Times company, has also made money this way in the past and plans to again in the future.) “The issuers are doubling down on perks, and it appears to be paying off.”

The card offerings are now complicated enough that it’s nearly impossible to offer generic advice about who ought to have one. For me, the sign-up bonuses for the Delta and American cards plus the baggage fee waivers on Delta were enough to persuade me. The top-tier American card also comes with airline lounge access, which I finally treated myself to (and deducted on my taxes) after too many years of hacking together standing desks at abandoned airport gates so I could work comfortably on my laptop.


A security checkpoint at Kennedy International Airport. In addition to the miles, many of the mileage cards now come with privileges. You might get a free checked bag. Or you can board your flight in the fifth group instead of the seventh.

Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

One bit of math should be obvious: If you’re carrying a balance and paying 18 percent annual interest, the rewards don’t come close to making that up. According to American Express, 21 percent of its outstanding credit card loans belonged to people with a Delta credit card as of the end of 2017.

Many people don’t spend or earn enough to justify switching cards. Sure, they might extract a bit more value from a simple card that refunds 2 percent of all purchases, but then they would have to change all automated payments, which is a giant headache.

It’s also possible that plenty of people simply do not know that generic points cards from the likes of Chase and its Ultimate Rewards program might offer more in the way of returns. Many bloggers offer helpful advice about this offering.

For those who don’t want to do the math themselves, Jay Sorensen did it for you. Mr. Sorensen, who runs the IdeaWorksCompany airline revenue consultancy, ran hundreds of simulations to come up with the following data for an award seat availability study he does with the rental site CarTrawler: The average value per mile redeemed for economy class travel ranges from 0.7 cents to 1.4 cents, depending on the airline. For long-distance business class seats, it ranges from 1.5 cents to 2.4 cents. So a 2 percent cash-back card would more often be a better value.

But some consumers simply do not care about the math — or perhaps are hypnotized by years of gauzy marketing and the daydreaming it inspires. “While you may be right that the value per mile has decreased, that’s a function of a lot of things,” said Denny Nealon, who runs Barclays’ United States partnerships business. “Airline miles are an incredibly aspirational and valuable currency.”

And those aspirations cement the emotional hook of credit-card airline miles: They offer the distinct possibility that you could use everyday spending to get yourself as far as possible from your everyday life.

“What we are in the business of doing is travel,” said Bridget Blaise-Shamai, vice president for loyalty and customer insights at American Airlines. “We could have this conversation 100 years from now, and it would remain relevant.”

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F.A.A. Orders Closer Engine Inspections After Southwest Airlines Failure


Federal investigators in Philadelphia examined damage to the turbofan engine on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 that failed on Tuesday, leading a passenger’s death.

Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration on Friday issued an emergency order instructing airlines with the same type of engine as the one that failed catastrophically on Tuesday on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 to more thoroughly inspect the engines’ fan blades.

The agency told airlines to perform ultrasonic inspections — which can detect flaws or cracks not visible to the unaided human eye — within the next 20 days on fan blades of engines with more than 30,000 cycles. A cycle includes an engine start, takeoff, landing and shutdown.

The F.A.A.’s order came shortly after the manufacturer of the engines, CFM International, issued guidelines for the ultrasonic inspections. CFM, a joint venture of General Electric and the French company Safran Aircraft Engines, went further than the F.A.A., recommending that fan blades with 20,000 cycles be inspected by the end of August. It also recommended inspections of all other fan blades when they reach 20,000 cycles, and repeating the inspections every 3,000 cycles, which, it said, “represents about two years in service.”

The F.A.A. said it was acting because it determined that fan blade cracking “is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design.”

The agency’s order does not address those lesser-used engines, but said it was “considering further rule making to address these differences.” Airlines are not legally bound to follow a company’s guidelines. They are bound by the F.A.A. directive.

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Sale at Heathrow Terminal 1. Everything Must Go.

More functional and bulky objects will be sold later. Among them: 110 check-in desks with scales and baggage belts, 11 baggage reclaim carousels, 15 escalators, gates, piers and complete air bridges.


The auction house was hoping to attract bids from smaller airports for some of the bulkier and more practical items.

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Security equipment like full-body scanners and automatic passport gates will be available through private treaty sales after a security check of the buyers.

One may wonder who would want to buy reminders of sometimes frustrating moments spent lining up at the “U.K. Border” sign or staring at an empty luggage carousel.

