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Another window on a Southwest plane has failed, but airplane windows are stronger than you think (LUV)

Benjamin Zhang
southwest airlines

LM Otero/AP


  • Southwest Airlines Flight 957 was forced to make an unscheduled landing on Wednesday in Cleveland, Ohio after one of its windows failed. 
  • The cause of the incident is unclear.
  • The incident occurred just weeks after Southwest Flight 1380 made an emergency landing in Philadelphia when an engine failure blew out one of its windows, nearly sucking a passenger out of the cabin.
  • Airplane windows are rather durable and are made up of multiple layers.

On Wednesday, Southwest Airlines Flight 957 was forced to divert to Cleveland after the outside pane on one of its windows failed.

The incident comes on the heels of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 which made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after an uncontained engine failure blew out one of the Boeing 737's windows on April 17. The resulting decompression nearly sucked a passenger out of the window. That passenger, Jennifer Riordan, later died from her injuries.

Fortunately for Flight 957, the aircraft did not depressurize and no injuries have been reported.

This leads us to ask the question: What is an airplane window made of and what kind of forces can it take?

The windows on a modern airliner are actually made up of multiple layers, usually three, of acrylic with a plastic inner cover. The three layers are gapped and vented. This is to allow for pressure equalization and to prevent the windows from fogging. The material used to make the windows is rather durable and, following federal regulations, won't splinter when damaged. 

It's unclear what caused the window to fail on Flight 957.

As for Flight 1380, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board believe the failure occurred when a titanium alloy fan blade snapped mid-flight. The damage to the window and fuselage may have been the result of shrapnel caused by the disintegrating engine cowling forced out by a rogue fan blade spinning near the speed of sound. 

Since the windows are essentially made from plexiglass, they aren't bulletproof. However, they rarely fail. And even if they do, modern airliners such as the Boeing 737 used to operate Flight 1380 can survive and land after most depressurization events. 

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