Southwest Airlines Grounds 34 Boeing 737 MAX 8 Planes

Only a handful of flights were canceled Wednesday afternoon

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines complied with government orders Wednesday to ground all Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft in the wake of two fatal crashes overseas.

The 34 Southwest MAX jets represent just a small fraction of the carrier's 750-aircraft fleet, but they account for about 4 percent of Southwest flights.

Passengers at Dallas Love Field Wednesday said they were pleased with the decision.

"I think it was on my mind and I think it's good that they're being extra cautious," passenger Rahim Kassam said.

He said he had already checked with Southwest in advance of the planes being grounded to see if his flight would be a Boeing 737 MAX 8. It was not.

"All this week they've been letting people change their tickets. I think that's been good of them to do that," he said.

The airline said it would work with passengers who had been booked on the canceled flights.

Adrana Johnson was on the way to a Florida vacation with her daughter as they checked the Love Field cancellation board.

"Hopefully it doesn't affect my flight, because I wondered whether or not it would be one of the flights that would be affected," she said.

Around half a dozen departures were marked as canceled Wednesday afternoon, but it was unclear if all were the result of grounding the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

Passenger Frank Botto said he was relieved that the planes would not be included in the Southwest fleet for now.

"I think it's a good idea not to fly them until they know exactly what's going on," he said.

Southwest declined interview requests but issued the following statement Wednesday.

“Southwest Airlines is immediately complying with today's FAA requirement for all U.S. airlines to ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8. As a result, we have removed our 34 MAX 8 aircraft from scheduled service. Southwest operates a fleet of more than 750 Boeing 737s, and the 34 MAX 8 aircraft account for less than five percent of our daily flights.

We have been in constant contact with the FAA and Boeing since Ethiopian Airlines' accident last Sunday. While we remain confident in the MAX 8 after completing more than 88,000 flight hours accrued over 41,000 flights, we support the actions of the FAA and other regulatory agencies and governments across the globe that have asked for further review of the data – including information from the flight data recorder – related to the recent accident involving the MAX 8. The Safety of our Customers and Employees is our uncompromising priority, and today's action reflects the commitment to supporting the current investigations and regulatory concerns.

Our goal is to operate our schedule with every available aircraft in our fleet to meet our Customers' expectations during the busy spring travel season. Additionally, to support our Customers, Southwest is offering flexible rebooking policies. Any Customer booked on a canceled MAX 8 flight can rebook on alternate flights without any additional fees or fare differences within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city pairs. A Travel Advisory with additional information for Customers will be posted on Southwest.com.

During our 48-year history, Southwest has continuously demonstrated our commitment to Safety," said Gary Kelly, Southwest's Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. "We sincerely appreciate the trust our Customers and Employees place in our airline every day, and the Southwest Team is working diligently to minimize disruptions to our Customers' travel plans.”

Its pilot's union also responded with a statement.

“SWAPA respects the FAA's decision to ground the 737 MAX fleet. We are very interested to learn about any new information or facts that have emerged since Sunday's crash, which would have contributed to the decision.

SWAPA echoed Southwest's sentiment that passenger and crew safety remain a top priority.”

NBC 5's Allie Spillyards contributed to this report.

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