“Some of the larger items in future auctions will be more popular with other airports,” Ms. Macquisten wrote. “We are also thinking some bars and clubs might be interested in the seating if they want some retro memorabilia in their establishments.”


Stefan Knapp created artwork for the terminal. His murals will be part of the auction.

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Most of the artifacts are mundane, to be sure. But observers with imagination can find intriguing messages in the signs saying, “Nothing to declare” or “All Departure Gates.” Or they may find nostalgia in airline signs for Aer Lingus, TAM, Icelandair, US Airways, Air New Zealand, El Al and others.

Most of the items date to after the 1960s, but there are some exceptions, like enamel murals specially commissioned for the airport and created by Stefan Knapp, a Polish-born artist who lived and worked in Britain.

The most popular items in the early bidding wars were the clocks and a departure sign, which had attracted 141 bids by midday on Friday.

By contrast, few people seemed to want a keepsake from airport security: A foot stool used to check shoes had three bids on Friday.


“We are also thinking some bars and clubs might be interested in the seating,” a spokeswoman for the auctioneers wrote.

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The auction could well be a hit over all if past sales linked to air travel are any guide. After Germany’s AirBerlin — the country’s second-largest airline — went bankrupt last year, a sale of its assets attracted bids from 45 countries.

The chocolate hearts the airline used to hand out to passengers went for as much as 352 euros ($435) for a box of 100.

In addition, decommissioned parts of Concorde, the supersonic passenger aircraft, have been sold at several auctions. The catalog for a charity sale in 2003 in London by Bonhams included everything from flight instruments to cutlery and a case of wine served on board.


Heathrow’s Terminal 1 opened as a slick passenger terminal. It didn’t age well. Baggage reclaim in 1969, to the left, and 2014, to the right, a year before the terminal closed.

As for Terminal 1, it did not age well. By the time it shut down, it was handling 17 flights and 1,700 passengers a day. Its shiny, neon-lit interiors with slick lines and fixtures gave way to a patchwork of old and new surfaces.

For travelers, in the final years, the terminal was more of a drab point of transit to rush through than a place to linger.

The fate of the building, at the center of one of the busiest airports in the world, was sealed long before the coming auction. It will be demolished and the site used for the expansion of the redeveloped Terminal 2.

Queen Opens New Airport Building (1969) Video by British Pathé

The original Terminal 2, known at first as the Europa Building, was the airport’s first terminal building when it opened in 1955. It was closed to the public in 2009 and demolished in 2010, with its replacement opening in 2014. The hope is that with its expansion, it will handle about 30 million passengers.

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Engine on Southwest Jet Not the Only One to Develop Cracks

He said that in the past, engines were designed with an abundance of precaution. “They don’t do that anymore. They’re trying to whittle down every last bit of material, every bit of weight. Thrust is king.”

But, Mr. Giannotti said, “there is such a thing as pushing things. We try to get right to the edge, with as little edge as possible, without stepping over.”


An engine, made by GE Aviation, came apart in 2016, igniting a fire that destroyed an American Airlines Boeing 767. That incident was the result of a previously undetected manufacturing flaw.

Jose Castillo, via Associated Press

In the case of the Southwest engine failure this week, investigators say they are not only considering why a fan blade broke but why the engine housing failed to contain it. The shrapnel punctured a window in the plane, and a woman seated by it was partially sucked out. She was later pronounced dead.

The Federal Aviation Administration had already been close to ordering airlines using that particular engine, the CFM-56B, to conduct ultrasonic inspections. The agency appears to have been prompted to act after another Southwest 737 engine came apart in 2016, sending debris into the plane’s fuselage, wing and tail. The investigation into that incident is ongoing.

Late Wednesday, the F.A.A. said it was ordering those ultrasonic inspections. The engines on both Southwest planes, were manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and Safran of France.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that visual inspections between flights were insufficient to detect flaws in the disk of a CF-6 engine on an American Airlines Boeing 767 in late 2016. The plane was gaining speed on the runway in Chicago when the engine broke apart, sending metal fragments into the fuel tank and igniting a fire. The engine was manufactured by General Electric.

The chairman of the transportation safety board, Robert L. Sumwalt, said on Wednesday that the problems with the Southwest engine were worrisome because the agency had already discovered in the Chicago incident that some engine flaws were undetectable. “We are concerned about it,” Mr. Sumwalt said.

