Loose seats latest headache for American Airlines

AP Photo/The Miami Herald, Carl Juste

(CBS News) The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating at least two incidents with American Airlines in which a row of passenger seats came loose in mid-flight.

American Airlines has grounded eight of its jets as a precaution while they're inspected for any sign of more problems. For now, there's nothing that apparently suggests this problem was caused intentionally as during a divisive dispute with its pilots union.

It's one of the last things you think could go wrong on a flight. But twice in less than three days, an American Airlines Boeing 757 jet has been forced to land after a row of seats detached from the floor and the tracking mechanism that keeps them in place.

Feds probe loose seats on American Airlines jets

Flight 443 ran into the problem Monday on its way to Miami, less than an hour after taking off from New York's JFK Airport.

The incident came just two days after a Miami-bound plane from Boston encountered the same issue. In a taped conversation of that incident, an employee said, "Got an unusual one for you. During climb out, passenger seats row 12 D, E, and F came loose out of the floor. Passengers are unable to sit in that seat."

The New York Post reports a third flight last Wednesday had a similar problem.

Mark Rosenker, CBS News transportation safety analyst, said, "This should not have happened. These seats are designed to withstand a great deal of force and they are not supposed to come off their tracks."

An American Airlines official tells CBS News the two latest incidents most likely stem from work being done to create seats with more legroom, which the airline could sell at a premium. The carrier insists the problem - happening in the middle of a bitter labor dispute - is strictly maintenance-related. Still, it comes after a rash of flight delays and cancellations that the airline has blamed on its pilots union. They deny that.

One passenger told CBS News, "It's going to make me think twice about sending my daughter on American in a few weeks for Thanksgiving."

American Airlines says the seats were installed by American and contract crews at two different maintenance facilities. The FAA says it's confident this matter was nothing intentional.

Watch Mark Strassmann's full report in the video above.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.