What went wrong with the MD-80 aircraft?

        Science | Modern

On April 8, 9 and 10, 2008, more than 100,000 people were stranded in airports throughout the United States, including Chicago-O'Hare Airport. For images of aircraft, see our airplane image gallery.
AP Photo/Paul Beaty

"Shoot me now," requested one traveler stuck at Chicago-O'Hare Airport in April 2008 [source: CBC]. This passenger, like an estimated 100,000 others spread across the United States, found herself stranded because of flights canceled by American Airlines on April 8, 9 and 10, 2008 [source: Los Angeles Times].

Airplane Image Gallery

­American Airlines (AA) grounded its entire fleet of Boeing-manufactured MD-80 aircraft, a total of around 300 planes [source: Aviation]. As a result, as many as 2,500 flights were canceled by the airline [source: CNN]. As the number of stranded passengers began to grow, AA scrambled to make other accommodations for them. Some were packed aboard other air carriers' flights at American's expense. Others were reimbursed for the lodging they'd paid for after being stuck at the airport. Still others were given meals or vouchers for food [source: AA]. At one point at O'Hare Airport, AA ticket agents served waiting passengers juice and cookies [source: NPR].

Business analysts Thomson Financial estimated that the total loss of revenue from the canceled flights could reach $300 million [source: CNN]. From April 8 to April 9, 2008, shares in American's parent company, AMR, dropped 10 percent in value [source: AP] (although they curiously rose 5 percent on April 10 [source: Forbes]).Taking into consideration angry customers, bad publicity, lost revenue and expended capital, it would be fair to say the cancellations were a financial bloodletting for the airline.

The mass cancellations came amid a cascade of other headaches for the airline industry. With the U.S. economy weakening, airlines attracted fewer passengers [source: IHT]. The problematic opening of the Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport impacted international flights [source: BBC]. Prices for aircraft fuel were on the rise [source: New York Times]. And in the U.S. Congress, elected officials investigated accusations that the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines had too close of a relationship [source: USA Today].

But what exactly caused more than 100,000 passengers to become stranded at airports around the United States and elsewhere in early April 2008? Find out what's wrong with the MD-80 on the next page.