Inspections have also been ordered for the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines that power a quarter of Boeing’s newest wide-body, the 787 Dreamliner, after cracks were found on rotor blades. But the F.A.A. went further and rescinded the operators’ approval to fly the airplanes any farther than 2 hours and 20 minutes from an emergency airport.

International long-haul carriers like United Airlines, Qantas Airways, Japan Airlines, Air New Zealand and British Airways purchased the Dreamliner over the past decade specifically for the plane’s ability to carry fewer people on longer routes more fuel efficiently. On extended flights over water, an airline could schedule flights on routes of up to five hours flying time from an emergency airport.


In the case of the Southwest flight this week, a shard of the engine broke a window, causing cabin depressurization that pulled a passenger halfway out the window.

National Transportation Safety Board, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

American and European regulators now say that cannot be safely accomplished. Should one Rolls-Royce engine fail, the higher power demand on the remaining engine could cause the second engine to fail.

“It’s pretty frightening,” said Mr. Giannotti, the aerospace engineer. “What is very clear is, there is a design flaw in the engine.”

LATAM Airlines, British Airways and Norwegian Air are three airlines that must now lease substitute airplanes or reassign other model aircraft to certain destinations, an expensive disruption.

“We are carrying out detailed precautionary inspections on Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines on our Boeing 787s to ensure we meet all the relevant regulatory requirements,” said Michele Kropf, a spokeswoman for British Airways. She declined to provide details of how the carrier was handling transoceanic routes on which it flies its 787s.

Although engine failure is not common, the bigger risk is when pieces of the motor fly out. “There’s a lot of mass behind them,” said Robert Benzon, a former investigator with the transportation safety board. “Because of the centrifugal forces involved, if they shoot out in the wrong direction, they can do anything.”

For more than a half-century, jet engines have taken the lead in advancing the capabilities of airliners, with each engine more powerful than the newest plane. The Dreamliner engines, for example, generate enough energy to power 30 homes. They do more than just propel the plane through the sky; they provide power to the airplane’s demanding and complex systems.

The recent engine failures have certainly been disruptive and attention-getting, but do not necessarily indicate a trend, though Mr. Benzon said it might.

“It’s up to the industry and the entities, the investigators, the certification people, the F.A.A. in our case, to see if there is a trend and rectify it,” he said.

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Meet Me in Mongolia: How Aging Aircraft May Dictate Kim-Trump Venue

“It’s really hard if you only have a 2,000-mile radius,” said David H. Rank, who previously served as the acting United States ambassador to China.

Locations in the United States and Europe were in the running, a senior administration official said on Wednesday, though the situation was fluid. Here are some options being discussed:


In theory, a neutral location like Sweden or Switzerland would be ideal. Both maintain diplomatic relations with the United States and North Korea and have signaled a willingness to facilitate the meeting.

Those locales have been the sites of some of the most significant diplomatic achievements in history — Geneva hosted the 1985 meeting between President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. It could provide the dramatic backdrop that both leaders appear to crave.

But to get there, one needs a plane.

“He’s not going to fly commercial,” Ms. Terry said of Mr. Kim.

American Territory

With the expected range of Mr. Kim’s planes, a trip to Hawaii or Guam, the closest United States territory to North Korea, would almost certainly require a refueling stop or a borrowed plane. Korea experts call that an indignity that Mr. Kim would not accept.

“I have trouble believing they would do that. It would be embarrassing,” said Joel S. Wit, a senior fellow at the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. “They’ve got to borrow an airplane? I mean, what does that look like?”


Mr. Kim rode a private train to Beijing last month for his first known trip abroad since taking power in 2011.

Korean Central News Agency

The Korean Peninsula

Two locations in the Korean Peninsula have been floated as options. The Demilitarized Zone, a 2.5-mile-wide, 150-mile-long stretch of land dividing the peninsula, already has a facility that could serve as a meeting site: the Peace House in Panmunjom, a border village that is the only place in the contested strip where North and South Korean soldiers operate in proximity. The Peace House lies just across the demarcation line on the South Korean side.

It would be about a three-hour drive for Mr. Kim — no planes required. The stark setting, though, is hardly Trumpian.

“You have to think from Trump’s perspective,” Ms. Terry said of Panmunjom. “It’s just not sexy.”

Pyongyang best serves Mr. Kim’s interests. The Americans would be coming to him — the first official visit by a sitting American president to the capital.

But such a trip has obvious pitfalls for Mr. Trump. Bowing to Mr. Kim’s needs puts him in a weaker negotiating position and is unlikely to sit well with the president, whose bellicose foreign policy leaves little room for deference.

Foreign policy experts fear that a visit to Pyongyang risks legitimizing the authoritarian government of Mr. Kim, whose country has not had diplomatic relations with the United States since establishing itself as a separate state in 1948. But that argument could lose credence if the meeting moves forward.

“One could argue you have already legitimized the regime by having a summit,” Ms. Terry said.

The senior administration official said the two sites were probably out of the running.

Elsewhere in Asia

A venue in Asia might be the easiest compromise. It frees Mr. Kim from the political headache of traveling by plane and keeps Mr. Trump away from North Korea. The options are limited if he wants to maintain his own political capital, though. Vietnam and Singapore are being considered rather than more obvious choices like China or Japan.

China is politically problematic because of the rocky relationship between Mr. Trump and Beijing. Seeking Chinese help in arranging such a historic event would do little to polish the Americans’ credibility, and Mr. Kim’s own relations with the Chinese are tenuous at best.

“The politics of doing this kind of summit under the protective wing of the Chinese just strikes me as pretty implausible,” Mr. Rank said.

Japan is not an option given its longstanding historical tensions with North Korea. Russia presents a similar problem to China; amid tensions with the Kremlin, Mr. Trump would be ill-served in relying on Russia to host what could be a crowning diplomatic achievement.

A long shot, Mongolia, could serve all parties, and its government has offered to play host to the meeting in its capital of Ulan Bator.

“At least politically, the easiest place for everyone would be Mongolia and Ulan Bator,” Mr. Wit said, “because the Mongolians like to think of themselves as the Switzerland of Asia.”

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Inside Southwest Flight 1380, 20 Minutes of Chaos and Terror

Over the next 20 minutes, the depressurized cabin air swirled with wind and debris, panic and prayers as the pilot rerouted the plane to Philadelphia for an emergency landing.

“I grabbed my wife’s hand and I started praying: ‘Dear Jesus, send some angels. Just save us from this,’” said Timothy C. Bourman, 36, a pastor from Woodside, N.Y., who was on his way to a church retreat in San Antonio. “I thought we were goners.”

In the cockpit, Tammie Jo Shults, a veteran Navy pilot, flew on with one engine, displaying what one passenger would later call “nerves of steel.”


Southwest Passengers Recount a Harrowing Experience

Passengers who were on the Southwest Airlines plane that had a deadly engine explosion mid-flight share what their experience was like.


Photo by Amanda Bourman.

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Ms. Shults was well trained to handle stress in the cockpit. She had flown supersonic F/A-18 Hornets as one of the Navy’s first female pilots at a time when women were still barred from combat duty, before leaving active service in 1993. Ms. Shults calmly radioed air traffic controllers in Philadelphia to discuss her approach. She told them the flight was carrying injured passengers and needed emergency medics on the ground.

“Is your airplane physically on fire?” an air traffic controller asked Ms. Shults, according to audio captured by LiveATC.

“No it’s not on fire, but part of it is missing,” she responded. “They said there’s a hole and, uh, someone went out.”

It had all started so normally on Tuesday morning.

When the Boeing 737 took off from La Guardia Airport, it was fresh off an inspection on Sunday night, though investigators on Wednesday said the likely cause of the explosion was metal fatigue in an engine blade.

Its passengers were New Yorkers heading to San Antonio or Dallas, for a meeting or a technology conference. They were Texans and New Mexicans heading home after a magical first visit to New York City, an education conference in Midtown Manhattan, or a trip to see family.


Timothy C. Bourman, a passenger and pastor, spoke with Tammie Jo Shults, the flight captain, after an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

Amanda Bourman

They spent the morning at the airport making jokes about bag-check fees, snapping selfies on the plane, even getting into a tiff with another passenger about who got to board first. Just another day of air travel in America.

But by 11:10 a.m., as the flight descended toward Philadelphia, those same passengers were scrambling to put on oxygen masks and buy internet access so they could send a last message to their children and families. Marty Martinez, 29, of Dallas, held a yellow oxygen mask to his face as he live-streamed the descent on Facebook. “It appears we are going down!” he wrote.

Pastor Bourman said he could not figure out how to use his mask, and decided it would not save him if the plane crashed. Instead, he sat and prayed as his wife, Amanda, managed to connect her phone to the plane’s Wi-Fi. They began texting Pastor Bourman’s father to tell him what had happened and to convey a message to the couple’s three daughters, 6, 4 and 2 years old:


Plane blew an engine.

We are going to try to land.

Tell the girls we love them and that Jesus is with them always.

Across from the blown-out window, Sheri Sears, 43, thought about her 11-year-old daughter, Tyley. Ms. Sears’s own father had died when she was 7, and she kept thinking to herself: I’m not going to be there for her.

Ms. Sears said she offered a thin prayer for mercy: “If this is your will, God, please let me go quickly. Don’t let me suffer.”

Her friend and travel companion, Tim McGinty, reassured his wife and Ms. Sears that they would be fine, and tightened their seatbelts. Then he sprang up to help drag the injured passenger, Jennifer Riordan, back into the plane.

Ms. Riordan was unconscious and bleeding as Mr. McGinty and another passenger, a firefighter from north of Dallas, laid her across a row of seats. A retired nurse and flight attendants rushed up and helped Mr. McGinty perform CPR all the way to Philadelphia, but it was no use.

Ms. Riordan, 43, a Wells Fargo executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, was pronounced dead at a hospital of what medical examiners later called blunt trauma to her head, neck and torso. News of her death rippled through Albuquerque, where the Chamber of Commerce held a moment of silence and ranks of nonprofit leaders, arts advocates and others across the city mourned.

Courtney Padilla, 34, a passenger from Albuquerque who was traveling home with her wife, mother, grandmother and aunt, said she had not met Ms. Riordan personally, but knew her by name and her reputation as a community supporter.

Ms. Padilla and her family were sitting at the front of the plane when the engine exploded, and like other passengers, they stayed in their seats and held onto each other as the desperate attempt to save Ms. Riordan’s life played out just rows behind them.

What Happened on the Plane

Passengers recalled their terror after an engine exploded on a Southwest Airlines plane on Tuesday morning.

“I just sat there and prayed.” – Timothy Bourman

“I thought I was going to die.” – Matt Tranchin

“There was blood everywhere.” – Marty Martinez

“You hear the large explosion, screeching, squealing, yelling.” – Sheri Sears

Jennifer Riordan was partly sucked out of a shattered window after the explosion. She was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Investigators said there was metal fatigue where a fan blade separated from the engine.

“I just sat there and prayed.”

Timothy Bourman

“I thought I was going to die.”

Matt Tranchin

“There was blood everywhere.”

Marty Martinez

“You hear the large explosion, screeching, squealing, yelling.”

Sheri Sears

Jennifer Riordan was partly sucked out of a shattered window after the explosion. She was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Investigators said there was metal fatigue where a fan blade separated from the engine.

“I just sat there and prayed.”

Timothy Bourman

“I thought I was going to die.”

Matt Tranchin

“There was blood everywhere.”

Marty Martinez

“You hear the large explosion, screeching, squealing, yelling.”

Sheri Sears

Jennifer Riordan was partly sucked out of a shattered window after the explosion. She was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Investigators said there was metal fatigue where a fan blade separated from the engine.

A stranger beside Ms. Padilla assured her that she had just celebrated her 76th birthday, and that they would not be dying that day. Ms. Padilla, in turn, made eye contact to support a younger girl sitting diagonally in front of her.

“You were holding on to whoever was next to you,” Ms. Padilla said.

On the right side of the plane, over the wing, Jim Demetros, 55, watched flight attendants carrying portable oxygen bottles thread along the aisle to make sure the passengers — who included a number of children — were secured.

As they approached Philadelphia International Airport, Mr. Demetros said the plane vibrated as it made a slow turn. About two minutes before they landed, Matt Tranchin’s phone got reception, so he called his wife and told her they were about to hit the ground. He figured they had a 50-50 chance of surviving.

Over the intercom, the crew sternly told passengers to put their heads down and brace themselves. Ms. Sears held onto her friend in the seat next to her and wondered, “Will it stop? Will it crash? Will it explode?”

It landed.

It landed gently at around 11:20, and with whoops and applause, the passengers pulled out their cellphones to text and call their families to report that they were all right.

The cabin went quiet as medics climbed on board and carried Ms. Riordan out on a stretcher, and flight attendants checked on seven other passengers who suffered minor injuries. They talked with the captain and crew and walked off the plane to talk to investigators, watching the story of Flight 1380 saturate the television screens around the airport as they waited for their new flights home. It was hard to grasp.

“We were really on that plane,” Ms. Sears said. “It’s unbelievable we made it through that.”

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Southwest’s Fatal Accident Prompts Scrutiny of Engine Inspections

The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert L. Sumwalt, said a blade in the engine had broken in two places — where the blade attaches to the main hub and higher up, approximately at the midpoint of the blade. He said that a crack “was on the interior of the fan blade,” and that it was “more than likely not detectable from looking from the outside.”

But Mr. Sumwalt said it was too soon to reach conclusions on the cause of the engine failure. The board, he said, had not yet examined maintenance records, and was still examining the plane and interviewing its crew. He did say parts of the exterior of the plane’s engine had been recovered on the ground in a rural area outside Philadelphia.

The authorities are still finishing up their investigation of a similar incident on a Southwest flight in 2016, when a fan blade separated and debris ripped a 16-inch-long hole in the fuselage. No one was injured.


Exterior engine parts that landed in Penn Township, Pa., were photographed by an investigator from the safety board on Wednesday.

Bill Uhrich/Reading Eagle, via Associated Press

That was when CFM International recommended that airlines conduct ultrasound inspections of the blades. In the United States, carriers aren’t required to follow manufacturers’ guidelines.

The Federal Aviation Administration said a directive that it proposed last year to compel airlines to perform such inspections would take effect within the next two weeks. The European Aviation Safety Agency established such regulations for European carriers in late March.

Finding flaws isn’t always easy.

Metal fatigue, which investigators suspect is a factor in this week’s engine failure, can be a visible or an invisible weakness that is the result of bending, vibration or other stress. While it is often associated with older airplanes and engines, it can sometimes be the result of manufacturing flaws that cannot be seen.

“The forces in the engine are extraordinary,” said John Gadzinski, a 737 pilot and the founder of Four Winds Aerospace Safety, an aviation consultant. “Those small cracks that you may only see with an electron microscope will go from small to catastrophic failure in an instant.”

What occurred midair on Tuesday — a failure in which the engine parts are not contained in the housing and threaten the integrity of the airplane — is exceedingly rare, aircraft analysts said. The fact that it happened twice with the same airline in such a short time span makes it even more worrisome.

“It’s unusual that a fan blade would fail twice on the same engine model, with the same carrier, over two years,” said Kevin Michaels, the president of AeroDynamic Advisory in Ann Arbor, Mich., who has worked as a gas turbine engineer.

In the 2016 incident, a fan blade and another component separated from the engine. The debris did not enter the cabin. It did produce a gash in the aircraft’s side, causing depressurization, according to a preliminary report from the transportation safety board.


The Boeing 737 window that the Southwest plane’s engine debris shattered.

Marty Martinez, via Associated Press

The Boeing 737 involved was on its way to Orlando, Fla., from New Orleans and made an emergency landing in Pensacola, Fla.

If it turns out that this week’s engine failure had the same root cause, said Robert W. Mann, an airline analyst based in Port Washington, N.Y., the need to inspect 737 engines could be much more urgent.

“It could drive a significant event industrywide, but it’s hard to tell at this point,” he said. “It could be a defect of design, which would mean it’s subject to fatigue failures.”

In February, a United Airlines Boeing 777, which uses a different kind of engine, also experienced a blade separation and loss of other engine parts. That flight landed in Honolulu virtually on schedule, with no injuries reported and only minor damage, according to the safety board.

Aircraft experts say there’s no reason to worry about Southwest in particular, or about what this might say about the safety of flying in general. Southwest got into the aircraft business to “compete with the family car, which means they have saved tens of thousands of lives,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group in Fairfax, Va., alluding to the statistical fact that flying is safer than driving.

“The extreme worst-case scenario from these two incidents is that it might be prudent to inspect slightly more often,” he said.

Gary C. Kelly, Southwest’s chief executive, said in a news conference on Tuesday that the accident had not caused him to doubt the 737.

“The airplane, in my opinion, is proven,” Mr. Kelly said. “It’s very reliable. It has the greatest success of any other aircraft type.”

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